A Historic Step Forward in Combatting Gender-Based Violence: Council of the EU approves EU accession to Istanbul Convention

A Historic Step Forward in Combatting Gender-Based Violence: Council of the EU approves EU accession to Istanbul Convention
Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images


Ecenur Uyanık

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence.

On June 1, 2023 the Council of the European Union adopted two Council decisions approving the EU’s accession to The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention (Council of the EU Press Release, 2023). The EU is expected to formally ratify the Convention despite objections from multiple member states including Czechia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania (Zachova et al., 2023).

Istanbul Convention is the world’s leading legally binding international human rights treaty that specifically targets gender-based violence. It establishes an extensive framework of legal and policy measures aimed at preventing violence against women, as well as ensuring that states party to the Convention implement the necessary protections for victims and prosecute the perpetrators (European Commission Statement, 2023). 

With the accession, the EU as a whole will be bound by the Convention’s legal framework and its comprehensive international standards. The EU accedes the Convention with regard to institutions and the public administration of the Union, specifically agreeing on judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum and non-refoulement regarding gender-based violence cases (Council of the EU Press Release, 2023). 


Istanbul Convention was first signed by the EU in 2016 along with a proposal of the Commission for broad EU accession, but was not ratified upon objections from some member states (Euronews, 2023). This May, the European Parliament voted in favour of granting its consent for the accession by a large majority of the hemicycle, with 472 votes in favour, 62 against and 73 abstentions (European Commission Statement, 2023). The vote was welcomed by Commissioner of Equality Helena Dalli as “a historic step forward” as “violence against women has no place in the Union of Equality” (Euronews, 2023). 

EU efforts and initiatives to combat gender-based violence

As well as being a criminal offence, violence against women is essentially the dire consequence of the discrimination stemming from gender inequalities which have been entrenched into societies since centuries. In this sense, the EU’s accession to the Convention is a manifestation of the long-lasting EU efforts to realise equality between women and men (Council of the EU Press Release, 2023). 

Other EU initiatives to combat gender-based violence include a proposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence, which was adopted by the Commission on March 8, 2022 as part of the initiative “A New Push for European Democracy” (European Commission Statement, 2023). The aim of the proposal is “to effectively combat violence against women and domestic violence throughout the EU”, by proposing measures regarding “the criminalisation of and sanctions for relevant offences; protection of victims and access to justice; victim support; prevention; coordination and cooperation” (European Commission, 2022). This proposal is one of the deliverables of the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 (European Commission, 2020). 

Next steps

The EU accession to the Istanbul Convention along with the proposal of the Commission to adopt a new EU directive on combatting violence against women constitute important steps on the EU front regarding gender-based violence, paving the way towards a “Union of Equality”. 

On the occasion of welcoming the EU's accession to the Istanbul Convention, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Europe is on the side of women, to protect them from violence. All women and girls deserve a life free from violence, it is time for justice and equality. Today, the European Union is sending a strong signal: we are determined to prevent, condemn and fight violence against women and girls in all its forms” (European Commission Statement, 2023). 

Sources and further reading

Council of the EU Press Release (June 1, 2023). Combatting violence against women: Council adopts decision about EU’s accession to Istanbul Convention. 392/23. Retrieved on June 1, 2023 from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2023/06/01/combatting-violence-against-women-council-adopts-decision-about-eu-s-accession-to-istanbul-convention/ 

Euronews (May 10, 2023). MEPs vote for EU to ratify Istanbul Convention against violence against women. Retrieved on June 1, 2023 from https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2023/05/10/meps-vote-for-eu-to-ratify-istanbul-convention-against-violence-against-women#:~:text=The%20EU%20first%20signed%20the,agreement%20of%20all%20EU%20countries

European Commission (March 5, 2020). Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic And Social Committee And The Committee Of The Regions. A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. COM(2020) 152 final. Retrieved on June 2, 2023 from https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52020DC0152 

European Commission (March 4, 2016). Proposal for a Council Decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. COM (2016) 111 final 2016/0063(NLE). Retrieved on June 1, 2023 from https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52016PC0111 

European Commission (March 8, 2022). Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on combating violence against women and domestic violence. COM(2022) 105 final 2022/0066(COD). Retrieved on June 2, 2023 from https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52022PC0105 

European Commission Statement (June 1, 2023). Stop violence against women: Commission welcomes the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention. Statement/23/2997. Retrieved on June 1, 2023 from   https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_23_2997?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news 

Zachova, A. et al. (June 1, 2023). EU to join Istanbul Convention despite resistance from some member states. Euractiv. Retrieved on June 2, 2023 from https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/eu-to-join-istanbul-convention-despite-resistance-from-some-member-states/