Thousands Urge Ukraine’s President to Help Stop Violence Against Women

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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on during a press conference in the garden of the Mariinsky Palace in Kiev, May 22, 2020. © 2020 Kommersant Photo/Ivan Kovalenko via AP Images

Violence against women and girls in Ukraine remains a serious problem. A 2019 study by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Ukraine found that two-thirds of women surveyed said they had “experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or non-partner since the age of 15.”

In 2017, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women observed that since 2014, Ukraine had experienced “an increase in the level of violence against women” and “a reinforcement of traditional and patriarchal attitudes that limit women’s and girls’ enjoyment of their rights.”

Ukraine has made some progress over the years in addressing violence against women. In 2017, it adopted a domestic violence law and amendments criminalizing “systematic” acts of domestic violence. But more is needed. The country has yet to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), which it signed in 2011. Thirty-four Council of Europe member states have ratified it, and Ukraine should be the 35th.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians recently petitioned President Zelensky to submit the convention to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, for ratification. This was in response to a report by a domestic violence support group in Ukraine reporting it had received “almost twice as many calls” from women to its hotline during the first month of Covid-19 quarantine than usual.

President Zelensky said in a statement that he would submit the convention to parliament only once the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Social Policy instruct him to. Human Rights Watch recently wrote to both ministries, asking them to heed this call to action.

The Ministry of Social Policy replied that the country’s law on ratification of the convention is still under review, and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is “ready to submit a proposal on ratification … to the President of Ukraine” after receiving the relevant documents from the central executive body of Ukraine.

The ball is in President Zelensky’s court.

The appalling violence women face should prompt Ukraine to stop stalling and finally ratify the Istanbul Convention. Based on the thousands of letters sent to President Zelensky, it’s clear that Ukrainian citizens think so too.

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