Women are safe in Europe. Or are they? In France, over 100 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners in 2022. In Spain, nine women were violently killed in December alone. In Ireland, statistics from Women’s Aid show that 2022 was the worst year in a decade for femicide with 11 women killed in violent circumstances over the past 12 months. Even one woman victim is too much. Europe cannot tolerate this.
In every EU Member State, the public is demanding action and governments are continuing to respond. For example, in 2021, Greece introduced a new law on 'violence and harassment' in the workplace, in line with the International Labour Organisation Convention on violence and harassment. It also adapted its penal code accordingly as far as rape, sexual harassment and minors are concerned.
But whilst individual EU countries’ responses to both violence and the consequences of violence are commendable - France is trialling a new support scheme to help victims seek safety and rebuild their lives and Ireland is looking at extensive reforms to family law courts - a central problem remains: violence against women does not respect Member States’ borders so, in effect, a woman’s safety depends on where she lives. For rape, for example, although in eight EU countries free and genuine consent has changed rape’s definition, most EU countries still require proof of violence to bring a charge of rape. In short, and unbelievably, at the moment, rape in one European country isn’t rape in another.
Let’s ensure that it’s no longer women who don’t feel safe, but those who perpetrate violence against us
We want to correct this disgraceful anomaly. While national laws will continue to be decided by national parliaments, with violence against women we are arguing that it’s time for the EU to set a common minimum standard, like we have done in the case of terrorism. This is why we are currently working on the first ever EU law on Combatting Violence Against Women, a long title for a simple and overdue proposition, that violence is violence, and violence against women in one European country should be treated as violence against women and punished the same way in all European countries.
Based on widespread consultation, the Directive will comprise five key elements: setting the same minimum standards for crimes; safe reporting and risk assessment procedures; respect for victims’ privacy in judicial proceedings and right to compensation; support for victims through helplines and crisis centres; and better coordination and cooperation between Member States on cross-border crimes. Common sentencing standards would also demonstrate the EU Member States’ commitment to ending what is, essentially, a geographical lottery with women’s lives as the gambling chips.
On 8 March we mark International Women’s Day. But even as we rejoice in women’s achievements across the globe, let’s make a vow: when it comes to women’s safety, no more geographical lottery. Let’s agree definitions of violence against women that cover the whole EU. Let’s ensure that it’s no longer women who don’t feel safe, but those who perpetrate violence against us. If we do these things, then we can respond with confidence that yes, women are safe in Europe. Then we’ll really have something to celebrate.
Note to editors
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States