Domestic violence is at last moving up up the agenda of the EU. As the Swedes come to the end of their presidency of the European Council and the Spanish take over, violence against women looks set to be given a higher priority. It is an area I have followed closely as an MEP, but unfortunately it is one for which there is still a lot more work to be done.
To highlight the importance of this subject matter, a public hearing entitled, ‘Toward an EU directive on violence against women’, moderated by two of my colleagues in the Women’s Rights Committee, Britta Thomsen and Eva-Britta Svensson was held yesterday in the European Parliament. It proved to be a good initiative, providing an opportunity for parliamentarians and lobbyists to discuss the possibility of creating of a binding piece of legislation addressing violence against women.
Some significant legislative gains have already made in this area. In 1979 the United Nations General Assembly introduced the first legally binding instrument relating to women’s rights: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. This document posited that all forms of violence are unlawful, and reminded parties to the Convention to take action against perpetrators of violence against women. Later, in 1993, came the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 listed the elimination of violence against women as one of its 12 strategy objectives.
The European Union also played its part with the launch of the Daphne initiative (later the Daphne programme) by the European Parliament which provided a basis for the financing of special projects to protect against violence against women, young people and children.
However, despite the measures listed above, violence against women remains a serious problem across Europe. Since 1995 several European countries have launched large-scale surveys to ascertain the prevalence of violence against women. While results do vary, overall figures suggest that around one quarter of all the women in the states surveyed had suffered abuse on at least one occasion during their adult lives. Current studies also indicate that between 12 and 15% of all women have been in an abusive relationship after the age of 16.
Figures like these underline the real need to establish a binding European directive on violence against women. Although it is true that we have already come along way from where we were, say, 50 years ago, in my view the elimination of violence against women will only be properly achievable when a directive is in operation, placing not just a moral obligation, but a legal obligation on states to eliminate violence in the home and elsewhere. Moral indignation can only ever be effective where it is translated into political will and binding laws.
Violence based upon gender is not only harmful to victims, their children and their families, but it also affects whole communities. The fact that domestic abuse typically takes place in private, behind closed doors, makes it all the more necessary to dedicate adequate resources to combat this debilitating crime. Only when gender-based violence is adequately addressed will equality between men and women ever have a chance of becoming a reality.