[Brussels, 11 April 2014] 6 weeks before the European elections, the European Women’s Lobby explains, week after week, the demands of its Manifesto "Act now for her future, commit to gender equality!". The third demand of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union, is a Europe free from violence against women.
The results of the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) European wide survey on violence against women published in March 2014 show the wide and extremely high prevalence of violence against women: one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15; one in five women has experienced stalking; every second woman has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment. Violence against women is far too high everywhere in Europe: urgent change is needed. However, the results are not shocking to the EWL who has been warning about the high scale of all the different forms of violence against women and calling for action for more than 10 years.
The EU must therefore raise awareness on the issue and affirm its political commitment to end violence against women. The EWL calls for 2016 to be established as the EU year to End Violence against women and girls. By establishing a European Year to end violence against women and girls, the EU would play a leading role in raising awareness on violence against women, and at the same time propose concrete measures to act against the perpetuation of violence against women.
EU Years are key policy tools to develop strong policies and involve all actors on a specific issue. Adequate and substantial resources must be allocated to allow the development of awareness raising actions at European, national and local level. All these actions will prove to the EU institutions and Member States that everyone cares about the issue and that we want a Europe free from violence for all women and girls. Concrete actions and measures will be promoted. To date, the EU has no binding legislation regarding violence against women. The EWL supports the urgent call made by the European Parliament (Resolution on Combatting violence against women, 24 February 2014) urging the European Commission to table a draft law by 2014 to tackle violence against women and to explore the possibility of adopting the Istanbul Convention.
In order to tackle effectively violence against women, the EWL calls on the EU to adopt an EU Strategy to end violence against women and girls in Europe. The Strategy has to be comprehensive and address prevention, protection and prosecution measures as well as measures to enhance data collection systems. Following the strategy, an EU Action plan must also be adopted defining the concrete actions to be taken, its objectives, the expected results and a clear timeline. In order to end impunity, protect women and give them access to justice, the EU Strategy must address all forms of violence against women. This means addressing prostitution as a form of violence against women and a violation of human rights and human dignity, on the basis of the EP resolution of 26 February on “Prostitution, sexual exploitation and its impact on gender equality”.
Sexual violence against women, including rape, continues to be one of the most devastating forms of gender-based violence, yet it is too often a taboo subject and it remains shrouded in silence. Reference at European level indicates that only between 2% and 10% of rapes are reported (EWL Barometer on rape). Being crucial to improve awareness of the scale and gravity of this form of male violence against women, the EWL is asking new Members of the European Parliament to establish an intergroup on sexual violence which will allow MEPs from any political group and any committee to hold informal exchanges of views on particular subjects and will promote contact between Members and civil society organisations to envisage new strategies and actions.
Preventing women from accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights must also be considered as a form of violence against women: violation of sexual and reproductive rights breaches the rights to equality, non-discrimination, dignity, health and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment. This is why the EWL is calling on the EU to guarantee universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Access to contraception, sexuality education and voluntary family planning empowers women to decide the number of children they have, reduces teenage pregnancies, and allows women and girls to get an education. In turn, this enables them to re-enter the labour market, earn money and it increases their financial stability. Promoting and guaranteeing SRHR is therefore a good investment and a precondition for gender equality and women´s empowerment.
Investing in gender equality on a global scale is a necessary pre-condition to make her future a better world for us all.
Women and girls are half of Europe’s population, and are entitled to the same rights as men and boys. Achieving substantive equality between women and men, promoting women’s rights and empowering women should be a priority of the European Union and its Member States. Gender equality is an essential part of democracy, social justice, human rights and dignity. Our Manifesto "Act now for her future, commit to gender equality!" develops our vision of a Europe committed to the realization of equality between women and men. We urge all candidates to the European elections to endorse it!