• World
  • May 10

EU Council adopts first-ever law combating violence against women

• The Council of the European Union has given the green light to an EU directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. 

• The law criminalises the following offences across the EU: female genital mutilation, forced marriage, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, cyber stalking, cyber harassment and cyber incitement to hatred or violence.

• The new law also contains measures to prevent violence against women and domestic violence and sets standards for the protection of victims of these crimes.

• Committing these crimes will be punishable by prison sentences ranging from at least one to five years. 

• It will become easier for victims of violence against women and domestic violence to report a crime. As a minimum, it will be possible to report cybercrimes online.

The directive will also ensure that victims have:

i) Access to justice.

ii) The right to claim compensation.

iii) Access to free of charge helplines and rape crisis centres.

• The European Parliament already approved the rules in April.

• Member states have three years from the entry into force of the directive to transpose it into national law.

One in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence

• Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and common human rights violations globally. EU countries are no exception. 

• Sadly, one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetrated by intimate partners.

• It is estimated that at least 600,000 women in Europe and 200 million women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation. If the practice continues at the current pace, 68 million girls will be mutilated between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries where this atrocious practice is common and data is available.

• An increase in physical and emotional violence against women was registered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports indicate that calls to domestic violence helplines have increased five-fold in some countries.

• Online violence is also on the rise, targeting in particular young women and women in public life, such as journalists and politicians. 

• Women also experience violence at work: about a third of women in the EU who have faced sexual harassment experienced it at work.

• Taking decisive action against these acts of violence is essential to ensure the values and fundamental rights of equality between women and men and of non-discrimination. 

• The EU and its member states are working on different fronts to end gender-based violence, protect the victims of this heinous crime and punish offenders.

• Currently, there is no specific EU legislation addressing violence against women and domestic violence. 

• On March 8, 2022, the European Commission proposed a new directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. 

• The proposal aims to ensure a minimum level of protection across the EU against such violence.

• On February 6, 2024, the Council and the European Parliament agreed on this first-ever EU law on violence against women.

• On May 7, the Council adopted the law which will harmonise penalties and limitation periods for these offences.

• The Council of Europe convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence – the ‘Istanbul convention’ – is the benchmark for international standards in this field.

The Istanbul Convention

• The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as “the Istanbul Convention”, was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on April 7, 2011. 

• The Istanbul convention entered into force in April 2014 and was signed by the EU on June 13, 2017.

• It is based on the understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence that is committed against women because they are women. 

The convention:

i) Is the first international document that contains a definition of gender. 

ii) Criminalises offences, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, stalking, forced abortion and forced sterilisation.

iii) Recognises violence against women as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination makes states responsible if they do not respond adequately to this form of violence.

• The convention sets out comprehensive legal and policy measures to prevent such violence and protect and assist victims. These measures include data collection, awareness-raising, legal measures on criminalising such violence and the provision of support services. It also addresses the gender-based violence dimension in matters of asylum and migration.

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