Tackling violence against women: A priority for the EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

More than a quarter of people in the EU still think rape is justified in some circumstances. [Shutterstock]

One in three women in Europe has experienced gender-based violence in her lifetime. 75% of female professionals or managers have experienced sexual harassment. And one in ten women has experienced harassment or stalking online. Violence against women is still very common in Europe, write Věra Jourová and Helena Dalli.

Věra Jourová is European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality and Helena Dalli is Malta’s minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties.

Gender-based violence occurs in all countries and all social settings. From domestic violence to sexual harassment at work, from stalking to forced marriages, women face obstacles which do not allow them to reach their full potential, be it professionally or socially.

Many women continue to choose not to report the violence they have suffered. Why? Because of perceptions that discourage women from doing so.

A recent public survey found that, although 96% of Europeans agree that gender-based violence is unacceptable, more than a quarter believe that rape can be justified in certain circumstances. More than one in five Europeans think women often make up or exaggerate claims of abuse or rape.

We cannot accept this and it shows that we must do more to put an end to the phenomenon. We must all challenge the stereotypes that put women at risk.

Indeed, unless we stand up to violence against women, our efforts to combat gender inequality and imbalances in all spheres of life will prove futile. And it’s not just the victims who suffer – as a result, our societies are suffering too. A study from 2014 has shown that violence against women also has an economic cost: roughly €226 billion each year.

As a Union we cannot talk about violence against women in hushed tones. In 2017, we are raising awareness of all forms of violence towards women and with the campaign: ‘Say no! Stop violence against women’.  We aim to unite member states, NGOs and professionals, such as doctors and the police, in the fight. The conference being held on 3 February by the Maltese Presidency should provide the right momentum for the EU to move one step closer towards this aim.

Gender-based violence can only be defeated through a concerted effort. Together, our laws, courts, health services, the media, our schools and our families, among others, must give out one message: violence is unacceptable, and will never be tolerated. We must get all member states on board. We need the member states to provide more and better evidence on violence against women to strengthen our responses. And we need governments to find ways to overcome obstacles and improve their approaches to successful policies which aim at combatting the phenomenon.

Delaying action in this regard, or slowing down the necessary procedures, effectively leaves millions of women in a state of vulnerability. Every day that goes by without us fighting against gender-based violence is another day of suffering for its victims.

All EU member states recognise that gender-based violence is a direct violation of a person’s fundamental human rights as all have signed the Council of Europe convention on prevention and protection of victims of gender-based violence. In some of the member states the convention is still awaiting ratification.

We want 2017 to be the year that marks a shift in the way governments fight against violence towards women. We need them to fight harder.

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