7th Dec 2022


Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence

  • 788 women were murdered in 2020 by a family member or intimate partner, across 17 EU member states (Photo: Natalie Hua)
Listen to article

Friday (25 November) is the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and we'll hear from world leaders and corporations espousing the virtues of equality through flashy campaigns and carefully-worded messaging calling for "safety", "protection" and "freedom".

These slogans continue to reverberate every 25 November and obviously do not stop the staggering number of women who experience violence in Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Women in Poland protesting for abortion rights, and against the conservative-nationalist PiS government (Photo: Eric Maurice)

One-in-three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence and cases of 'feminicide' continue to rise, with 788 women murdered in 2020 by a family member or intimate partner in 17 EU member states.

But these are not the only types of violence women in the EU suffer.

Justyna Wydrzyńska is standing trial for "aiding and abetting abortion".

Her freedom and fate lies in the hands of sexist Polish judges. The three-year sentence she is facing in January 2023 is a form of state-sanctioned violence: the intimidation of an activist, who, for 15 years supported women pursuing their sexual and reproductive rights.

Her crime? Helping Ania, a victim of domestic violence, who was prevented from seeking an abortion by her husband. Ania turned to Justyna to buy medication to induce an abortion at home.

There are protestors in Poland facing up to eight years in prison for demonstrating for a woman's right to choose. And women in Malta who, fearing prosecution for their home abortions, do not seek medical assistance in the case of complications.

We don't hear about the everyday violence of laws that restrict access to abortion. Whether it's physical deaths, injuries and illnesses, or the emotional trauma of being denied or delayed an abortion and the economic violence that reserves abortion to those who can afford it.

Thanks to the work of feminist movements and women around the world, legal developments to protect the right to abortion are in happening.

After an American woman almost died when she was refused an abortion in Malta, the government announced last week that it would ease its abortion ban — allowing doctors to terminate a pregnancy if a mother's life or health is at risk. In France, lawmakers recently took the first steps to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution. But this doesn't go far enough.

The EU prides itself on driving up standards and improving equality among citizens. Yet the difference in treatment between women seeking abortions in France or Belgium and in Hungary or Italy is stark. The anatomy of a woman is the same in Germany as in Malta. The hippocratic oath is also the same.

And yet, some women have to pay, some do not. Some women are forced to undergo an ultrasound and obtain the permission of their partner. Some women face numerous psychological assessments and must gain consent of multiple doctors. Some women can access abortion in certain circumstances, some under no circumstances.

If this were any other medical procedure that was lifesaving or necessary for a healthy life, you would say that denying it is cruel, violent even. This was the position of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights when they said: "denying access to health services, [...] including abortion, [...] can constitute gender-based violence, torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

Every day, thousands of women are subjected to patriarchal violence: whether it's at home, in their public life, or through the structural violence of a state that denies them the most basic rights.

We're asking the European Union to stop hiding behind pinkwashed slogans and finally walk the talk by providing all necessary legal tools to guarantee women their rights.

Update 25 November: We updated the title to replace the word 'pinkwashing' with 'talk' to more accurately reflect the content.

Author bio

Maria Eugenia Palop is a Spanish MEP, Malin Björk is a Swedish MEP, both with the Left party.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Women hardest hit by energy price hike

The current cost-of-living crisis hits harder women, especially single mothers, a survey shows. Also, women in the EU will from Tuesday until the rest of the year "work for free", because of the average 13 percent pay gap.


Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity

The agribusiness narrative is a masquerade. A smokescreen to water down environmentally-friendly reforms and maintain industrial agriculture. A smokescreen to which a majority of European policy-makers, including member states, are dangerously buying into.


Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  4. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  5. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  6. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe

Latest News

  1. EU delays Hungary funds decision, as Budapest vetoes Ukraine aid
  2. Borrell gets pension from MEP fund set for taxpayer bailout
  3. Autocrats make us all less secure
  4. Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity
  5. German top court declares €800bn EU recovery fund 'legal'
  6. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  7. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  8. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us