Joanna Maycock and Irene Rosales / Mar 2017
On 8 March, as we mark International Women’s Day, women all over the world are going on strike. Why? Women are protesting to raise awareness about the continuing economic and social inequality faced by women. We are protesting about the silencing of women’s voices, and failure to protect women’s human rights. Women are also on strike to mark our outrage about the intolerable levels of violence against women. In an echo of the suffragette’s protests over 100 years ago, 8 women are on a hunger strike in Madrid to demand the public authorities introduce stronger measures to fight violence against women.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has been working for years to raise awareness about the reality and the persistence of violence against women and girls and its impact on all women. The European Women’s Lobby has an “Observatory on Violence against Women” that was established 20 years ago to bring together experts and front line practitioners to exchange information and raise awareness on the prevalence of violence against women. Male violence against women remains widespread and extremely prevalent everywhere in Europe. As data in Europe shows, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from the age of 15 and every second woman has faced sexual harassment.
Even as 50 women are murdered in Europe every week as a result of male domestic violence, violence against women remains invisible or is trivialised. Today, 1 in 5 persons in Europe continue to think that male violence is provoked by the victim or that women exaggerate claims of abuse or rape. 27% of Europeans think that rape can be justified in some circumstances – for example if the victim is drunk or is wearing “revealing” clothes. This is extremely worrying and shows how much work there still is to be done and yet violence against women remains low on the list of political priorities. Indeed, the last decade has seen declining public spending on prevention and support to survivors of violence. How much more evidence do decision makers all over Europe need before they will take action?
National legislations and policies on violence against women vary greatly from one country to another. In practice this means that depending on where a woman lives, she might not get access to justice or be even listened to. As an example: there is no hotline offering specialised support for victims of violence against women working 24/7 free of charge in many countries in the EU. Even worse, several countries are taking alarming backward steps like Poland, where the Ministry of Public Affairs recently announced that the Government was considering withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention- the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.
The EWL wants women throughout the EU to benefit from equal protection regardless where they live. The European Parliament agrees and has consistently drawn the same conclusion over its many resolutions on violence against women, demanding a common EU legal framework to combat violence against women.
On 8 March, women around the world are striking to tell us that they want to live a life free from violence and fear. What does the EU need to do to respond to this demand:
The EU must act to ensure that laws are clear and consistent and guarantee access to justice and to quality support services, as per the comprehensive standards set in the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.
The EU and Member States urgently need to work to prevent violence against women. Prevention is directly linked to legislation: we need all forms of male violence to be recognised and punished as crimes. Furthermore, through investing in educational programmes designed to bring a long term change of attitudes throughout society. Prevention also means ensuring that women are informed of their rights, that measures are taken to ensure women’s economic independence and women’s access to decision-making.
The EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would be a major step in the EU’s action to combat all forms of violence against women and will give the world a robust message about the EU’s commitment to fight this pervasive form of women’s rights violation. Only in this way, will the EU send a strong and coherent signal that violence against women is not acceptable anymore.
Urgent change is needed to promote real gender equality and ensure that women everywhere live a life safe and free from all forms of male violence.
On the International Women’s Day, the European Women’s Lobby together with more than 25 European wide networks that are part of the European Coalition to end violence against women and girls, are raising their voice to ask the EU decision makers to rise up and take concrete action to end violence against women and girls. The European Commission has declared 2017 the European Year of focused action to combat violence against women and girls. The EU member states need to walk the talk, take up their responsibilities and ensure that they ratify and timely implement all the provisions of the Istanbul Convention in their countries. Furthermore, the EU Member States need to impulse and reach as soon as possible an agreement on the ratification by the EU of the Istanbul Convention, which should be done in the broadest way and without any reservations. Only this way, the EU would be sending a strong and coherent signal that violence against women is not acceptable anymore.