[Brussels, 30 November 2010] For women’s rights advocates who attended a high-level conference on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women last week, initial disappointment at the lack of concrete outcomes of the two-day event at the Hilton Hotel in Brussels has given way to concern that the European Commission may fail to implement EU commitments to develop a comprehensive Strategy to tackle widespread gender-based violence.
In the aftermath of the conference, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), an umbrella organisation representing more than 2500 women’s associations throughout the EU, has written to the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, questioning the vague language used by Commission representatives at the event. The EWL is demanding immediate and full implementation of Council Conclusions from March 2010 calling on the Commission to devise a European Strategy including legal instruments for preventing and combating violence against women.
‘I am surprised by the way the Commission is interpreting its role in the EU decision-making process on this matter’, says Brigitte Triems, EWL President. ‘The Council and Parliament – the democratic representatives of the peoples of Europe – have both made it very clear that eradicating violence against women is a priority for the EU and that they want both a Strategy and legislation to do this. As far as I know, it is the role and duty of the European Commission to execute this will.’
According to the UN, approximately 60% of women are victims of physical violence at least once in their lives. In Europe, an estimated one in five women falls victim to domestic violence, costing EU Member States as much as 16 billion Euros every year, or one million Euros every half hour.
To date, the EU has no binding legislation in place to deal with what activists highlight is the most pervasive human rights abuse within its borders. In November 2009, the European Parliament passed a Resolution calling for a Directive and an Action Plan on violence against women. The Council of the EU backed this position in March 2010, issuing Conclusions calling on the Commission to devise a Strategy on violence against women and consider additional legal instruments. On the same date, the Commission launched a Women’s Charter which included a promise to ‘put in place a comprehensive and effective policy framework to combat gender-based violence’, and in an April Communication on cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs, duly committed to the elaboration of a Strategy followed by an Action Plan, with a time-frame of 2011-2012. In September, the new EU Strategy for Equality between Women and Men included the adoption of an EU-wide Strategy on combating violence against women in its provisions for 2010-2015.
Since then, however, the European executive has seemed to be back-peddling on these commitments, omitting mention of work on violence against women from the Commission’s 2011 Work Programme and avoiding any reference whatsoever to the Strategy in the Belgian Presidency conference dedicated to this theme.
According to Rada Boric, EWL Executive Committee Member and long-term activist in the field of violence against women, if the Commission fails to start work on a Strategy to eradicate violence against women over the coming months, it will not only be going back on its own commitments, but also transgressing from the role allocated to it by the European Treaties: ‘Equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union. There is no question that the Commission has a legal and a moral duty to take action on this most intolerable of violations of women’s basic human rights.’