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25th Feb 2024

MEPs push for EU accession to convention against gender-based violence

  • One in three women in the EU, around 62 million women, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, EU studies show (Photo: Anete Lusina, Pexels)
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Wednesday (15 February) MEPs called on the EU to ratify as a bloc the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women.

The report adopted by 469 in favour, 104 against and 55 abstentions, argued that the Istanbul Convention remains the international standard setter and a key tool in eradicating gender-based violence by monitoring and harmonising rules.

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The convention is a treaty of the Council of Europe that helps create a legal framework level across Europe to protect women against violence.

So far, 21 member states ratified the convention. Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia still have not done so. In Poland, the government has been looking into withdrawing from the convention and has introduced a de facto ban on abortion.

The EU itself signed the convention in 2017, but has not acceded to it as a bloc due to the opposition of some member states.

In 2021, the European Court of Justice issued an opinion, arguing that the council of member states could go ahead with the EU ratification of the convention with a qualified majority in areas where the EU law has competences.

On Wednesday, EU ambassadors signed off — with qualified majority — on two decisions that would give the green light on EU ratification of the convention in areas where the EU has exclusive legal competence, such as EU institutions, some areas of judicial cooperation, asylum and non-refoulement.

Hungary, which is one of the countries that opposes EU ratification of the convention, is expected to object to the qualified majority procedure.

EU affairs ministers are expected to approve formally next week the decision likely be taken by ambassadors.

During the debate on Tuesday in the European Parliament, some MEPs called the delay in ratifying the convention "shameful".

"It is time for the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The EU must step up and go from words to action to stop gender-based violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators," centre-right Swedish MEP Arba Kokalari, one of the lawmakers in charge of the file, said.

"Women's rights should not be a subject of political debate or disagreement," said the left-wing Polish MEP Łukasz Kohut.

One in three women in the EU, around 62 million women, have experienced physical and or sexual violence. More than half of women (55 percent) in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15, according to the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency.

About 77 percent of women across the EU think that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in physical and emotional violence against women in their country, according to Eurobarometer data.

In 2021, the European Institute for Gender Equality, another EU agency, estimated that gender-based violence costs €366bn annually to the bloc's economy.

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