The full ratification of the Istanbul Convention is the first objective for supporting gender equality, but it is not enough. A qualitative leap forward for Italy could come from the application of the new rules established by Nasdaq on equal pay and gender representation by Cdp’s earmarked assets.
As if the rekindling of the debate on the reform of the ESM was not enough to test the government’s resilience, the G20 engagements under the Italian presidency did not start under the best auspices. From the handover in Saudi Arabia to the growing number of demands for Giuseppe Conte to fulfill his promises by putting gender equality at the centre of the agenda (Goal 5 of the UN’s 2030 Agenda). On the application of the Istanbul Convention as on the ESM, Poland and Hungary are putting up a wall and the question is how far the EU can accept this.
ISTANBUL CONVENTION: STANDING UP FOR WOMEN AND THE FUTURE OF ITALY
Poland and Hungary are a threat not only to the approval of the ESM reform, but also to many other aspects of civil and human rights. So much so that the EPP, the European People’s Party, is getting closer and closer to removing the extreme right-wing party of Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister. Fidesz was already suspended in 2019 for its smear campaign against the EU and laws restricting civil liberties in the country in open violation of European treaties.
In addition, Poland and Hungary have recently turned against the EU over the application of the Istanbul Convention, a powerful legal instrument because it is binding, protecting women against all forms of violence and which should become an EU directive once ratified by all signatory countries. Article 3 of the Convention states that violence against women is a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women. The provision has also been taken up and contextualised by Convention 190 of the ILO, the United Nations International Labour Organisation.
Italy signed the Istanbul Convention (whose full name is the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) on 27 September 2012 and Parliament authorised its ratification with Law No. 77/2013. To enter into force, the Convention requires ratification by at least 10 States, including 8 members of the Council of Europe. To date, the Convention, initialled by 44 States that are members of the Council of Europe and the European Union (which signed it on 13 June 2017), has been ratified by 33 States (Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and Norway).
In November 2019, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution, with 500 votes in favour, 91 against and 50 abstentions, calling on the European Council to complete the EU’s ratification of the Convention and urging the seven Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) that are signatories to the Convention, to ratify it without delay. Poland and Turkey called for withdrawal, joining the rejection of Russia and Azerbaijan. Despite the fact that Erdogan’s daughter had come out in defence of the Istanbul Convention after the feminist demonstrations and against the pressure from Islamist ultra-conservatives for Turkey to withdraw from the protocol, Erdogan did not change his position and instead proposed reinstating reparative marriage, an idea that contradicts the principles enshrined in the Convention.
In May, Viktor Orban’s government rejected the ratification of the convention, referring to the definition of gender, where men and women are no longer distinguished solely on the basis of their biological and sexual differences, but also on the basis of socially constructed categories (which assign distinct roles and behaviours to the two sexes). This is and remains the most controversial issue.
Istanbul Convention helped raise awareness on domestic violence and launch campaigns to help victims. It has also stimulated debate on the issue in the EU to complete the accession process, one of the priorities of the European Commission’s new Von der Leyen Strategy for Gender Equality 2020-2025, which was already enshrined on 5 March 2020. The Commission kept its commitment on the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention in its 2021 work programme, also presenting a new proposal to combat gender-based violence. However, a visit to the Vatican by the president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, Belgian Rik Daems, to ask for ratification also failed to produce any results, despite the fact that the Pope has always shown himself to be very open to the need to commit to the prevention and the combat of violence against women.
One wonders how long countries that repeatedly violate European treaties will be allowed to obstruct important measures such as the reform of the ESM and the Next Generation Fund. Moreover, these countries benefit extensively from European structural funds and have never finalised membership of the Eurozone out of mere opportunism.
THE G20 HANDOVER TO ITALY IN SAUDI ARABIA
At the G20 digital summit in Riyadh at the end of November, the conciliatory and cordial tones clashed with the expectations of a nod to raise the issue of human rights, which in the last two years – from the murder of journalist Kashoggi to the imprisonment of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia: Maya al Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al Sada, Nouf Abdilaziz, and Loujain al Hathloul – has raised doubts about the ruling house. The activists’ trials have been at a standstill for more than a year and many of them are demonstrating through hunger strikes. In late 2017, Mohammed Bin Salman had been the protagonist of a reformist rush, that included important openings in favor of women, which was well received in international circles. A series of discriminatory regulations against Saudi female citizens were eliminated, allowing them to drive their cars independently and access public places (restaurants, sports stadiums, etc.) in an egalitarian manner.
However, the growing number of plots to obstruct the crown prince’s ascension to the throne diverted the focus of the reform, which included these gender equality measures. Dissidents and human rights activists have paid dearly for this turbulent political phase, but once again, as in the case of Belarus and Azerbaijan, the EU has not gone far beyond the threat of sanctions.
ON THE SIDE OF HUMAN RIGHTS, ON THE SIDE OF WOMEN
As the Biden Administration takes office with an extremely inclusive team with a large female presence, the rules will change at Nasdaq, and about three-quarters of its 3,000 listed companies will have to adapt to new criteria for respecting gender equality, but also ethnic and LGBTQ+ underrepresented minorities, under penalty of delisting.
It is clear, therefore, given the current international debate, that for Conte gender equality and female employment have become more than a challenge. In the country, tensions are rising and there are pressing requests from political representatives, associations and movements committed to rights. It seems clear, in fact, that less than a billion has been allocated to gender policies in the plan of the “Recovery Fund” and that in the Budget Law only 100 million euros have been allocated, increasable from 2022 to 2026 by another 50 million, but certainly not enough even to achieve a first goal, indicated by the Task Force Colao, which had raised the urgency of strengthening the nurseries, bringing the level of coverage of the actual needs of parents for a reconciliation between family and work from 25 to 60%.
However, with the exception of a few measures included in the Family Act, the government has not taken a tangible stance on women’s employment and equal pay. There is therefore a growing fear that, just as in Riyadh, the commitment made at the G20 may be broken and the rights of women (who make up more than 50% of the population) put on the back burner. Perhaps, if the release of Cdp’s earmarked assets, amounting to 44 billion euros in support of companies with a turnover of over 50 million, were to be linked to the strict application of the same criteria proposed by Nasdaq (equal pay and representation of gender and minorities), the country would come closer to a turning point of true sustainability and respect for universal human rights.