ON International Women’s Day this year, women in Scotland can reflect on the sort of country they want to be part of. Would an independent Scotland, (like Ireland did last year) be using the date to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention? Or, like the UK, would we be still languishing as one of only six EU countries that have yet to ratify it?

Before I entered politics a significant part of my legal career was spent dealing with the consequences of violence against women and girls.

The National: Joanna Cherry

As a student I worked on a project monitoring the effectiveness of rape shield legislation designed to prevent women who made allegations of sexual violence having their sexual history or character attacked while giving evidence.

Later in my career I worked as a prosecutor at the Crown Office. In 2009 I became one of the first Specialist Sex crimes prosecutors in Scotland in the new National Sex Crimes Unit. I went on to spend a number of years prosecuting rape and historic sex abuse cases in Scotland’s High Court and defending convictions in the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

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Later, I represented my professional body, the Faculty of Advocates, on the Justice and Safety Human Rights Action group, working with groups from across Scotland to implement the Scottish Government’s National Action Plan on Human Rights.

The main focus of our work was the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy to take action on all forms of violence against women and girls. I also served on the Advisory Group which developed the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre in partnership with Rape Crisis Scotland, Strathclyde University Law Clinic and the Legal Services Agency.

Given this experience, now working as a politician, I am acutely conscious of the importance of having proper legal protections in place to combat violence against women and girls.

In 2017 I was pleased to support my then colleague, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, when she led a successful campaign to pass a law requiring the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention. This was the first time an SNP MP had managed to get a private members bill into law. Three years later the UK Government have yet to ratify the Convention.

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The Council of Europe describe the convention as based on the understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence that is committed against women because they are women. It is the obligation of the state to address it fully in all its forms and to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators. Failure to do so would make it the responsibility of the state.

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The convention leaves no doubt: there can be no real equality between women and men if women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and state agencies and institutions turn a blind eye. Because it is not only women and girls who suffer domestic violence, parties to the convention are encouraged to apply the protective framework it creates to men who are exposed to violence within the family or domestic unit.

Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that the majority of victims of domestic violence are women and that domestic violence against them is part of a wider pattern of discrimination and inequality.

I raised the failure to ratify the convention in the House of Commons last week and received a pretty mealy-mouthed answer from the Justice Secretary. In particular, I asked whether it was the requirement to support migrant women experiencing domestic abuse that was holding things up. Migrant women often find it impossible to access emergency protection because of the “no recourse to public funds” condition and are highly vulnerable to domestic abuse and coercive control as a result of their immigration status.

A Domestic Abuse Bill was going through Westminster in the last parliament but fell when the General Election was called. The draft bill has been reintroduced this week and it will address some of the remaining issues which prevent ratification, such as extra-territorial effect, but will still fall short in one key area – yes, you’ve guessed it – the provision of services for migrant women.

The Scottish Parliament has passed all the necessary legislation to enable ratification from in respect of devolved matters. Does anyone think that the Scottish Government would still be quibbling after all this time about extending services to highly vulnerable migrants?

The best thing the British Government could do to mark this International Women’s Day would be to ratify – but it can’t. The delay and the reasons for it are yet another indication of where the UK intends to position itself on the world stage post-Brexit. The track record of the Scottish Government shows that the best hope for women and girls in Scotland is independence.

Then Scotland’s Parliament would have the power to follow in Ireland’s footsteps by ratifying the Istanbul Convention.