A ”silent war /epidemic against women” – dubbed rightfully alarmingly by the European media in recent days is still today very persistent: gender bias in homicides across Europe (and beyond). Femicide, and more broadly violence and abuse against women, concern one in three women in the EU, according to statistics. Furthermore, more than half of all women have been sexually harassed in Europe, and in almost one in five cases of violence against women, the perpetrator is an intimate partner.
In 2020, Deutsche Welle reported that in Germany “each day a man tries to kill his partner or ex-partner. Every third day an attempt is successful.” Even more alarmingly, in Italy during the last year femicide have risen by almost 16%. Poland has by far the highest femicide rates in Europe. If these statistics were not worrying enough, a recent MIIR-led EDJNet investigation reported that there are major inconsistencies in the femicide-related statistical data provided by the member states’ statistics offices. Available data is then most probably underreported.
In light of these facts, European citizens rightfully ask: what has the EU done and doing to create a safer legal and social environment for women, and to tackle femicide and save lives?
EUrologus, with the help with our Brussels sources, explains where the EU legislation stands on protecting women’s lives and what could come in the near future.
In the past, the EU took action through four different strains, and recently it has refined them. The cornerstone of the relevant legislation is the so-called Istanbul Convention , which refers to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The agreement was co-signed by the European Union and all its 27 member states. It came into force in 2014 and has 45 signatories, however still today is not been implemented in a handful of EU countries.
The Hungarian government, for instance, passed a declaration in 2020 refusing to implement the Convention, while in Poland, related laws were surrounded by heated public discussions. According to European Commission sources, the EU executive body perceives that challenges related to its own ratification of the Istanbul Convention persist in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Women’s rights organizations argue that the focal point for these international human rights agreements is in their national implementation and enforcement. Therefore, the EU bodies see the countries being late with implementation as a significant hazard that must be rapidly addressed. In February 2023, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling member states to fully implement the Convention and see it as a “key tool in eradicating gender-based violence, including domestic violence”.
Secondly, in 2012 the EU passed the Victims’ Rights Directive , a piece of legislation that sets out minimum standards for the protection, support, and rights of victims of crime, including victims of gender-based violence and femicide. The Directive requires EU Member States to ensure that victims have access to information, support services in case of need, and justice-related services. Under the scope of this law, national governments also have to take general measures to prevent femicide; member states have reporting and cooperation duties to fulfill as well.
Thirdly, the European Protection Order is a legal tool specially made to allow victims of gender-based violence and other crimes to obtain protection across EU borders. This EU directive agreed upon in 2011 enables victims to request protection measures from the authorities in one EU country and have them recognized and enforced in another.
The fourth legal element in the mix is the EU Gender Equality Strategy , passed by the European institutions at the end of 2020. It sets beyond the law priorities and actions for member states to promote gender equality and combat gender-based violence, including femicide.
In 2021, the European Commission proposed measures that would fully deliver on the legislative requirements of the Istanbul Convention. Another confirmation came from the EU Court of Justice’s opinion of 6 October 2021 which stated that the European Union can ratify the Convention without all member states agreeing on it.
Also in 2021, the members of the European Parliament called the EC to make gender-based violence a crime under EU law , alongside terrorism, trafficking, cybercrime, sexual exploitation and money laundering. It would be achieved through common legal definitions, standards and minimum criminal penalties throughout the European Union.