Posted on 22 September 2011
[Brussels, 21 September 2011] ‘We all have the right to live free from violence, and women face so many forms of violence. We just have to end it, and we know the EU has the means to do so.’ With these words Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the house (EPP/FI), opened the Roundtable in the European Parliament organised yesterday by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting to explore and challenge the EU’s current internal and external policy approaches to violence against women and girls.
In the opening session chaired by Catherine Stihler MEP (S&D/UK), speakers from NGOs active within the European Union (EU) and beyond put forward a compelling case for rapid, comprehensive and coherent European action to combat what they called the most pervasive violation of girls’ and women’s human rights worldwide. ‘Seven women die every day in the EU at the hands of their partner or ex-partner’, put forward Brigitte Triems, President of the EWL. ‘39% of women in Turkey are victims of domestic violence’, added Ayse Tekagac from Roj Women. ‘60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school each year’, said WAGGGS representative Gabi Heller, highlighting this as one of the reasons WAGGGS has launched its global campaign to ‘End Violence against Girls’.
While EU external policies have integrated increased commitments to ending the scourge of violence against women and girls and promoting their sexual and reproductive health and rights, the lack of common legislation to deal with widespread abuses of women and girls within Europe’s borders is striking. Although there are still issues of implementation in external policies, a number of strong instruments are in place, such as Human Rights Guidelines. ‘Policy instruments in external and internal policy are totally different’, confirmed Katarina Leinonen from the European External Action Service (EEAS). ‘In external policies, “the sky’s the limit”!’ Still, Ms. Leinonen admitted, ‘it is only when we have our house in order that we can be credible in external policy.’
Antoniya Parvanova, MEP (ALDE/BG) was frank in her criticism of this divergence: ‘What I would like to see is Viviane Reding showing the same dedication as [High Representative for external affairs] Catherine Ashton on this issue’, she exclaimed, referring to the reluctance of the EU Commissioner responsible for gender equality to put forward a comprehensive Strategy on combating violence against women as called for by the European Parliament and Council. ‘Expectations are rising but there is no effective action’, she added, calling it ‘hypocrisy’ on the part of the EU.
Considering the effectiveness of legislation in decreasing the prevalence of violence against women and girls, Dagmar Schumacher from UN Women presented survey results showing that in countries where no such legislation exists, 50% of respondents find it acceptable for a husband to sometimes beat his wife; where legislation is in place, this figure drops to 25%. Legislation, data collection, education and awareness-raising and gender budgeting are key elements of an effective strategy to change a system which currently costs EU member states €16 billion a year, she argued.
The NGOs welcomed the strong commitments expressed by the MEPs, representatives of the EEAS and UN Women, and called for strong partnership with women’s associations to make these commitments a reality. In particular, they expressed concern for the future of funding for issues related to women’s rights in the current context of economic crisis. ‘These are small budget lines, but very vulnerable ones’, pointed out Cécile Gréboval from the EWL. ‘We need to ensure they are not cut in discussions over the EU budget 2014-2020.’