shadow pandemic of domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns to cyber stalking, violence against women and girls is endemic in society. To be truly holistic, the European Commission's proposal to address the issue across the EU must have a stronger human-rights focus, adopt a gender-sensitive approach and include women in vulnerable situations more effectively.
On 8 March 2022 – International Women’s Day – the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive setting minimum EU-wide rules against all forms of online and offline violence against women and girls. The proposal complements the existing EU acquis and Member States’ national legislation in the areas covered by the Istanbul Convention, signed by the EU in 2017.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hearing on 21 April 2022 – Towards a Europe free of violence against women – gathered input for the preparation of its opinion on the draft directive. Chaired by Lech Pilawski, President of the EESC study group on combating violence against women, the meeting brought together social partners, academics and representatives of EU institutions and international organisations.
Christa Schweng, President of the EESC, said:
Violence against women and girls has absolutely no place in the EU or anywhere else. I salute the work done by civil society organisations that raise awareness on gender-based violence and provide daily support to victims. We need a comprehensive framework to effectively combat this violence.
The rapporteur for the opinion, José Antonio Moreno Díaz, argued that the Commission proposals should go further in areas such as domestic violence, and should explicitly frame violence as a gendered issue:
It is vitally important to put an end to this macho terrorism. The directive cannot be gender neutral. Victim support cannot be neutral. We need a gender perspective on violence by men.
Ody Neisingh, co-rapporteur for the opinion, condemned the widespread violence and victim‑blaming still present in the EU:
It is good that the Commission is taking a stand. We need to roll out measures on a broader level than in the past. Fix the system, not women.
EESC Equality Group president Maria Nikolopoulou called for prevention through education, safe spaces to report violence and for the police and courts to understand the link between violence and coercive control.
We also need financial and human resources for victims to have access to justice and tools to protect themselves and their children.
In a keynote speech, Maruša Gortnar, Head of Operations at the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), welcomed the proposed directive but highlighted the need for high-quality data for laws and policies.
EIGE stands ready to help develop a common methodology and data collection tool for comparable data across Europe.
In the second keynote speech, Joanna Goodey, Head of the Research and Data Unit at the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), announced that FRA will launch a survey in eight Member States to capture unreported violence and called for a shift from the directive’s characterisation of women as victims:
We need to address this in a fundamental rights framework, recognising the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and secondary laws and agreements such as the Istanbul Convention.
Several speakers regretted the failure to include violence against women and girls in the list of
EU Crimes in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Widen the framework
A frequent observation was the need to adapt measures to women with disabilities and other women and girls in vulnerable situations, such as undocumented migrants.
Related to this point, speakers held diverse views on prostitution – some seeing it as a form of exploitation, others as an activity that could be made more dangerous by criminalisation. However, speakers agreed on the need to reinforce reproductive rights to prevent abuses such as forced sterilisation and to provide adequate reproductive healthcare for victims of sexual violence.