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Violence against women is unacceptable and curtails any pursuit of equality, development and peace. Nonetheless, the issue has become even more serious in 2020. After all, the measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions on freedom of movement, have led to more domestic violence.
At the same time, in 2020, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Beijing Declaration on Women's Rights and the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (see below).
Our country is currently working on a sixth ‘National Action Plan to combat all forms of gender-based violence’. This will focus on the fight against partner violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour-related and sexual assault.
The action plan is fully in line with the (legally binding) Council of Europe Convention ‘on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence’. Belgium ratified this ‘Istanbul Convention’, as it is called, in 2016. The Council of Europe is an organisation with 47 European countries as members, with 6 non-European countries as observers. It mainly focuses on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Istanbul Convention focuses on 4 areas: the prevention of violence, the protection of victims, the prosecution of perpetrators and the development of holistic policy measures.
Non-members of the Council of Europe may also join it. This is why our diplomats all over the world are working for the widest possible ratification and implementation. This is despite the headwind from a conservative point of view, because the treaty is seen to undermine traditional family values and promote LGBTI.
Belgium is keen to share its experience with the Convention and publicise successful initiatives. For example, our country established Sexual Assault Care Centres in Ghent, Brussels and Liège, which victims of sexual assault can turn to 24 hours a day.
Alongside that, our country is among those throwing its weight behind implementation of the EU guidelines on violence against women and combatting all forms of discrimination against women.
Other initiatives from the international community are also receiving full support. For example, our country strongly supports the mandate from the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.
Belgium is also an active advocate of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This resolution calls for women to be able to participate, on an equal footing with men, in the prevention and management of conflicts and in peace and security processes. Women and girls must also be protected during (post) conflict situations.
Our country is a loyal partner of UN Women, the UN organisation for women. It has also made a significant contribution to the establishment of an International Labour Organisation convention on violence and harassment.
Belgian Development Cooperation
The Belgian Development Cooperation also devotes a great deal of attention to the problem, for example in a memo aimed at mitigating the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of NGOs active in the field are receiving support, but the Belgian Development Agency (Enabel) also carries out projects on sexual assault. For instance, Enabel successfully tested a holistic approach in Congo. Victims can count on it for medical and psychological monitoring, as well as legal aid and assistance with re-integration into society.