An EU directive would give the concept of violence against women a common definition and result in similar protections for women across the union, argues Iratxe García Pérez.
Gender-based violence is defined as violence directed against a person on the grounds of their gender, gender identity or expression of that identity, potentially resulting in physical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm as well as financial loss.
It is the most widespread global violation of human rights affecting all levels of society, regardless of age, level of education or income, social position, or country of origin or residence.
Gender-based violence includes violence in close relationships, sexual violence, human trafficking, slavery, and other harmful practices, including forced marriages, female genital mutilation and so-called honour crimes. It is closely related to the unequal distribution of power between men and women, and to stereotypical ideas and behaviour in our society.
“12 to 15 per cent of women in Europe are victims of domestic violence, with seven dying each day in the EU as a result”
Therefore, we need to challenge the stereotypes we have been indoctrinated with since primary school and at every stage of our education, through programmes emphasising the importance of encouraging and defending equality between men and women, backed up by awareness campaigns and policies promoting gender equality in all areas.
It is estimated that in Europe alone, 45 per cent of women have experienced some form of violence and 20 to 25 per cent of women have been subjected to physical acts of violence at least once during their adult lives. Over 10 per cent have been subjected to sexual violence involving the use of force and 12 to 15 per cent of women in Europe are victims of domestic violence, with seven dying each day in the EU as a result.
Budget cuts implemented by member states arising from the financial crisis have led to a reduction in resources devoted to preventing and combating violence against women, despite a number of studies estimating the cost of introducing preventative measures as being less than that incurred as a result of violence − €228bn a year in the EU (€45bn for public services, €24bn for loss of economic activity and €159bn for the pain and suffering experienced).
The European parliament has for years insisted on the need for a comprehensive European strategy to end violence against women, including a directive that goes beyond the mere prevention of violence currently allowed for in treaty legislation.
To get around this legal loophole, parliament has asked the council to invoke the ‘passerelle’ [bridging] clause and include gender violence in those categories of particularly serious crime of a cross-border nature, alongside human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and children.
A global strategy backed up by a directive would give the concept of violence against women a common definition and facilitate its regulation, and would be reflected in all national legislation, resulting in similar levels of protection from all forms of violence being afforded to women and young girls across the EU.
The establishment of a European year for ending violence against women, drawing more attention to the issue and raising public awareness of the necessity to take steps to eradicate this social evil, would send a strong political message. We also need to set up a European monitoring centre for gender-based violence founded on the existing guidelines of the European institute for gender equality.
Finally, all member states should sign and ratify the council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul convention, as it is the most far-reaching legal instrument for effectively preventing and combating gender violence. It is absolutely imperative that the EU adheres to this convention as a matter of urgency.