EWL News

Violence against women is not abstract and women are speaking out loudly about it!

[Brussels, 18 January 2018] On December 6th 2017, at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels, The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) held a high level conference titled “Istanbul Convention: What policies transform commitments into reality?” The conference, which marked the International Day of Human Rights (10th December), was the highlight of our Loud and United to end violence against women and girls project in partnership with the Council of Europe.

The conference brought together experts from the EWL Observatory on violence against women and girls and academics who analysed the key present challenges being faced when combating violence against women and discussed the topic as a European issue. The speakers also took the opportunity to monitor the progress with regards to the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention at EU and national level.

As Laura Albu, EWL Executive Committee member, highlighted in her opening speech violence against women is not abstract: it is a highly political issue and it should be a top political priority. Therefore, the discussion with key EU and Council of Europe decision makers was essential in highlighting the different aspects that need to be urgently addressed in policies and legislations at national and EU level to transform the existent commitments into a loudly demanded reality. At present only 17 EU member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention and at EU Level, there have been important steps such as the signature and ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the EU and declaration of 2017 as EU year of focused action to end violence against women; however more progress is needed to ensure that its provisions are implemented across Europe.

Below in this article you can find a detailed overview of the entire conference and the discussions that happened during the different panels.

Find here the full agenda of the event and here an album with all the pictures of the day. A brief overview of the event is available on the EWL website here.

Check out the EWL Factsheet on Disrupting the continuum of violence against women and girls, now in 8 languages, where you will find more information on the situation of violence against women and girls in Europe.


Disrupting the continuum of violence against women and girls.
The importance of women’s organisations work in preventing and combating VAWG

"The European Women’s Lobby Observatory is a key instrument in getting an overview of the reality of violence against women and girls. In identifying trends, issues and in the implementation of the Istanbul Convention."
Isabel Ventura, EWL Observatory Expert

The EWL was pleased to commence the conference by highlighting the expertise and knowledge of the EWL Observatory experts, academics and front line activists in a panel titled, Highlights on the standards and the implementation of the Istanbul Convention at national and EU level.

Moderated by EWL Observatory expert Isabel Ventura from Portugal, the panel discussed in detailed different forms of violence against women, such as digital violence and violence against migrant and refugee women. The participants also took the opportunity to take stock of the major developments and backlashes seen regarding policies and indeed social movements around violence against women such as the #MeToo movement.

Gwendolyn Sterk, EWL Observatory expert from UK opened the discussion by emphasising the significance of women’s organisations and their history of providing crucial support, services, and raising awareness campaigns about the continuum of violence against women and girls. However, despite incredible progress, there is still much to be done. As she highlights "We are far from a Europe where all women and girls can live a life free from violence and abuse". She continued by noting the backlashes seen such as overcoming the unchanging attitudes seen in Europe. As documented in the Fundamental Rights Agency report on Violence against women, 1 in 5 persons in Europe still hold victim blaming views and 1 in 5 also think that male violence against women is somehow provoked by the victim.

Speakers at LoudUnited Conference

“Women’s front line NGO’s, as those that make up the Observatory have been at the forefront of fighting violence against women for decades. Feminist organisations have been the first to denounce violence, set up shelters, helpline and to lobby governments in order to get services and policy change” Gwendolyn Sterk, EWL Observatory Expert

Salome Mbugua, EWL Observatory expert echoed the calls and recommendation of her colleagues, highlighting the importance of women’s organisations such as the European Network of Migrant Women (ENOMW) in providing support to migrant and refugee women. Migrant women and women on the move face significantly higher chances of rape, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse both during their journey and upon arrival in the countries of destination. The level of protection and prevention of violence that civil society organisations can provide will remain limited if the policies and legal frameworks also remain limited.

The Council of Europe Istanbul Convention provides the legal framework to combat these challenges, as Salome highlighted, “The Istanbul Convention is a very important tool and the very first indeed that clearly indicates, defines and outlines the measures on the protection and prevention for migrant women and refugees”. These provisions can help combat the gender blind policies affecting refugee and migrant women as highlighted within the #womensvoices project. In collaboration with the Women’s Refugee Commission and ENoMW, the #womensvoices project aimed to raising awareness on the situation of women and girls fleeing conflict and, as with the Istanbul Convention, called upon state parties to protect migrant women and refugees.

The continuum of male violence against women and girls is also being reinforced in the digital space as the diffusion of internet based technologies, social media and virtual content continues. Essa Reijmers, EWL Observatory Expert from the Netherlands took stock of these developments, highlighting key findings from the EWL #HerNetHerRights Resource Pack. Women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online and by the age of 15, 9 million girls across Europe have experienced some form of cyber violence. The impact and consequences of online violence against women are the same as physical violence and can cause trauma, PTSD, isolation and continued fear. This form of violence must be tackled from multiple political perspectives, but the implementation of the Istanbul Convention can address violence against women within the digital sphere.

What was made clear by all the EWL Observatory Experts, is that the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention is an essential tool in tackling the different forms of violence against women and can provide the legislative and social frameworks to work towards the elimination of male violence against women and girls.

Ratification by the EU of the Istanbul Convention: Impact on EU policies and proposal for enhanced cooperation

Academic Sara de Vido, Assistant Professor of International Law at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice supported the conclusions of the EWL Observatory experts and explained the main conclusions of her research on the impact on EU policies of the ratification by the EU of the Istanbul Convention.

Professor De Vido questioned the limited approach proposed by the Council of the European Union for the signature of the Istanbul Convention and analysed the actions that the EU must take once that the ratification is finalised;. First of all, Professor De Vido highlighted the need of the EU to appoint a European Coordinator that would have the responsibility to coordinate implement, monitor and assess the measures adopted to repress any form of violence against women which is object of the Convention.

Professor De Vido continued by highlighting the existing precedent for the implementation and impact of the Istanbul Convention on EU policies. Much like the United Nations Convention of the rights of persons with disabilities of 2006 (UNCRPD), the EU will adopt a code of conduct and can utilise both exclusive and shared competence to fulfil the requirements of the Convention and the GREVIO monitoring platform. Similarly, to what happened after the ratification of the UNCRPD, a consequence of the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would be the adoption of an EU strategy on preventing and suppressing violence against women. Though the European Commission has included violence against women in the new strategic engagement for 2016-2019, these actions are missing coherent coordination and crucial guidance which the previously mentioned EU Coordinator could provide.

Furthermore, Professor de Vido highlighted how the Istanbul Convention, once ratified by the EU, could become a means of interpretation of secondary legislation, for example on matters related to compensation measures, and to interpret the definition of crimes, such as “sexual violence”, already included in EU Directives as for example, the European Investigation Order.

Professor Sara de Vido speaking with Participant at #LoudUnited Conference

Beyond analysing these effects upon EU policy, Professor De Vido emphasised that enhanced cooperation can be used to overcome any difficulties in the implementation process of the Istanbul Convention, such as the move towards the adoption of a Directive violence against women and domestic violence. In this regard, Professor De Vido also provided an extensive analysis of the legal basis that would justify the adoption of EU legislation and a directive on violence against women as per the articles 83.1 and 82.2 of the TFEU, on judicial cooperation, and article 19 on promoting equality and fight discrimination.

Overall, De Vido’s analysis provided justification from the legal perspective for the demands of both the European Parliament (see the resolution adopted in September) and the longstanding demands of the EWL and the European Coalition to end violence against women and girls for the ratification and broad implementation of the Istanbul Convention by the EU and all member states. The full analysis by Professor de Vido regarding the legal arguments for the ratification by the EU can be found here.

Speaking Truth to Power

“Whilst the Ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a major milestone for Germany, it is not the end of the journey"
Dr Ralf Kleindiek, State Secretary for the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior citizens, Women and Youth, Germany

The Speaking Truth to Power panel moderated by EWL Secretary General Joanna Maycock, highlighted EWL demands to end violence against women and girls (see below); gave the opportunity for key EU and Council of Europe decision makers to respond to the analysis presented in the first panel; and to comment on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the EU.

EU and Council of Europe Decision Makers Panel

Dr Ralf Kleindiek from the Federal Ministry for Germany for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany highlighted that real progress in combatting violence against women and girls can only be reached when the demands of the Istanbul Convention have become a reality, not only in law but throughout society. He noted the crucial importance of women’s organisations who were essential in constructing the legal definition of rape and their lobbying efforts in ensuring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention which will come into force in Germany in February 2018. Dr Kleindiek continued to emphasise the importance of the Istanbul Convention within the European sphere, highlighting that only by the ratification by all member states will there be a uniform level of protection for all women across Europe.

European Commission Director of Equality and Union Citizenship, Ms Irena Moozova echoed this call, demanding more progress by member states in working toward ratification and implementation of the Convention. She also took the opportunity to highlight some key data regarding the reality of violence against women and girls and called for all member states, EU institutions and stakeholders to continue to work together, otherwise definitive progress will remain difficult to achieve. As the conference took place in the concluding days of the EU Year of Focused Action to combat violence against women, Ms Moozova highlighted the activities and awareness raising conducted by the European Commission and all participating partners. The activities of the Year will be followed up with a high-level conference with participation from the Council of Europe, UN Women, G7 and OECD to discuss how to continue the progress made in combatting violence against women.

MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (Sweden, EPP) co-rapporteur of the European Parliament resolution on the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention reiterated the importance of the work of civil society and women’s organisations in raising awareness about the continuum of violence against women. Ms Corazza Bildt additionally highlighted the European Parliament’s call to the European Commission to present a legal act and Directive on violence against women, ensuring that it is recognised as a cross-border crime. This call is echoed in the EWL demands for a legal act and Directive and also supports our call for the appointment of an EU coordinator to end violence against women and girls. The EWL is pleased to have received the commitment from Ms Corazza Bildt to continue to push for the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention by the European Union.

Ms Carolina Lasen Diaz, Head of Gender Equality Unit at the Council of Europe, concluded the panel by strongly emphasising the importance of institutional cooperation with women’s organisations. Ms Lasen Diaz stated, “we (Council of Europe) think that cooperation is the only way to really get the effective implementation of such a comprehensive and challenging treaty that is the Istanbul Convention” . By highlighting the essential articles of the Convention relating to civil society cooperation, Ms Lasen Diaz made it fundamentally clear that parties to the Convention must recognise, support an encourage the work of women’s organisations across Europe. Ms Lasen Diaz also presented the Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy for 2018-2023, where ending violence against women remains a top political priority.

What was made intrinsically clear is that women’s organisations have been fundamental in advocating for change at societal and political level in combatting violence against women and girls, and have been essential in ensuring the full implementation of the provisions of the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention. The EWL welcomes this recognition from our institutional participants and urges the institutions and national bodies to continue to collaborate with women’s organisations to bring an end to all forms of violence against women.
Violence against women must not only be made a political priority but that the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is essential in comprehensively combatting violence against women and girls. Concrete policies and legislation at national and EU level are needed to transform the commitments of decision makers into a reality where women and girls can live a life free of violence.

Rally Initiatives: Diversity in Perspectives, Uniform in Objective

The conference panel discussions concluded with a rally initiative by members of the European Coalition to end violence against women and girls; an EWL convened initiative that brings together over 25 European and international human rights organisations working together to combat violence against women from different perspectives. Moderated by EWL Observatory member Jean-Ann Ndow (WAGGGS- World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), colleagues from EuroMed Rights, European Disability Forum and END FGM European Network presented their ongoing work on violence against women and girls.

Ms Ndow highlighted the WAGGGS Stop the Violence campaign which has been running since 2011, and focuses on providing education to young girls on the root causes of violence. The campaign also engages in advocacy, community action and awareness raising activities as well as giving girls the opportunity to engage with key decision makers and ensuring their voices are heard directly.

Elise Poumay from EuroMed Rights discussed the organisations activities during the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women, highlighting the various factsheets published on violence against women and girls as well as the significance of the Istanbul Convention for countries in the Southern Mediterranean. EuroMed Rights have been engaging in capacity building and advocacy for the Convention in the region and have seen clear evidence of progress in Tunisia and Morocco.

Pirkko Mahlamäki, EWL Observatory expert and member of the European Disability Forum highlighted the ongoing work of the EDF in advocating for the end of violence against women and the significance of the Istanbul Convention in providing protection to the most vulnerable women such as those living with disabilities. Ms Mahlamäki discussed the upcoming report on the forced sterilisation of women with disabilities which draws on conclusions from the European Parliament Inter-parliamentary meeting on forced sterilisation.

Chiara Cosentino from End FGM European Network also highlighted the organisations’ work on advocating for the implementation on the Istanbul Convention at both national and EU level. As the Convention is the only legally binding document tackling FGM, its implementation is of critical importance to the END FGM Network. Their work includes developing an advocacy toolkit and providing advice for organisations involved in the shadow reporting for the GREVIO monitoring process.

The EWL had the privilege to close the event with inspiring closing remarks from our EWL vice-president Iliana Balabanova-Stoicheva and Ms Carolina Lasen Diaz and a slam poetry performance by talented artist Anissa Boujdaini.

"We demand, Loud and United, no more! We are half of humanity; we want half of the future. This is the time to break the silence and to disturb the system!”
Iliana Balabanova, EWL Vice-President.

The EWL is pleased that this event gave us the opportunity to raise awareness about the continuum of violence against women and girls across Europe and securing commitments from key decision makers to continue to work alongside women’s organisations to ensure these commitments are transformed into a reality.

We call on you to join us in our call in demand the end to all forms of male violence against women. There are several ways to engage, whether it’s by signing the petition “Rise up against violence! engaging in the discussion or by supporting women’s organisation across Europe
Let’s continue to disrupt the silence and the indifference! Together we are Loud and United!

EWL political demands:

The EWL and its Observatory on violence against women and girls have been calling for an EU action to end violence against women for 20 years. Now we are happy to see change coming. But we expect real change, not just a reform. What do we want?

  • The recognition, by the EU and its Member States, of all forms of male violence against women as part of a continuum of violence against women because they are women;
  • The ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention by the EU and all member states;
  • A comprehensive EU strategy to end all forms of male violence against women and girls, and providing assistance and support to all women and girls victims; Of course we also need a strong EU strategy on equality between women and girls to address all the structural issues that fuels violence against women and girls.
  • Within this umbrella, we call for the appointment of an EU coordinator to end violence against women and girls, with a strong political mandate to coordinate the efforts of the different EU agencies and Institutions and support the efforts at national level;
  • We call for systematic consultation of and sustainable funding for women’s organisations providing support to women and girls victims, and developing advocacy and awareness raising campaigns, at EU, national and local levels

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Loud and United to end violence against women and girls, European Women’s Lobby Conference, 6 December 2017, Brussels.

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