Prevention of violence against women

In “Area of Justice and Fundamental Rights”

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Despite undeniable progress, the current legal EU framework for combating violence against women presents significant weaknesses: the national legislations of the 28 EU Member States offer unequal protection for women against all forms of violence, whilst the measures adopted at EU level present considerable lacunae, notably in terms of prevention. A European Parliament study also finds that a directive on combating violence against women could reduce violence by up to 10% and its direct economic costs by €7 billion per year. 

The European Parliament has consistently taken a strong stance on the issue of violence against women, and has repeatedly called for action to prevent and combat it.

In its resolution of 25 February 2014 on Combating Violence against Women, based on a legislative initiative report by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (rapporteur Antonyia PARVANOVA, ALDE, Bulgaria), the European Parliament asked the European Commission to submit - by the end of 2014 - a proposal for a legal act based on Article 84 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, establishing measures to support Member States’ action to prevent violence against women and girls. Parliament also asked the Commission to launch the procedure for EU accession to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (Istanbul Convention), as a complement to an EU directive. According to the European added value assessment accompanying the report, an EU directive would have far greater impact on national legal orders, but taken together, the two instruments would ‘guarantee a true European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice where violence against women becomes not only rhetorically but also legally outlawed’.

In addition, the Parliament proposed a combination of other measures, including:

  • a unanimous Council decision adding gender-based violence to the crimes listed in Article 83(1) TFEU (activating the passerelle clause);
  • the establishment of a coherent system for collecting statistics on gender-based violence in Member States;
  • the establishment of a European Observatory on Violence Against Women and Girls;
  • the adoption of an EU-wide strategy and action plan to combat violence against women; and
  • an EU Year to End Violence against Women and Girls, within the next three years.

In subsequent work during the eighth term, including its resolutions of 9 June 2015, 24 November 2016, 14 March 2017, 12 September 2017 and 11 September 2018, Parliament continued to push for progress on these recommendations, including its call for new EU legislation containing binding measures to protect women from violence. Its resolution of 12 September 2017 (rapporteurs Anna-Maria CORAZZA BILDT, Sweden, EPP and Christine REVAULT D'ALLONNES BONNEFOY, France, S&D) also stressed the need to tackle emerging forms of gender-based violence, such as online harassment, and for preventive measures to take account of the specific needs of vulnerable groups, such as child victims, women with disabilities, refugee and LBTI women. In 2018, two resolutions on the implementation of the EU Directive on the European Protection Order (rapporteurs: Teresa JIMÉNEZ-BECERRIL BARRIO, Spain, EPP and Soraya POST, Sweden, S&D) and Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime (rapporteurs: Angelika MLINAR, Austria, ALDE and Teresa JIMÉNEZ-BECERRIL BARRIO, Spain, EPP), called for assessment and streamlining of the existing EU legislation on victims' rights and identified ways of providing better protection for victims of gender-based violence. On 16 January 2019, in its resolution on fundamental rights in the EU (rapporteur: Josep-Maria TERRICABRAS, Spain, Greens/EFA), Parliament condemns all forms of violence against women and once again urges member states that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention to do so “without delay”. In February 2019, Parliament (rapporteur: João PIMENTA LOPES, Portugal, GUE/NGL) expressed concerns about the intensification of some forms of violence against women and inadequate funding for protection measures. 

The European Commission’s 2010-2015 strategy for gender equality stressed that gender-based violence is one of the key problems to address in order to achieve genuine gender equality, and listed the adoption of an EU-wide strategy to combat violence against women as a priority action, but this goal was not achieved, and the Barroso Commission failed to follow up on any of the EP’s requests. The Juncker Commission's work programmes have made no reference to fighting violence against women, but combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims are priorities in the European Commission’s strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019. The Commission has responded to some of the Parliament’s recommendations, notably on EU accession to the Istanbul Convention. In 2017 it organised a year of action to combat violence against women, including measures to improve data collection. A high-level conference was held on 4 December 2018 to take stock of this campaign and identify future priorities.

The Council backed the proposal for an EU-wide strategy to combat violence against women on 8 March 2010 and 6 December 2012. In its 2016 conclusions on gender equality, it urged the Commission and the Member States to support existing and new measures to combat all forms of violence against women and girls. The Council also adopted two decisions on the signing of the Istanbul Convention by the EU in 2017. The Estonian, Bulgarian and Austrian presidencies of the European Union would recognise the centrality of eliminating gender-based violence to gender equality and accelerate efforts to do so. The Romanian presidency work programme and the trio programme for Romania (January-June 2019), Finland (July-December 2019) and Croatia (January-June 2020) do not refer specifically to violence against women.

See also the departures carriage on EU accession to the Istanbul Convention in Train 7.


Further Reading:

For a more extensive list of references and further reading, please see the previous versions.

Author: Rosamund Shreeves;  Ülla Jurviste, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/11/2019.