Written by Rosamund Shreeves,
This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November marks the start of a new campaign to end gender-based violence across Europe.
The European Commission has chosen the international day to launch a year of focused action to combat violence against women in 2017. The package of measures will include €4 million in funding for national awareness-raising programmes and €6 million to support grassroots projects.
Speaking at a plenary debate in the European Parliament on 24 November, the Commissioner responsible, Věra Jourová, stressed that the aim is to put momentum behind a collective push for real change on the ground. The campaign will coordinate the work being done across the EU and involve a spectrum of stakeholders, including frontline law enforcement staff, teachers, NGOs, academia, business, trade unions and the media, as well as the EU institutions and national governments. The focus will be on supporting victims, and changing attitudes and behaviours that have allowed violence against women to continue. Particular efforts will be made to give women the confidence to disclose and report violence. Under this overall umbrella, action can be tailored to respond to local issues and priorities.
In addition to the campaign, the Commission is encouraging national ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) and has proposed EU signature and accession to the Convention. The proposal is being discussed in the Council working party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens’ Rights and Free Movement of Persons, and will next be considered at a meeting in December, according to the representative of the Council presidency, who also addressed the plenary. Parliament’s approval would also be required.
The scale of the problem
The full scale of violence against women in the EU is not yet known. Newly released data from Eurostat (the statistical office of the EU) on the number of reported incidents of intentional homicide, rape and sexual assault, for both women and men, shows that over half of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member in many Member States. The earlier EU-wide survey on violence against women, published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2014, found that:
- One in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of fifteen;
- One in twenty has been raped;
- Just over one in five has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or previous partner;
- One in three has experienced psychologically abusive behaviour by an intimate partner;
- One in two (55 %) has experienced sexual harassment;
- One in five has experienced stalking;
- One in ten has experienced some form of sexual violence by an adult before they were fifteen years old.
- Women with disabilities and lesbian and transgender women were more likely to have experienced harassment and violence.
- only 13 % of women reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence to the police;
- only 14 % of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police.
The Commission notes that one in four women who do not report sexual violence to the police chooses not to do so because of shame; one in five does not want anyone to know, one in ten believes the police could not or would not do anything. Only half of those who do report to the police are satisfied with the assistance received. Victim-blaming attitudes may be one of the reasons that deter women from reporting. The latest Eurostat survey on public perceptions of violence against women and how they match reality, reveals that more than one in five respondents (22 %) believe that women often make up or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape, and shows that 27 % say that non-consensual sex could be justifiable in certain situations.
EU public expectations on combating violence against women
The Eurostat data also shows that almost all Europeans (96 %) think that domestic violence against women is unacceptable. Another poll for the European Parliament found that combating violence against women is one of the areas where the public feel that EU intervention is most effective, whilst 59 % of Europeans believe that violence against women is the gender inequality issue that should be dealt with as a priority.
Potential added value of the Istanbul Convention
In this context, ratification of the Istanbul Convention by all the Member States and accession by the EU in its areas of competence could help bring about real change in the way that women are protected from violence across the EU, by providing a binding legal framework and common standards for prevention, protection and prosecution. It would also send a strong signal of zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.
One of the concrete advantages would be better data collection. A gap in reliable, comparable and longitudinal data on the scale of violence against women in the EU has been identified as an urgent problem and an obstacle to developing effective responses. The EU’s Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has been working with Eurostat to improve the quality of data on violence against women in the EU. Ratification by all EU countries and EU accession to the Convention would oblige Member States to collect and send accurate and comparable data.
Another advantage of the Convention is that it would require states to prevent, prosecute and eliminate all forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence against women and girls, not only those that may be more familiar, such as rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, but also those that are currently less recognised in many Member States, such as stalking or forms of abuse that come under the umbrella term of ‘harmful practices’ (‘honour’ crimes, forced marriage and FGM).
It would also make the EU accountable through the monitoring process in the areas of EU competence.
Hurdles to be overcome may include the need for further legislative change and funding to implement the minimum standards set out in the Convention, for example to provide shelters for victims of violence. The Commission will encourage Member States to make use of the European Regional Development Fund to create shelters, as part of its year of action in 2017.
Action by the European Parliament
Parliament has been calling for a binding legislative instrument on combating violence against women for a number of years. Its Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) established a Working Group to formulate a general strategy in 2015. The Committee will be launching its own campaign on ratification of the Convention on 25 November, and holding a joint hearing with the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 29 November to discuss a forthcoming report.
Over 25 European civil society networks have joined a European Coalition to end violence against women and girls, convened by the European Women’s Lobby. They are calling on the European Parliament to adopt a strong resolution consenting to the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention, and on the EU Member States and the Council of the European Union to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention in 2017, and within the broadest possible scope of EU competence. There have also been calls for a European Directive for the implementation of the Convention, so that the measures it provides for are integrated in a harmonised way in the legal systems of all EU Member States.
Where to find further information on the 2017 year of action to combat violence against women…
How to show solidarity on 25 November…
- The Commission is urging people to support the campaign by sharing its main message: Say no! Stop violence against women through social media, using the hashtag #SayNoStopVAW
- The UN Women’s international campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence‘ will run from 25 November to 10 December
- For men who support women’s right to live free from violence, the EU’s Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is looking for ambassadors for the White Ribbon Campaign, to stand up and speak out about violence against women.
An overall analysis of the EU legislative framework and policy initiatives on violence against women is available in the EPRS Briefing on Violence against Women in the EU: State of Play. EPRS is also publishing a series of individual briefings on harmful practices, beginning with an overview and an exploration of the issue of honour crimes.
Related EP/EPRS publications:
- European Parliament, EPRS, The Istanbul Convention: a tool to tackle violence against women and girls, At a Glance, 19 July 2016
- European Parliament, EPRS, Briefing on Equal treatment of men and women in Public opinion and EU policies: Exploring the expectations gap, July 2016
- European Parliament, EPRS, Briefing on ‘Harmful practices’ as a form of violence against women and girls, November 2016
- European Parliament, EPRS, Ending child, early and forced marriage, At a Glance, 25 May 2015
- European Parliament, IPOL, The Issue of Violence against Women in the European Union, Study, 2016
- European Parliament, EPRS, Combatting violence against women: European Added Value Assessment, November 2013