The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
On 21 November, the EESC's Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship held a debate on the issue of violence against women and girls, calling for the local, national, regional and EU level to join forces. Despite years of procrastination, the Commission's proposal to combat violence against women was still watered down by the Council as the majority of Member States are not in favour of including consent-based rape legislation in the directive.
The big challenge for the new directive is to ensure that it includes consent-based rape legislation, as the majority of Member States are opposed to this. The proposal was watered down by the Council because criminalisation of consent-based rape relies on the old-fashioned interpretation of rape adopted by the Member States. However, this is not the only aspect on which the Council has shown a distinct lack of determination and the European Parliament has shown more. For example, the standard for compensation for the victims of sexual violence has been removed by the Council.
Evin Incir, Member of the European Parliament and LIBE committee rapporteur for the proposal for a Directive on violence against women and domestic violence, said that We need to join forces in order to change the current stance of the majority of Member States. We need to be on the right side of history and we have to do everything we can to protect women and girls and prevent sexual violence. YES means YES and everything else means NO!.
According to the report Towards a Europe Free from Male Violence Against Women and Girls published by the European Women's Lobby, 62 million women, or one in three, has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 and one in five has experienced stalking, while every second a woman has been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment.
Laura Kaun from the European Women's Lobby underlined the need for a comprehensive legal framework to protect women from any kind of violence. She said that only four Member States were in favour of including consent-based rape in the legislation. I call on all of us to push the Member States to agree and come forward with a strong directive. Institutions, civil society organisations and social partners should work together on this, because it is not only a matter of dignity and human rights: it is also key for our future societies.
The debate also raised the aspect of cyber violence, which is affecting increasing numbers of young women and girls. Cyber violence can take the form of cyber stalking, harassment, sharing of intimate data and misogynistic speech. Maria Mollica from the Commission's DG JUST said that It is urgent to give a response to violence online as its spreading rhythm is impressive. The Commission proposal allows victims to report instances of online violence, but also strengthens support, protection and access to justice for women.
Cristina Fabre from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) underlined the focus on data collection: What cannot be counted does not exist. We need data to have a better understanding of the situation, to monitor the effectiveness of the measures put in place and to better allocate resources.
The EIGE is currently working with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on a survey collecting administrative data on different forms of violence against women, to be delivered by 2024 and published in 2025. Ms Fabre said that We hope that with this new survey, we will be able to provide consolidated data to quantify violence against women.
The event was organised to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and follows a series of thematic debates organised by the EESC in line with the European Gender Equality Week initiative launched by the Parliament and supported by the Committee.