Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

Opinion

How the EU can make ‘Women’s Day’ meaningful

  • Brussels: 'Horrific' violence against women and police apathy also happens in the EU capital (Photo: Nina Burge)

What if, this year, the European Union celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March by taking bold action to stop violence against women?

The EU can lead by example if it begins the process of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, the ground-breaking Council of Europe treaty to end violence against women.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Only Luxembourg and Slovenia have enough shelter spaces for survivors of violence against women, one study found. (Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud/norden.org)

The opportunity for the EU to ratify human rights treaties as an entity has been fairly limited until now, but the Istanbul Convention explicitly provides that option.

Violence against women and girls is a vast problem across the European Union.

A major study by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in 2014 caused shock waves when it found that one in three women surveyed across the EU had experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

Services and support for these women are inadequate in most EU member states. The 2013 annual report from Women against Violence Europe found that only Luxembourg and Slovenia had enough shelter spaces for survivors of violence against women to meet Council of Europe minimum standards.

In a recent report, the United Kingdom’s Joint Human Rights Committee noted that the UK government, while seen as a leader in bringing attention to violence against women abroad, needs to increase efforts to tackle the problem at home.

The annual survey by the UK organisation Women’s Aid reported that in 2013-2014 nearly a third of domestic violence survivors referred to shelters were turned away for lack of space, and 13 percent of responding agencies had closed or suspended services because of insufficient funding.

The Joint Human Rights Committee found that shifts in responsibility for allocation of state funds for shelters and other services have left ethnic minority women particularly vulnerable.

Close to home

Women in Belgium, Hungary, Spain, and the United Kingdom have told Human Rights Watch about horrific abuse by their husbands or partners and a lack of services or support to assist them.

Many said police turned them away or humiliated them when they sought help.

In a 2013 report on Hungary, Tunde, 21, told Human Rights Watch that her neighbors called the police when they heard her screaming as her husband punched her in the stomach and pushed her into a wall.

But when the police arrived, her husband told them the couple had a minor disagreement, and the officers did not question Tunde and her husband separately.

“They told me to get a medical report and then press charges because the way things stood, they could only interfere if blood flows,” Tunde said.

The Council of Europe aims to prohibit such inaction: in 2011, it took an ambitious step when it launched the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention after the city where it opened for signature.

The convention came into force in 2014. Sixteen countries have ratified it, including nine of the 28 EU member states.

The Istanbul Convention can save lives in countries that ratify and implement it.

The treaty is notably comprehensive and robust, mandating protection from all forms of violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence, stalking, harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced sterilisation.

The treaty covers particularly vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. In countries that ratify, this means that women like Fatima H., who suffered severe domestic violence in Pakistan but lost her asylum claim in the United Kingdom, would have a fair chance to make her case for refuge on the grounds of gender-based violence.

Gisele M.

It means that women like Gisele M., an undocumented Brazilian migrant in Belgium whose partner stabbed her in the neck with a fork, would have a better shot at receiving protection.

When Gisele went to police for help, they did not detain her partner or investigate the case. Instead they accompanied her home to get her passport, took her to the hospital for treatment, and then handed her an order to leave the country within five days.

EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention would send a strong signal that combating violence against women and girls is a priority for the European Union and its member states.

Ratifying the convention is the right thing for the EU - and all EU member states - to do.

What better way to make International Women’s Day meaningful?

Hillary Margolis is a London-based women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based NGO

EU has chance to help women of South Sudan

Navi Pillay, a former UN human rights chief, tells EUobserver the EU should use the upcoming African Union summit to help stop sexual violence in South Sudan.

Turkey needs its women, Mr Erdogan

Erdogan and the EU should do more for Turkish women if they care about the country's future. But instead, they are digging holes

Europeans still blaming women for rape

One in four Europeans think rape can be justified in certain circumstances, while one in five say violence against women is often provoked by the victim.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  2. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance
  3. EU rolls out €525m for military projects, but bars illegal tech
  4. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  5. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  6. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  7. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  8. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us