HERSTORY is made today as a deal has been reached on the first-ever directive giving women and girls equal protection in the EU.
[Brussels, 6 February 2024] The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) welcomes the long-awaited deal on the Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence, the first EU law to ensure that victims of violence against women and domestic violence receive adequate protection, support, access to justice and reparation no matter where they live in the EU.
“A historic decision has been made! The message the EU has given with this deal is that women’s rights are fundamental human rights at the very heart of the EU project, and never a private matter but a structural issue embedded in patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. All forms of violence against women must end now”, said Iliana Balabanova, President of the European Women’s Lobby. “This Directive is crucial for the Member States  like mine, Bulgaria, that haven’t yet ratified the Istanbul Convention as it sets a holistic framework of obligations and minimum standards”.
“For the past 30 years, the EWL has been calling to place violence against women at the heart of the EU’s political agenda. Today a breakthrough deal has been sealed on the first-ever Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. This is a key step in the right direction. Now, we call on the Member States to immediately put in place this set of comprehensive rules to save women’s and girls’ lives”, said Mary Collins, EWL Secretary General.
“The Directive must be implemented hand in hand with the golden standards of the Istanbul Convention, to which the EU and 22 Member States are parties. Member States must take into account the indispensable expertise of women’s organisations and women’s specialist services in addressing all forms of violence against women and supporting its survivors/victims with a gender-sensitive and intersectional perspective ”, said Irene Rosales, EWL Policy and Campaigns Officer.
“Cyber violence against women and girls is a harsh reality in Europe today. For the first time, the EU recognises the devastating impact that cyber violence has on their lives and criminalises five offences of cyberviolence: non-consensual sharing of intimate and manipulated material, cyberstalking, cyberharassment, cyberflashing and cyber incitement to hatred or violence”, said Laura Kaun, EWL Policy and Campaigns Director. “In times when a rising number of women and girls in the EU feel completely unprotected against the spread of image-based sexual abuse, cyber-harassment or cyberstalking, the measures in this Directive are crucial to support the victims, address the impunity of perpetrators and to hold accountable internet providers and platforms to remove the content and stop further victimisation”.
The EWL congratulates the European Commission, the Belgian Presidency and the negotiating team of the European Parliament; and especially the two co-rapporteurs Frances Fitzgerald (EPP, Ireland) and Evin Incir (S&D, Sweden) and their teams. They have made a remarkable effort to improve the general agreement made by the Council in June last year, and to ensure that the Directive falls within the “golden standards” of the Istanbul Convention or even above.
This Directive also provides harmonised definitions of female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage as per the Istanbul Convention. It contains measures to enhance the early identification of victims and early intervention and to ensure accessible channels for reporting to all victims. It obliges Member States to adopt key protection mechanisms (like emergency barring orders, restraining and protection orders) to ensure the safety of victims from immediate danger. The Directive set standards for the provision of comprehensive specialist support services like 24/7 helplines and shelters that are accessible to all women victims and their children. It also obliges Member States to set up rape crisis centers to provide counselling and medical, psychological and trauma care, SRHR services victims of sexual violence and rape, and also specialist support for victims of FGM, forced sterilisation and sexual harassment at work.
The negotiating team of the European Parliament managed to reinforce provisions on prevention to include measures aimed at addressing the root causes of violence against women and sexual violence and ensuring the central role of consent which must be given voluntarily.
“The EWL deeply regrets the blockage by the Council of many key aspects of the Directive, especially the outrageous decision imposed by France and Germany to delete Article 5 on the harmonised definition of rape based on consent as per the standards of the Istanbul Convention. It is completely hypocritical and a terrible missed opportunity to protect women and girls from one of the most heinous forms of violence”, says Irene Rosales, EWL Policy and campaigns officer. “Let us remember that11 EU Member states still hold inadequate definitions of rape based on force, threat or coercion as the main constituent elements of the crime, jeopardising the effective protection of the individual’s sexual autonomy, as per the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights”. The EWL also regrets the exclusion of the definitions of the offences of sexual harassment at the workplace and forced sterilisation.
The EWL stands in responsibility for the 250 million women in Europe and our 2000 member organisations as all EU Member States should do. The EWL will continue calling for a review of the Directive to ensure that the prosecution of rape is guaranteed at the EU level and coherently defined based on freely given consent in circumstances of autonomy and mutuality. Furthermore, the EWL will rise and campaign relentlessly to ensure that the scope of the Directive is soon extended to address all forms of sexual and reproductive exploitation, including sexual violence and abuse.
The EWL thanks the legal experts signatories to the Open letter on the legal basis of the EU Directive that demonstrates that the EU has obligations to regulate this matter as per the current EU legal basis. The EWL thanks the signatories to the petitions “Make Europe a safe place for women and girls” , “EU: Only yes means yes” and the cooperation with WeMove Europe and AVAAZ.