On 10 April 2013 the S&D Group (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament) held a hearing ‘Convention on Violence against Women‘. The aim of the hearing was to present the current situation on Violence against Women (VAW), to raise public awareness on the subject and to discuss its findings with people actively engaged in the fight against it.
Violence against Women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. It is violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.
First MEP Britta Thomsen (S&D, Denmark) summarised the EU policy achievements in the field of combating VAW so far. These include an improvement of the minimum rights of citizens, access to information and justice (with emphasis on the lack of knowledge on the matter among minorities) and the new EU policy framework to combat violence and stalking. She underlined that the issue is an ongoing struggle and further improvements are necessary, especially a comprehensive strategy against violence against women.
Then Johanna Nelles (Council of Europe, DG Human rights and Role of Law) outlined the assumptions of the Istanbul Convention (focusing on its four pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution and policy) and which would be mandatory for all women, irrespective of age, race, religion, migrant status or sexual orientation. She emphasised that the Istanbul Convention fills the existing law gaps in EU Member States legislation, and defines violations which are not always recognised so far, such as forced abortion and sterilisation, forced and under-age marriage, female genital mutilation, marital rapes or psychological violence. Nelles concluded that it is disappointing that to date Portugal is the only EU country which has ratified the Convention.
Finally Pierretta Pape from the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) also stated that first of all a clear, EU-wide policy is needed, since there is no common definition of VAW (i.e. 18 of 27 Member States have a definition of rape that substantially differs from the one stated in the Istanbul Convention). She added that the lack of a policy framework leads to issues when it comes to recognise cases of gender based violence and later on, to its impunity.
All panellists agreed that further improvements are needed, placing special emphasis on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, which would help to avoid duplication and double standards of law within the EU. Participants also recommended establishing an EU directive against Gender based Violence, an overarching strategy to end all forms of VAW and a European Year to Combat Violence against Women.