Por Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

HomePostsEurope: decisive step against gender-based violence

Europe: decisive step against gender-based violence

What seemed impossible just over a month ago has happened: the first European directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence is a reality.

Although late, the European Union will meet an unexplained outstanding debt: legislating in the fight against gender-based violence. The EU did not have a common framework in this area, even knowing that at least 50 women a week are killed victims of criminal sexist violence. 

This legislation, to be adopted at the plenary session of the European Parliament in April – the last of the legislature – will change the lives of at least 250 million European women and girls, around half of the European population, ensuring common standards for the protection, prevention and criminalisation of six forms of gender-based violence: crimes of female genital mutilation, forced marriage, non-consensual dissemination of intimate or manipulated material, cyber stalking, cyberbullying and incitement to violence or hatred by cyber means will be criminalised in all 27 Member States. Quite an achievement, because it will be the first legislation to address the online field, since the Istanbul Convention does not touch on this increasingly common form of violence against women and girls. 

Due to the lack of political commitment on the part of the Council, the crime of rape has not become part of the directive. This crime was included by the Commission in its legislative proposal, and also in the European Parliament’s position, but the Council deleted it in its general approach by citing an insufficient legal basis as the main argument. The reality is that it has been a political decision when interpreting the legal basis, because the Council itself has been divided, with nine Member States opposing the inclusion of the rape, four undecided, and thirteen publicly supporting its incorporation. 

However, thanks to the work we have done in the European Parliament, consent and rape have been made part of this directive in the prevention chapter, with the inclusion of a new article on specific measures for the prevention of rape and the promotion of the central role of consent in sexual relations. This is a historic step, because it is recognised that the violation is characterised by a lack of consent. 

Member States will have to launch awareness-raising campaigns or programmes to increase awareness that non-consensual sex is considered a criminal offence. They would also have to promote consent educational material, adapted to different ages, which will promote the understanding that it should be given voluntarily as a result of free will, mutual respect, the right to sexual integrity and bodily autonomy. This provision is in full line with the definition of rape and sexual violence in the Istanbul Convention, so it also implies that the eleven Member States that do not have a definition of rape based on lack of consent in their penal codes will be one step closer to having to change their position with the implementation of this directive.

The directive also contains such important provisions as child witnesses of violence, recognition of children orphaned by gender-based violence and the need for specific protection and support measures, and ensuring that competent authorities have access to information on cases of gender-based violence in custody processes. An extremely important area such as the training of professionals who are in contact with victims has been able to include strict training provisions for these workers, including the police, judicial personnel, health professionals and judges. Member States will also be obliged to have national action plans for the elimination of gender-based violence. An important point: although Spain has been a pioneer in this area with our comprehensive law against gender-based violence of 2004, the reality is that most EU states do not even have specific laws, or if they have them they are not so complete or exhaustive. 

Another central chapter of the directive is support for victims. Standards are established for the provision of comprehensive specialised support services, such as 24-hour, 7-day-a-week helplines and shelters that are accessible to all female victims and their children. There are also specific provisions for specific support services for victims of sexual violence, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment at work. Another important victory has been to obtain, in relation to specialised support services for victims of sexual violence, the mention of sexual and reproductive services for the first time in a European directive.

They have been complicated negotiations, marked by the lack of political will of the Member States, and there are some key provisions that have remained on the way. I have no doubt, however, of the great value of this standard for our societies and for European women, especially those living in countries that have not ratified the Istanbul Convention, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. This directive entails specific obligations for all Member States. In addition, we have left the door open to improve it through a “strong review clause” with which the European Commission will assess, five years after the transposition of the rule, whether an extension of its scope and the introduction of new crimes is necessary.

The commitment of the Belgian Presidency of the Council has also been vital: knowing that there was barely a month to close an agreement, they placed the issue on the agenda as a priority. A political will that was not so clearly seen with the Spanish presidency. 

The European directive against gender-based violence is a first step towards making the EU a continent free of gender-based violence. We had a historic responsibility to all European women and to the women’s associations who had been calling for a common response at Community level to this scourge for decades. We will not be complacent: it’s a first victory, but it’s not the end of our fight. We will continue to work to strengthen tools against gender-based violence. But let’s not forget that this directive is a historic achievement of all of us before European governments which are enemies of women’s rights. With this agreement we send a clear message: gender-based violence has no place in our societies.

Original article: Europa: paso decisivo contra la violencia de género before in El Independiente (25/02/2024). Ver resumen todos los resúmenes de prensa You can read all de press summaries here.

Featured image: The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during a session in the European Parliament. Philipp von Ditfurth / DPA / Europa Press.

Soraya Rodríguez Ramos

Mujeres al frente es un espacio de reflexión dirigido por la política y abogada española Soraya Rodríguez Ramos. Desde 2019, es diputada del Parlamento Europeo en la delegación del partido Ciudadanos. Desde su escaño de eurodiputada, desarrolla un intenso trabajo como portavoz en Igualdad de Género y Derechos de la Mujer del grupo Renew Europe, así como miembro del Comité de Derechos Humanos y de la Comisión de Medio Ambiente por su compromiso con el cuidado del planeta y la justicia climática.