The Local Relevance of the Istanbul Convention

by Elizabeth Bodenman –

What is the Istanbul Convention?

2024 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention, an important step in Europe for securing women’s protection from all forms of gender-based violence (GBV) at every level – local, national, and international. Officially named the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, it was negotiated by the 47 member states of the Council of Europe in April 2011. These states agreed to define GBV as “violence directed against women because they are women or violence affecting them disproportionately,” and concluded the Convention would be constructed out of four pillars: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Coordinated Policies. Opened for signatures in May 2011 and ratification in August 2014, 34 of the 47 members ratified and agreed to adopt convention measures. An additional 12 members have signed the convention, along with the EU, and one member (Turkey) has denounced the convention entirely.

The 34 member states, who ratified the convention, are expected to take GBV prevention measures such as training professionals to recognize and respond to violence, challenging gender stereotypes and promoting women’s empowerment in social and cultural settings, engaging the media and private sector to enhance respectful gender roles, encouraging the participation of men and boys, and creating equality-based campaigns and educational programs. Ratifying members are also expected to uphold safety and protection measures such as making restraining orders and emergency barring orders easily accessible, providing women-to-women support services, fully informing victims and survivors of their rights, providing shelters as well as sexual violence centers, establishing 24/7 helplines alongside regional complaint mechanisms, and prioritizing the interests of children in the granting of physiological services and custody/visitation rights. To uphold the pillars of GBV Prosecution and Coordinated Policies, ratifying countries must maintain victim-centered legal approaches, properly fund support services in all sectors (public, private, and non-profit), and introduce comprehensive, gender-conscious legislation.

How is Nuremberg Complying with the Convention?

Entered into force by Germany in 2018, the pillars of the Istanbul Convention should be upheld not just on a federal level by the Bundestag, but also locally by municipalities and cities such as Nuremberg. The self-proclaimed City of Peace and Human Rights, Nuremberg remains the only city in Germany with its own office solely for human rights. This office also works alongside the Gender Equality Office to carry out the work of legislation such as the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Gender Equality Office is a team of four: the Gender Equality Officer, Deputy, Male Topic Liaison & Contact Person, and Administrator. Before the efforts of the two offices linked to enhance intersectionality and work on common projects, the Gender Equality Office had been working independently since the appointment of the city’s first ‘Women’s Officer’ in 1986. The motivation to expand gender equality work locally further increased with the passing of the 1996 Bavarian Gender Equality Act (also known as BayGIG). The office would implement its outlining constitution, which requires the state to actively implement measures toward achieving gender equality (involving divorce, women’s leadership and rights at work, single parenting, etc.) and fight against GBV. Currently, the office also works with the city council on gender mainstreaming and discussing cases relating to workplace gender equality such as parental leave and sexual harassment. The office even takes part in hiring processes within the city administration, ensuring all genders are considered equally for open positions (especially when it comes to leadership positions). Though established in the 1980s, one of the priorities of the Office is now to follow the European Charter of Equality for Women and Men in Local Life, which was signed by the city in 2010 and requires the adoption of gender action plans on a triannual basis. The process of action plan adoption involves the revisitation of Nuremberg’s approach to gender equality, introduces new proposals and projects, and requires city council approval.

Nuremberg also has a very active grassroots scene to protect the rights of women and prevent GBV locally. Resources can be easily found for cis and trans women of all backgrounds, as well as non-binary, intersex, or gender-fluid people. Should a woman or a mother and her child/ren find themselves without housing as a result of GBV, they can go to the Nuremberg Frauenhaus for temporary accommodations and access to social workers, counseling, and crisis management resources. Additionally, the Frauenhaus hosts a call center to offer advice and support for those suffering from stalking and general GBV. Another well-organized reporting resource can be found with the frauenBeratung Nuremberg, a service specifically for women and girls as well as trans, intersex, and non-binary people affected by violence. The frauenBeratung Nuremberg offers online and in-person counseling, legal accompaniment to police stations and courthouses, and help to secure evidence and medical care after assaults. Their services are delivered to be as inclusive as possible, available in Amharic, Arabic, German, English, Farsi, Kurdish, Russian, Turkish, and Ukrainian. Wildwasser is another help and advice line for local women and girls, though it is specifically geared toward those who are experiencing or have experienced sexual abuse specifically. Men and boys can also seek out assistance through Wildwasser. The organization will provide information on criminal proceedings, legal aid, and counseling. Consultations are free, confidential, anonymous (when preferred), and offered both online and in person. Along with counseling, support in criminal proceedings, and accompaniment to the police and courts.  

JADWIGA is a third center in Nuremberg that provides counseling services, specifically aimed at women and girls who are victims of human trafficking and forced marriage. JADWIGA’s services cover those who are forced into sex trafficking, to steal or sell drugs and into begging as well as being exploited in general labor practices. The nation-wide organization will offer regional assistance to those returning to their home countries, counseling for trafficking victims in custody or deportation centers, and collegial training opportunities. JADWIGA’s local chapter also hosts Bavarian-wide campaigns. This season’s campaign is bringing awareness to young girls on ‘loverboys’ or men who coerce underage girls into sex trafficking rings. Similar to the mission of JADWIGA is Johanniter, an integration center for refugees offering several programs that cater specifically to women. Currently, the Johanniter hosts German language courses for women, a ‘Living in Bavaria’ course for practical help on how to live in this federal state as a refugee woman, sports classes for women (and their children!), and special meet-ups for women from Ukraine to cook, eat, sew, sing, and practice yoga together. They are also offering an ongoing project series called ‘Reality of life in Bavaria’ meant to empower women and children from migrant backgrounds.

Image Credit: JADWIGA Nuremberg

Another organization that offers classes, information, and advice geared toward women, girls, and LGBT+ folks is AURA. Their specialty is in providing WenDo self-defense classes, with different classes geared toward different demographics: various age groups, refugees, women with disabilities, deaf women, and trans/intersex/non-binary/agender people. Additionally, AURA offers ‘courage to rage’ courses for women and girls about managing anger and aggression for themselves and others. Aside from teaching LGBT+ people how to defend themselves, Nuremberg also offers social support through Fliederlich, a local center geared specifically toward the needs of Nuremberg’s LGBT+ community. Fliederlich has 17 groups that host many events year-round. On-going groups inclusive to LGBT+ women and gender diverse people include the ‘Glam-Group’ for women, a bi- and pansexual group, the Gelesch Group for deaf lesbians and gays, the Regenbogenfamilien group for “queer families and those who want to become one,” an asexual and aromantic group, and two groups for trans, intersex, non-binary and agender people (separated by age).

Lastly, to cater to the needs of women struggling with substance abuse, Lilith is a local non-profit that provides job placement, resources, and counseling. Employing a team of 30 specialists and 40 volunteers, Lilith offers work for addicts, crisis intervention, basic resources such as food, water, and hygiene, informative resources, advice, and support, meditations, and outpatient therapy. While mostly focusing on women, Lilith also considers the children of addicts who may need assistance. Help from Lilith can be found both online and in person.

Interview with Michelle Fowinkel, Deputy Women’s Officer

The Frauenhaus, frauenBeratung Nuremberg, JADWIGA, the Johanniter, Fliederlich, AURA, Wildwasser, and Lilith are just some of the organizations operating in Nuremberg, which fulfill many pillars of the Istanbul Convention on a local level. To find out more about what the city government is doing to meet the requirements of the Istanbul Convention, I was graciously given the opportunity to interview Michelle Fowinkel of Nuremberg’s Gender Equality Office. A former Office Manager at the NMRZ, Michelle also had experience working with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Women Without Borders Deutschland before assuming the roles of Project Manager and Deputy Women’s Officer for the city’s Gender Equality Office.

Elizabeth Bodenman (EB): What are ongoing programs the city’s Gender Equality Office carries out for women’s rights?

Michelle Fowinkel (MF): We are carrying out the ongoing action plan for 2021-2023. There is also a gender coordination committee with members from every department of the municipality who meet regularly to discuss ongoing plans and programs. Popular campaigns have been ‘Girls & Boys Day’, where school children switch roles and work in sectors assumed to be typically masculine or feminine (ex: boys shadowing nurses, girls shadowing engineers). On International Girls’ Day, local girls shadow Nuremberg’s leaders for the day (ex: the Mayor), and ‘speed dating’ events are held between local female leaders and students to encourage girls to pursue political leadership roles. These are just a few of the ongoing initiatives of the office, and the action plan for 2024-2026 is already being drafted for implementation.

EB: Has the Gender Equality Office officially adopted the Istanbul Convention or taken it as a specified framework for preventing violence/discrimination against women locally?

MF: Yes, the Gender Equality Office has already adopted the Istanbul Convention for its framework in combatting GBV at the municipal level. The 2024-2026 Gender Equality Office Action Plan will focus on gender-based violence, and contribute to the implementation of the Convention itself. Aside from working with local organizations that concentrate on GBV, the office also runs a campaign every 25 November (International Prevent Violence Against Women Day). On this day, the office gives local bakeries and pharmacies special paper bags with helpline numbers and QR codes, to make resources for victims of GBV more accessible.

EB: What does the city do to support the aforementioned organizations in their goals?

MF: The city funds these organizations via financial subsidies, and the Gender Equality Office is actively advocating for the interests of these groups to bring attention to their invaluable work and service within the municipality. This has been and will continue to be an obstacle, as the municipality is currently experiencing issues with debt and tightening budgetary lines.. Aside from advocating for their funding, the office works closely with these organizations via coordination groups. One such coordination group is a group on domestic and sexualized violence, meeting twice a year with representatives from the Gender Equality Office, other relevant departments of the municipality and all willing local organizations. Efforts of this group include the implementation of a 2020 law in which victims of sexual violence can secure evidence of their assault anonymously without filing a police report, giving victims more agency in the assault documentation process.

EB: How intersectional of an approach is Nuremberg taking? I had difficulty finding resources for disabled women in Nuremberg specifically.

MF: The Gender Equality Office is fully intersectional, and the 2021-2023 Action Plan specifically includes measures that target women with disabilities. There is also a specific office for people with disabilities within the municipality, and the Gender Equality Office works with them. The office and greater municipality recognize intersectionality as a fluid and working process, and to attend to thisthe departments concerning the various dimensions of diversity are in constant exchange and works closely together..

EB: How many projects the Gender Equality Office conducts include men and boys in the fight against gender-based violence? Is this a main objective for the office as of right now?

MF: Fully aware of the need to include men in conversations of gender equality, the office employs a Male Topic Liaison & Contact Person who serves as a contact for local men in the matter of gender equality.. Part of his work is encouraging men to be active in conversations of gender equality, as well as openly discussing toxic masculinity, male gender stereotypes, fatherhood, and how men can be victims of domestic and sexual violence. The office’s Male Topic Liaison & Contact Person was the first contact person for men on a local level in all of Germany! Recent campaigns of his included poster campaigns with images of active, loving fathers, and local men and boys speaking out against GBV.

Image Credit: sjr Erlangen

EB: What do you think the status of women is in Nuremberg compared to the rest of Bavaria? The rest of Germany?

MF: This is difficult to tell, as there is a limited capacity to conduct local surveys. Additionally, police data covers all of Franconia, rather than Nuremberg specifically. Compared to surrounding rural areas, Nuremberg is doing well and offering many services. Many women from rural areas come to Nuremberg to use its resources and consult with contact persons anonymously. Compared to other municipalities, Nuremberg has a large team dedicated solely to gender topics (four employees). Most communities do not have employees working specifically on gender topics, and are often torn between multiple divisions or working on a part-time basis. That being said, the financial status of Nuremberg does impact the funding of the Gender Equality Office.

In terms of Bavaria, while it is not at the forefront of gender equality in Germany, some cities (e.g. Munich) are currently drafting action plans relating to the Istanbul Convention in an attempt to fully implement it. While there is always more to be done here, many dedicated people are working to see through full implementation.

EB: Lastly, what are the future goals for the city concerning women’s rights, and will the city take the Istanbul Convention into account if it hasn’t already?

MF: As aforementioned, the office’s action plan for 2024-2026 will focus on the local implementation of the Istanbul Convention. Usually, action plans are discussed exclusively at the municipal level, but this plan will include input from local organizations as well. The first step to developing this plan was to distribute a survey on ongoing initiatives in combatting GBV, which led to the organization of bar camps, in which speakers could discuss the details of the action plan. Results from the surveys and bar camps are currently under review for continuing to shape the action plan. Aside from developing the 2024-2026 action plan centered on the Istanbul Convention, the office will continue to create innovative and inclusive campaigns and programs promoting gender equality, and work within the internal structures of the municipality to continually improve municipal environments.

Conclusion: Where is Nuremberg headed for upholding the Istanbul Convention?

There is no question those like Michelle Fowinkel and all the employees/volunteers of Nuremberg’s gender equality organizations are working tirelessly to fulfill the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention and eradicate GBV on a local level. Regarding funding and organizational sustainability concerns, Germany’s adoption of the Istanbul Convention can be utilized in advocating for increased support. Gender equality organizations now have legal rights to advocate for protection and backing on behalf of the state and municipality. Due to its multi-dimensionality, full implementation of the convention will take a few more years. Connecting law and practice has always been challenging in fulfilling human rights, and fulfilling the rights of women, girls, and LGBT+ people is no different. As the Istanbul Convention becomes more engrained in Nuremberg’s everyday municipal processes, gender mainstreaming will become the norm. There is much to look forward to.

Liz Bodenman is an American NMRZ intern and Research Affiliate of the WomanStats Project. She recently graduated from Texas A&M University with a Master’s in International Affairs, and is interested in topics concerning sustainability, gender equity, and conflict.

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