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4th Apr 2020

MEPs mark Violence Against Women day with urgent call

  • ‘The European Parliament must be the safeguard of women's rights,’ said MEP Evelyn Regner (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs have urged member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention on gender violence "without delay" - and to take all necessary legislative and political action to stop violence against women on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Monday (25 November).

The Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was opened for signature in May 2011 and came into force in August 2014. Among other measures, it criminalises all sexual violence against women, including rape.

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"We cannot allow ourselves to look away any longer. We have to listen to those affected and work together on all levels to help women live independently and free of violence," said MEP Evelyn Regner, who chairs the parliament's committee on women's rights and gender equality (FEMM).

"The European Parliament must be the safeguard of women's rights," Regner said, adding that current figures about gender-based violence in Europe was "alarming".

One-in-three women in the EU aged 15 or over has experienced physical and/or sexual violence, while fifty percent of all female Europeans have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their life.

Partner or relative

In 2017, 22 EU member states reported that a total of 1,998 women were killed intentionally, 87,938 were raped and 123,871 suffered sexual assaults - in the remaining EU countries there is no comparable or available data, according to Eurostat.

France has the highest number of intentional homicides against women in 2017 (601 women murdered), followed by Germany (380), the UK (250) and Italy (130).

Additionally, Eurostat data indicates that the number of reported incidents of intentional homicide, rape, and sexual assault, shows that in most member states over half of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member.

France and Germany have one of the highest rates of murders linked to domestic violence in Western Europe - 123 victims registered in France and 185 in Germany were murdered by a current or former partner in 2017.

The EU accession to the Istanbul Convention is considered a boost to the European legal system to reduce violence against women, since it is the first legally-binding instrument that protects victims and prosecutes accused offenders.

"We need to make sure that all member states are on board and also that the EU implements the convention," said MEP Arba Kokalari from the European People's Party (EPP).

Six member states

As of November 2018, all EU member states have signed the convention, but this international treaty remains blocked in the EU council by Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

The reasons are different in each member state, said Jurgita Pečiūrienė, a gender-based violence expert at European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). While Bulgaria suggests that the convention opposes the country's constitution "in the rest of member states there is mostly a lack of political will," Pečiūrienė told EUobserver.

The new commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, has also pledged to work constructively with member states, civil society, and the institutions to achieve the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

"The ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a must. That is why we are calling on all remaining countries that are yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention to do so immediately," said socialist MEP Sylwia Spurek.

The Istanbul Convention also changes the definition of rape to be based on a lack of consent rather than proof of the use of force.

However, only eight member states - Ireland, the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Sweden - have consent-based rape legislation in place in Europe, according to Amnesty International.

The UK has the highest number of females who are victims of rape (50,983) and sexual assault (50,550) in 2017 - about 140 sexual attacks per day in the country.

The number of rapes registered during the same year was also very high in France (14,899) and Germany (7,831).

According to liberal MEP Anna Júlia Donáth, "violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations existing today and remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, and shame surrounding it".

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