The proposed EU-wide rules to combat violence against women and domestic violence is a critical step forward
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed EU directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence? EIGE Director Carlien Scheele provided food for thought at the Renew Europe conference during Gender Equality Week at European Parliament in Brussels.
Good afternoon honourable members and dear participants. It is my pleasure to be here with you today.
In March this year, the European Commission proposed for the first time EU-wide rules to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The proposal for the directive is a critical step forward in combating gender-based violence against women and girls in the EU, whether it has taken place on or offline.
Violence against women is a phenomenon that continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. It is deeply rooted in systemic power imbalances between women and men and is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. If women continue to be seen as "less than" or objectified, they will keep being harmed simply for being women.
Let me put this into perspective with a few facts.
According to recent surveys, one in two women aged 15 and above has experienced sexual harassment, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence, one in five has experienced stalking, one in twenty has been raped.
If you want to imagine this in a real-life scenario, the next time you are walking through the city, or you are on a bus, sitting in a café, at the gym, or even attending a concert – look around you – the woman next to you could be or will be a victim of male violence.
The fact that this Directive has come into existence is a strength in and of itself. We welcome that it takes important steps to harmonise the approach to gender-based violence against women and girls.
For instance, we are very pleased and support the Directive criminalising rape based on lack of consent, female genital mutilation and cyber violence, which includes non-consensual sharing of intimate images; cyber stalking; cyber harassment; and cyber incitement to violence or hatred.
It is great to see that the Directive is travelling in the same, shared direction with the work EIGE carries out. In fact, we are in the soft launch phase of our Orange The World Campaign, where we are highlighting cyber-violence against women and girls in line with a new report we have coming out by the end of the year.
But now, with a more critical cap, I believe discussions on the Directive could be enriched by the following considerations.
Firstly: gender-specific help provisions. The recognition of the role of women’s organisations and women’s specialist services should be higher in the Directive. It is important to ensure that the provision of specialised services are embedded on the gendered understanding of the patterns of violence against women and domestic violence – knowing that leaving a relationship is a back-and-forth process – where leaving a relationship exposes the victim to a higher risk to what is called separation assault.
Secondly, there is a need to broaden the concept of protection which encompasses compensation – offering financial support for harm caused and reparation – which go beyond, to help the victims heal such as psychological support or childcare or housing. The Directive does not govern the right to compensation in situations where the offender is not able to pay. Therefore, this provision should also be read in conjunction with other Directives and Conventions to ensure full reparation to victims.
In EIGE’s research on femicide, we highlight the need to ensure that victims are entitled to financial compensation and comprehensive reparation, and we also refer to children witnessing and being victims of domestic violence and, specifically to children and family members of the victims of femicide.
Thirdly, EIGE believes that the prevention and protection measures are more rooted in a gendered understanding of violence and being more victims’ rights-centred. This would allow the harmonisation of criminal and civil jurisdictions as sometimes, the civil proceedings and decisions are not coordinated with the criminal ones. For example, it is not uncommon that the perpetrator of domestic violence, who is also a father, with a restraining order that limits him from contacting the mother, still has custody of their common children. The consequence is that the mother is required to cooperate with her perpetrator even though the criminal decision indicates that he can be dangerous to her.
And finally, we strongly welcome the recognition that data collection needs to be improved through better coordination and cooperation between and within Member States. Generally, there is no systematic and standardised method of data collection across the jurisdictions, and the data that is available is still far from complete and comparable, which undermines efforts to analyse the criminal trends and assess the effectiveness of measures in place. We need to be able to track a case, to disaggregate the data by the sex and age of the victims and perpetrator, as well as he relationship between victim and perpetrator to better understand the problem and to design and monitor targeted policies.
The political commitment expressed in the proposal for the Directive is a great step towards combating VAW and DV, and EIGE supports both the need to have a specific Directive as well as strive for the accession of the Istanbul Convention. Earlier this year I talked to Ministers in EU Member States such as Austria and Spain about the need to develop common disaggregations and methodology. They and their experts, expressed their interest to work alongside EIGE as the EU’s knowledge centre on gender equality to help support them in data gathering and promoting promising practices. I invite other Member States to be inspired by the constructive approach I encountered in Spain and Austria .
Violence against women must and can be stopped.