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Council of Europe Experts Group on "Violence against Women in Austria": Although much has been achieved, a call for action is still needed!

In 2016 the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) of the Council of Europe evaluated the implementation of the Istanbul Convention (the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) in Austria, which came into force in 2014. 

The assessment was carried out based on the first Austrian government report, a shadow report (compiled by 30 NGOs, including a contribution from Sabine Mandl of the BIM) and a visit of GREVIO representatives to Austria in 2016. 

The recently published GREVIO report highlights a number of positive measures in area of violence against women, which Austrian policy-makers have continiously worked on since 1997 - starting with the introduction of first legislations to prevent domestic violence. Such measures include a system of emergency barring and protection orders for victims of domestic violence. This signified an important paradigm shift which occured 20 years ago: it is not the victim, but the abuser who must be ordered to leave. Further changes to Austrian legislation, in particular in the area of criminal law, have led to a comprehensive list of criminal offences and extensive legal and psycho-social court assistance to victims of violent crime and sexual offences. Nevertheless GREVIO stresses the challenges and legislative gaps, such as lack of means for women with cognitive and physical disabilities and women seeking asylum to gain access to facilities offering victim protection and assistant, as well as access to justice.

According to the report: "The situation of women with disabilities affected by domestic violence appears even more alarming, as shelters are, at best, equipped to accommodate women with reduced mobility but not disabilities or conditions that require medical and personal care. Women with mental health conditions or substance abusers are usually not admitted to shelters at all as the support they need goes beyond the expertise and staffing levels of domestic violence shelters. " 

Furthermore GREVIO critically assesses the condition of women seeking asylum during the asylum granting procedure. At the point of arrival it is unlikely that the woman will be seen on her own. Often when asylum seekers arrive in a family, the family unit is interviewed together and the reason for requesting and granting asylum is usually taken to be that of the man. These women often do not seek asylum individually on the grounds of gender-based discrimination and violence they have experienced, making them hence again dependant on their spouses to make such claims. 

Recommendations to the Austrian government include:

  • the prompt closing of gaps in assistance and consultation services, in order for women affected by all forms of violence to receive equal services and access to these services
  • lifting all legal and practical barriers that hinder women with physical and cognitive disabilities or on the basis of their residency to seek consultation and admittance to women's shelters
  • creating the opportunity for women seeking asylum in Austria to be heard as individuals and to convey their experience of gender-based violence in a protected environment with the help of female caseworkers and translators without the presence of family members

Beyond the above mentioned GREVIO also addresses in the report a number of addition areas, in which improvement is needed in order for the requirements of the convention to be fully met. These are related to promoting education and continuing education of all professions in the area of violence against women, to lifting legal and practical barriers regarding protection and  consultation of children of all age groups, who are victim and witnesses of domestic violence. 

Further information can be found in the following reports attached below:

- the GREVIO assessment report about Austria 

- the Austrian governent report conveyed to GREVIO in 2016 for the evalution

- the shadow report of civil societies sent to GREVIO in 2016 as additional sources to the government report.