Written by Clare Ferguson with Sophia Stone.
The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, global conflict and economic instability have all led to a rise in violence against women – and Parliament has been voicing serious concern about gender-based violence for nearly 40 years. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November marks the start of 16 days of activism to end the violence. The annual United Nations (UN) ‘UNiTE! Activism to end violence against women and girls’ campaign aims to mobilise all of society to participate in preventing violence against women, and to stand in solidarity with feminist movements and women’s rights activists. The campaign is more than necessary, as such violence is rooted in inequalities between women and men, and continues to occur in many forms, remaining a serious and common human rights violation.
The statistics on gender-based violence in the EU show the importance of adopting a legal framework: 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; 1 in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15 and 1 in 20 women has been raped. Just over 1 in 5 women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from either a current or a previous partner, whilst 43 % of women have experienced some form of psychologically abusive and/or controlling behaviour when in a relationship.
Eliminating violence against women therefore remains high on the EU agenda. Work is ongoing in the Parliament and the Council on a proposal for an EU directive on violence against women and domestic violence, put forward by the European Commission in March this year. During a debate in plenary session on 23 November 2022, Commissioner Helena Dalli explained that the aim of the legislation is to criminalise specific offences, improve access to support and justice for victims and prevent such forms of violence across the EU. The proposal is modelled on the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first instrument to set legally binding standards to prevent gender-based violence in Europe and develop measures to protect victims and punish violent perpetrators. EU accession to the Istanbul Convention continues to be pursued in parallel to the adoption of the proposed directive. At present, all EU Member States have signed the agreement, and 21 have ratified it. The Parliament has consistently called for EU accession to the Istanbul Convention and its ratification by all Member States.
Crises of all sorts worldwide continue to have a disproportionate effect on women, and the EU is keen to stamp out violence against women everywhere, not just at home. The war perpetuated by Russia against Ukraine makes it clear once again that women have different needs and are exposed to different risks than men. In such emergencies, a gender-sensitive response is vital to reduce the risks of gender-based violence and challenges that women face. It is also important to ensure that victims of sexual violence get justice, a point underlined in a resolution adopted by Parliament on 23 November. Parliament has also condemned the deterioration of women’s situation in Afghanistan and called on the country to combat violence against women and girls, including forced marriage and intimate partner violence. Outraged by the death of 22-year old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody in Iran after she allegedly violated the country’s compulsory veiling laws, Parliament passed a resolution condemning the repression of women and other protestors.
The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to an increase of many forms of violence against women everywhere, including domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and human trafficking. The impacts of climate change on the risks women face could come to inflict an even greater burden – evidenced specifically by the heightened domestic violence and femicide rates following heatwaves.
Furthermore, as the world moves online, women are disproportionately victims of cyber-violence. Cyberviolence includes hate speech, trolling, sexual harassment and other image-based abuse. Deepfakes, which are hyper-realistic media products created through artificial intelligence techniques that manipulate how people look and speak target women in particular. The malicious use of deepfakes includes fraud and extortion, leaving women dealing with the devastating effects of non-consensual pornographic videos. Tackling these varied forms of gender-based violence is part of the 2020‑2025 EU gender equality strategy, which underlines that the violence and harassment has reached alarming levels and is consistently under-reported and overlooked.
EPRS topical digest on gender based violence, November 2022
Events for this year’s international day:
Universal Jurisdiction – Improving accountability for serious international crimes. Subcommittee on Human Rights and Committee on Legal Affairs. European Parliament in Brussels, room Antall 4Q2 and via webstreaming on 28 November 2022 at 16h30.
Public hearing on combating trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. European Parliament in Brussels, room Antall 4Q2 and on 29 November 2022 from 09h00 to 10h30.