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28th Feb 2024

'Fucking furious': MEPs urge action on gender violence

  • In Italy alone, 53 women were murdered by their partner or former partner so far in 2023 (Photo: Unsplash)
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One-in-three women in the EU has experienced some form of gender-based violence, such as sexual harassment, rape, female genital mutilation or online harrassment.

For example, this year alone, just in Italy, 53 women were murdered by their partner or former partner.

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"I don't know how you feel about this, but I'm fucking furious," said MEP Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA) during a plenary debate on the elimination of gender-based violence on Thursday morning (23 November).

The two-hour debate was the first item on MEPs' agenda on the last day of the November plenary session in Strasbourg. It started at 9am. The hemicycle was almost empty, or barely filled by the speakers themselves — most of whom were women.

By an approximate EUobserver tally, there were 46 female MEPs present and six talking on behalf of their groups, plus 16 male MEPs.

But their message was strong, and the consensus among MEPs was undoubtedly across the political spectrum: the EU needs a robust directive to eradicate violence against women — and the Council needs to stop blocking negotiations.

"As things stand, time is running out to adopt this directive before the upcoming European elections," Dubravka Šuica, vice-president of the EU Commission stressed. "We must keep pushing for progress".

On 8 March 2022, the commission proposed a new directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence to create a minimum level of protection across the EU. Until now, there was no pre-existing EU legal framework for it.

The EU Parliament agreed its common position in July 2023, but the council opened a legal battle over the EU's powers in this area — delaying all attempts to have a directive in place before the end of this mandate.

"Why on earth are member states not rushing towards this goal, refusing to be honest and say that without robust relationship and sexuality education we will never overcome this phenomenon?" said MEP Frances Fitzgerald (European People's Party).

Member states have removed all references to the offence of rape from the draft text, and do not even agree on a common definition of rape.

The council itself is internally divided, with a majority of countries, including France and Germany, against the inclusion of rape in the final text, and others, such as Belgium, Greece and Italy, in favour.

On the other hand, the clash between the EU institutions over the definition of rape revolves around whether it should be considered as such when there is a lack of consent (as proposed by the parliament) or when force is used by the aggressor, as proposed by some member states.

"Women are capable of giving consent and men are capable of respecting it," said MEP Karen Melchior, from the Renew Europe group.

"Only 'yes' means yes. Sex without consent is rape. This has to be clear, and it has to be included in the directive," also stressed Iratxe García Pérez, leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the parliament.

"And sexual exploitation of a woman is not just selling her body, it is also forcing her to have sex without her consent," García Pérez added.

Parliament is not alone in this legal battle of competences. The EU executive determined that rape offences fall within the competence of the EU.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen herself made the same point in her annual State of the Union speech: "No means no. There can be no true equality without freedom from violence," she said in September.

"If we in this parliament give up the first time a member state raises legal concerns, we will not get anywhere. But if we fight, we can make it," Reintke concluded.

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