Czech Women’s Lobby: societal view on rape underscores importance of “Istanbul Convention”

Photo: OpenRoadPR, Pixabay

The Czech Republic – along with most Council of Europe member states – has signed on to the “Istanbul Convention”, which aims at preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and adapted its legislation towards ratifying the treaty. The main challenge now, according to the Czech Women’s Lobby, is to take concrete steps to better prevent such violence and help those who fall victim to it.

Hana Stelzerová,  photo: archive of Czech Women’s Lobby
Dr. Hana Stelzerová is director of the Czech Women’s Lobby, a network of 32 non-profit organisations promoting women’s rights in this country. She says a recent Amnesty International survey to which the network contributed underscores a basic misconception among Czechs about victims of rape, in particular.

“What it shows is the perception of the society – how sexual abuse is viewed – and mainly whether they are victimising women for being raped under certain specific circumstances. The research shows that almost half of the Czech population still thinks that if a woman is drunk, or is wearing a short skirt, or is flirting with men, she is responsible for being raped.”

When the Amnesty International survey was last carried out, in 2015, an even greater percentage of Czechs were inclined to “blame the victim” and there was less awareness about the extent of rape and other forms violence against women. Dr. Stelzerová says in the new survey, 71 percent of respondents said they think violence against women is a problem in Czech society.

“Then we also asked – and this is the biggest aim of the Istanbul Convention – whether prevention is something to be applied to solve the problem, and 84 percent of respondents said ‘Yes’. … We think this is a signal for actually ratifying the Convention and bringing more prevention measures into our society that would help victims of violence.”

The “Istanbul Convention” entered into force in 2014 but has yet to be ratified by the Czech Republic. In recent months, opposition to ratification has grown due to concerns that it aims to undermine “traditional family values”: for example, that is promoting same-sex marriage, or would legally-recognise “third sex” status, or automatically grant “refugee” status to transgender or intersex people.

Photo: OpenRoadPR,  Pixabay
Some of this stems from confusion over the difference between “sex” – which refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male – and “gender”, which encapsulates socially constructed roles and behaviours a given society finds appropriate for men and women. Dr. Stelzerová again:

“When [the Czech Republic] put its signature to the Convention, a few years ago, there was no such discussion here. But in between, many things happened and now the society is divided. Many people when they hear ‘Istanbul Convention’ directly think it has something to do with migration or the effort to legalise homosexual marriages in the Czech Republic.”

“So, it’s a mixture of things – none of them is in the Convention, but because we don’t often use the term ‘gender’, which is mentioned in the Convention, people are twisting the meaning of this word.”

Article 14 of the Istanbul Convention does require signatory states to include teaching material on non-stereotyped gender roles in formal curricula and to empower girls and boys to pursue options in life not limited to traditional roles for men. But while the Convention opposes any form of discrimination, it makes no reference to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.