Violence against women and gender-based violence

Authored by: Conny Roggeband

The Routledge Handbook of Gender and EU Politics

Print publication date:  March  2021
Online publication date:  March  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138485259
eBook ISBN: 9781351049955
Adobe ISBN:


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Over the past decades the European Union (EU) developed a patchwork approach towards the problem of violence against women (VAW), 1 both in terms of scope, addressing only some forms of violence, and in terms of strength, developing mainly soft law measures and no comprehensive legal framework. Protection of women from gender-based violence is neither enshrined in the EU treaties nor in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Feminist activists, scholars and politicians identify VAW as a key manifestation of inequality between women and men and a form of gender discrimination that should be strategically addressed by the EU. According to the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights survey (FRA 2014) it is a pervasive problem affecting women across Europe: one in every three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence, whereas one in two experienced sexual harassment. Its high social and economic costs negatively affect the common market (Walby and Olive 2014). The feminist framing of VAW as a human rights issue calls upon the EU and its expressed commitment to protect and promote human rights to address this violation of women’s human rights (Benlolo-Carabot et al. 2013; Walby and Olive 2014). In addition to this, advocates have pointed to the large variations in national legislation and resulting different levels of protection for women across member states as a ground for a common EU framework (Benlolo-Carabot et al. 2013; Walby 2013). This reason is also stated in the European Parliament Resolution on combating VAW from February 2014 (Resolution (2013/2004(INL)): ‘women in the Union are not equally protected against male violence, due to differing policies and legislation across Member States, as regards among other the definition of offenses and the scope of the legislation, and are therefore vulnerable to such violence’. Yet, despite decades of lobbying from women’s organizations and repeated calls from the European Parliament (EP) and its Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) to develop a comprehensive legal instrument aimed at combatting all forms of VAW, the European Commission developed only a limited set of directives to directly combat specific aspects of gender-based violence, mainly in areas where the EU has legal competences, like human trafficking (free movement) and sexual harassment in the workplace (internal market). This may change now that the European Commission in its Gender Equality Strategy stated that accession to the Council of Europe Convention is a key priority and that in case this remains blocked ‘it will propose measures to achieve the same objectives as the Istanbul Convention’ (COM(2020) 152 final, 3). In addition, the Commission intends in particular to present an initiative with a view to extending the areas of crime where harmonization is possible to specific forms of gender-based violence in accordance with Article 83(1) TFEU, the so-called Eurocrimes.

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