11th Dec 2023

EU women promised new dawn under anti-violence pact

  • The Istanbul Convention and a parallel EU law are designed to curb online hate (Photo: European Parliament)
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The EU is meant to become a safer place for women from Sunday (1 October), as the Istanbul Convention enters into force in Europe.

The treaty is to combat violence against women by obliging the EU's 27 member states to impose "dissuasive" criminal penalties, train professionals to help victims, and pay for awareness-raising campaigns.

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Originally crafted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and adopted by the EU by a majority vote in May, all 27 countries have signed it but six have yet to ratify its provisions at national level — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia.

The Czechs and Latvians are on the way to doing so.

Bulgaria says the treaty's definition of "gender" is at odds with its constitution. Hungary's illiberal prime minister Viktor Orbán has attacked it on similar grounds.

And if Robert Fico, a pro-Russian populist, comes to power in this weekend's elections it would bode ill for ratification prospects in Bratislava.

That puts them at odds with the European mainstream, at a time when women's rights are in the spotlight — not least in Spain, the current EU presidency, which has seen an uproar over a botched anti-rape law and a non-consensual kiss by a male football boss at the women's soccer World Cup.

Even Poland, which has ultra-conservative views on women's rights and has threatened to withdraw from the Istanbul pact, already enshrined the Convention into national law long ago.

Meanwhile, at least two women are still being killed in the EU every day by an intimate partner or family member, according to the EU Council's figures.

One-in-five women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner or friend and one-in-two have experienced sexual harassment.

A European Commission official cited chapter and verse (article 262) of the EU Treaty in Brussels on Friday to make clear the six non-ratifiers are legally obliged to eventually fall into line.

"Agreements concluded by the EU are binding on the institutions of the EU and its member states," he said.

MEPs and EU diplomats are also in final negotiations on another EU-level law to help curb misogynist aggression, the spokesman noted.

The measures are meant to see EU-wide criminalisation of female genital mutilation and misogynist "cyber violence", among other provisions.

"Violence against women damages all of our democratic societies. One-in-three women have suffered physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. Too many of them don't report it. Too many offenders go unpunished," EU values commissioner Věra Jourová said on Friday in a statement.

Helena Dalli, the EU equality commissioner, added: "The entry into force of the Istanbul Convention is an important milestone for the EU".

"For us all to live in a fair and just European Union, women and girls must be able to live free from daily insecurity, fear and violence," she said.


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