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It is a pleasure for me to participate in this second regional forum for the promotion of the Istanbul Convention.
Gender based violence is one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violation. It is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality and affects women and girls of all socio-economic backgrounds.
Gender Based Violence is a serious concern in the Western Balkans and Turkey, just as in the EU and in the rest of the world. This is why equality between women and men is one of the fundamental principles of in EU legislation and foreign policy.
The 2019 OSCE-led Survey on violence against women reveals that seven out of ten women have experienced some forms of violence or abuse during their adult lives, either at hands of a partner, or a non-partner.
The consequences of gender-based violence are devastating: it undermines the health, security, dignity and freedom of women and girls, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence, since violence is still under-reported and complaints are not systematically recorded.
The EU is strongly committed to improve gender equality and women's and girl's empowerment. In 2015, we adopted a Gender Action Plan for external relations – one of its three pillars is physical and psychological integrity. This area has been identified by all EU Delegations in the Western Balkans and Turkey to focus on, and the EU-funded, and UN WOMEN implemented, regional project we are discussing today strongly contributes to this objective.
The project brings attention to the countries’ performance regarding the obligations set by both the UN and EU existing legal framework. It allows for regional exchange and cooperation. And it supports concrete and practical measures working with CSOs and local government at grass roots level.
During the first phase of the project over 60 civil society organisations have been involved and all participating countries have achieved important milestones:
- at the region level, over 2.000 individuals were reached through awareness raising activities;
- over 650 women were provided with free legal aid, psychological assistance and/or referral to public service provisions;
- over 700 public service providers in the health/ justice/law sector were trained on legal issues concerning violence against women.
In Albania alone, over 300 providers of services were trained about the provision of services for all forms of violence against women. Those included police officers, health care providers, social services staff, and teachers.
In this sense, I would like to express my strong gratitude and admiration for the work that Civil Society Organisations are doing in order to advance collective efforts to fight gender-based violence.
I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of participating governments to implement the Istanbul Convention – the most far-reaching legally binding instrument for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
At the same time, we need to take urgent action on the remaining challenges such as:
- poor implementation of existing legislation,
- limited human and financial resources,
- multiple interpretations of the legislation,
- barriers to accessing legal aid and
- need to develop functional reporting mechanisms.
The EU Delegation in Albania strongly supports the gender equality agenda in Albania through technical assistance to the government and numerous grants to local civil society organizations and other partners. Those collective efforts should contribute to strengthen the national mechanism of gender equality, outreach work and support to the local government.
We will continue supporting this important issue and renew our support to this regional project. The next phase will focus on shifting mind-sets and combat stereotypes that can truly prevent such violence. We need all stakeholders, local leaders, men and boys, teachers, health personnel, lawyers to join us in this endeavor.
Empowering women and girls is the right thing to do; the human thing to do; and it is also the smart thing to do. We want to ensure that women and girls participate fully in all aspects of society – political, social and economic. Without them, we will never achieve truly sustainable development for all.
I thank you for your attention.
 Istanbul Convention is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It is a human rights treaty to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. It has been signed by all EU Member States.