Theresa May has called on MPs to support a bill that seeks to end violence against women.
The UK government signed up to the Istanbul Convention, a groundbreaking legal framework that outlines minimum standards for a country’s response to violence against women and girls, in 2012, but it has never been ratified into UK law.
A private member's bill to ratify the law, tabled by SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford, will receive its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday, and during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday the prime minister urged MPs to vote for it.
"I hope that all honourable friends who will be here on Friday will be supporting those measures. This is an important bill," May said after Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, asked if she would back the bill, and to "discourage parliamentary wrecking techniques".
May said there should be wider support among MPs for bringing in better protections against violence towards women.
"The government has been supporting it and I hope it will see support across all parts of this house," she continued.
The prime minister said that ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which would mean the government has a legal obligation to provide support, such as domestic violence refuges, for women and girls who have been subject to violence, is something she takes "particularly seriously".
"There were an estimated 1.3 million female victims of domestic abuse last year and over 400,000 of sexual violence," May told the Commons.
"We are fully committed to ratifying it and that’s why we supported the bill in principle at second reading and committee stage.
"I’m very clear that we need to maintain this momentum and to look at the possibility of a domestic violence act in future."
Whiteford said she found May's explicit support of the bill "very welcome and encouraging", but added that she hoped that "amendments to the bill that have the sole purpose to enable filibustering are withdrawn ahead of the debate on Friday".
During an initial reading of the bill in December, Conservative MP and men's rights activist Philip Davies tried to block the ratification with a 78-minute speech laying out why he opposed it.
“The Istanbul Convention is the most comprehensive and far-reaching framework that exists to tackle violence against women in its many forms and manifestations, and critically, it provides the legal apparatus to hold governments accountable for their progress," Whiteford said.
“Violence against women is neither natural nor inevitable. We can prevent it, we can challenge it, and we can hold perpetrators to account.
"We need to do all these things if we are to end this systematic abuse of women’s basic human rights, and ratifying the Istanbul Convention is a big step in the right direction.”
One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 16, and around 85,000 women are raped every year, according to Home Office and Office of National Statistics data.
On average, two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former male partner, according to Women’s Aid.
Following his question in PMQs, Robertson tweeted that he was "pleased" May was supporting the bill.
In a statement, Robertson reiterated his welcoming of May's support. "I know that government ministers have been working very hard with my colleague Eilidh Whiteford MP, who has cross-party support for her bill," he said.
"In recent days the prime minister has said it is a key personal priority to transform the way domestic violence is tackled.
"It is hugely welcome that she has called for ideas about how the treatment of victims can be improved and more convictions secured against abusers.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, which supports women who have experienced violence, also praised May for throwing her weight behind the bill.
Urging MPs to attend the third reading on Friday and vote in favour of the bill, she said: "This could be a real game-changer in responding properly to women's and children's needs.
"The convention is clear that the local, specialist domestic abuse services that save the lives of women and children every single day must be funded. Without it we know they are closing at a frightening rate."
Gavin Newlands, SNP MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire, praised his fellow party members' furthering of the bill, but worried that despite May's backing, there could still be opposition. "I suspect this may be ignored by some of her backbenchers, particularly the awkward squad including Philip Davies who have a poor track record on this," he told BuzzFeed News. "The whole House should be united in our opposition against gender-based violence.”
Following Friday's reading, 100 votes from MPs in the bill's favour will be needed for it to progress to its next stage in the House of Lords.
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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