The Istanbul convention: a gender approach to forced migration and pandemic

Forced Migration, Global Policies, Legal Approaches and Citizenship

by Marilù Porchia

The stringent measures to protect public health adopted by some governments resulted in a dramatic rise of the risk of gender based violence (GBV), and limitation to health and social services that is driving many women migrants deeper into poverty and destitution. Pandemic weakened the States capacity – and willing – to protect from GBV. We should be aware of the existence and the power of tools to counteract this trend.

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, note as Istanbul Convention, is a powerful tool. So powerful that President Erdogan issued a decree on 20th of March, annulling Turkey’s ratification of the Convention. Why the Convention is a threat for Erdogan and why it is so important, even more in pandemic time? Looking from a practical prospective, Convention represent the fundamental tool to recognize protection to women forced to fly from home
countries because of GBV and to protect these, and all women in the signatory States, from any kind of GBV. Italy, as Country of first arrival, is a good prospective point to see its importance. UNHCR representative for Italy, said: ” the majority of people under the UNHCR mandate who arrive in Italy are survivors of sexual and gender violence and that many continue to be exposed to the risk of undergoing violence here as well. […] This risk has been aggravated by the pandemic”.1 UNICEF coordinator in Italy, said: ” is evident that there is a connection between migration and violence, a problem aggravated by the recent pandemic”.2 Convention should be applied from the very first approach by the hosting State, at the disembarkation process 3. The application of the Convention could prioritize vulnerability assessment, reducing the risk of further victimization, but above of all, a permit of stay could be granted by a reasoning application of the Convention. Indeed, only a regular status could avoid the risk of re- victimization, retrafficking, and protection of GBV that could experience upon arrived in Italy. The Court of Bologna, in a case concerning a Tunisian woman – survivor of GBV in the country of origin – recognized the right to residence in Italy4 on the base of her vulnerability and the inability to protection of the Tunisian State, due to COVID – 19 pandemic, by the application of the Convention.5 The decision recall the effect of COVID-19- related restrictions on freedom of movement on Tunisian women’s mental health and gender-based violence6 and the guide published in Italy for workers on the front lines providing support to survivors of gender violence, by the IOM, the UNHCR, and the UNHCR, that considered protection “particularly relevant in this time in which the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities, including those of women and children and adolescent migrants and refugees”.7 Other Courts should follow the Bologna Court’s decision, in order to protect vulnerabilities and women and human dignity. Be survivor is not a shame, is a strength.

1 UNHCR (2020).
2 UNCEF (2020).
3 Italy began in April 2020 to quarantine arriving migrants on ferries, after declaring its ports unsafe because of the health emergency On board, according to the National Guarantor, migrants could not be assisted as victims of trafficking and the vulnerable persons (e.g. pregnant women, victims of torture or of GBV) did not have an immediate possibility to be evacuated and to receive assistance.
4 Sezione Specializzata in materia di Immigrazione, Protezione internazionale e Libera circolazione cittadini UE,
Tribunale Ordinario di Bologna, n. r.g. 11436/2020.
5 Council of Europe (2011).
6 Sediri, S., Zgueb, Y., Ouanes, S. et al (2020).
7 OIM; UNHCR; UNICEF (2020).


Marilù Porchia

Graduated from Bologna University in International Law in 2016, since July 2018 she was admitted to practice the profession of Lawyer by the Italian Bar of Law and she worked for a law firm in Rome that specialized in Human Rights. As a legal counselor for Save the Children Italy, she worked on the legal impact of witnessing domestic violence on children, and as a legal counselor for the reception system (SPRAR) for asylum seekers, she worked on the legal support for trafficked women and gender-based violence survivors. Since March 2020 she worked as a Research Officer in the Tribunal.