The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) highly welcomes the European Parliament decision to give green light to the EU’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention. This historic vote has sent once again a strong message that the EU cares, that women are taken seriously and that violence against women is not a private matter but a structural issue embedded in patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. The message the EU has given is that women’s rights are fundamental human rights at the very heart of the EU project; and therefore all forms of violence against women must end.
Thank you to all involved, to the partners in the European Coalition to end violence against women and particularly to the political leaders. We congratulate the two rapporteurs, MEP Arba Kokalari (Sweden, EPP, FEMM Committee) and MEP Łukasz Kohut (Poland, S&D, LIBE Committee) on this historical achievement . The EWL also congratulates EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli and President Ursula von der Leyen, for having pursued this file and for their commitment to take legal actions. The success of this file shows that women political leaders committed to women’s rights do make a difference and also, that whenever there is political will, there is a way.
We also congratulate the Swedish Presidency for the political courage to make this happen. Now, the EWL countson the EU Member States in the Council of the EU to show the same courage and commitment to women’s rights and finalise the EU accession at the JHA Council meeting on 8/9 June. We call on all these leaders,especially at the national level, to show as much courage. We expect that, in the same Council meeting, Member States adopt a robust general agreement on the proposal for a Directive on violence against women and domestic violence, which will be crucial for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. These two instruments must be seen as sisters that must go hand in hand to end all forms of violence against women and girls in Europe.
For the last 8 years, women’s rights organisations and other human right’s CSOs have been working together relentlessly asking for the EU to ratify the Convention: the most comprehensive tool that we all have to date to address the phenomenon adequately. The Convention recognises the structural aspects of violence against women and responds to the particular needs of victims of violence against women and domestic violence: the intimidation they suffer; and high risk of retaliation, repeated victimization and the risk to their lives. The Istanbul Convention provides a full pack of comprehensive measures that – if implemented correctly- it helps to save the lives of women.
For the first time,the EU will commit to a set of comprehensive binding measures to address violence against, to report on its implementation and to data collection. The EU accession can also help to ensure that right across Europe women have the same level of rights and protection no matter where they live.
At national level, we recall that Member States will still be responsible for ratifying and implementing the Convention in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. Therefore we call on the EU Member States that have signed the Istanbul Convention but that haven’t yet ratified it to do so without delay: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.
In these countries especially- but also in all others that have ratified but that are not working towards its implementation-, women’s organisations have been working relentlessly for years calling for adequate action and to move the file on the Istanbul Convention forward by integrating its principles and measures into the national frameworks.
Now, the EU accession presents an opportunity for all the EU Member States to commit to a common legal framework to address violence against women at EU level. The EU ratification to the Istanbul Convention will play a “unifying role”, as Commissioner for Equality, Hellena Dalli mentioned in her speech.
For this, implementation will be key and concrete legal tools will be needed. This is why the EWL highly welcomed the European Commission proposal for a concrete Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The proposal of the Commission is already a very good basis for the negotiation as it proposes harmonisation of definitions of crimes linked to sexual exploitation, including sexual violence, and cyberviolence; and it proposes concrete measures to give response to the specific needs of victims of violence and to ensure their access to justice.
Now we call on all the EU leaders to continue making a difference by turning commitments into concrete actions. EU leaders must continue to show as much courage by swiftly adopting and enhancing the proposed Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence.
The EWL is very concerned to see that there are attempts to water down the proposal for a Directive within the Council, i.e. EU Member States. We trust that the European Parliament will adopt a strong and comprehensive proposal to enhance the text of the Directive -thanks to the determination of the two rapporteurs MEP Francis Fitzgerald (Ireland, EPP, FEMM Committee) and MEP Evin Incir (Sweden, S&D, LIBE Committee).
However, we are deeply worried for the evolution of the negotiations in the Council of the EU as we learnt that fundamental pillars of the Directive are at stake, as for example its article 5 proposing a harmonised definition of rape. This is absolutely unacceptable to women’s organisations: on the one hand because there are enough legal basis for the EU to legislate on this matter, and the other hand because Member States must recognise that rape is a crime that is systematically excerpted to silence women across Europe and at the very core of the violation of women’s fundamental rights. Furthermore, we know that victims of this crime do not have the same level of protection across Europe1. Only a small number of women feel safe to report and ask for help2 and therefore a great majority of sex crimes remain undisclosed. And for those that dare to report, there are far too many obstacles. We know too many cases of women being re-victimised and humiliated during criminal investigation proceedings, being blamed and required to demonstrate how much they resisted the crime, and being judged themselves on the basis of gender stereotypes and moral views about women’s sexuality.
We will not accept this! Our EWL members are mobilised widely contacting political leaders and taking action across Europe to ask for a Directive that criminalises all forms of sexual and reproductive exploitation of women, including sexual violence and abuse over women’s sexuality, and all forms of online violence against women and girls. We also call to set highest possible standards for specialised support mechanisms to protect victims and ensure their access to justice and reparation.
When the Council meets in June we want to ensure that every single one of the Member States will feel ashamed if they agree to backtrack, water-down or dilute this Directive, which requires a qualified majority to go through. We ask them not to let victims down: women in the EU are counting on you today.
You have a historic opportunity to contribute to put an end violence against women and girls in the EU, including all forms of sexual exploitation and cyberviolence, by signing this Wemove petition here.
The European Women’s Lobby is the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in Europe. Founded in 1990, the EWL works to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men and represents more than 2000 organizations across Europe.
We remain at your disposal for any further information you might need. Feel welcome to contact:
Laura Kaun, Policy and Campaigns Director
Irene Rosales, Policy and Campaigns Officer
Mirta Baselovic, Communications and Media Coordinator
1. Sara de Vido and Lorena Sosa (2021) , Criminalisation of gender-based violence against women in European states, including ICT-facilitated violence, published by the European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/25712c44-4da1-11ec-91ac-01aa75ed71a1
2. Only 22% of women who experience intimate partner violence report it to the police. In particular, of violent incidents of a sexual nature, 60 % were reported to the police. Reporting is lower than average when the perpetrator was a family member or a relative (only 22 % of incidents were reported to the police). That has significant implications for under-reporting of domestic and/or intimate partner violence. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Crime, safety and victims’ rights – Fundamental Rights Survey, 2021: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2021/fundamental-rights-survey-crime