Violence against women: EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention

Too many women and girls are still being harassed, abused and raped in Europe in public places, at home and on social media. One in every ten women has experienced some form of sexual violence and one in every twenty has been raped. Just over one in five women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner.

Eradicating all forms of violence against women is at the core of the EPP Group’s priorities for the upcoming years. All women and girls should feel free and safe in Europe and no tradition or culture can justify men’s violence against women.

Crimes that disproportionately impact women, such as rape, stalking and domestic violence have been the focus of international attention for several decades. Progress has been achieved. However, there are significant weaknesses in the current legal EU framework for combating violence against women and national laws offer unequal protection for women.

This is why the EPP Group strongly advocates for both the EU and all EU countries to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (the Istanbul Convention). It is the first legally-binding international instrument on preventing and combating violence against women at international level. It establishes a comprehensive framework of legal and policy measures for preventing such violence, supporting victims and punishing perpetrators.

The EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention would send a clear message about the EU’s commitment to eradicating violence against women. All EU countries have signed the Istanbul Convention but some countries have yet to ratify it.

Why is the EPP Group advocating EU accession to the Istanbul Convention?

Because, the European Union will address:

  • the prevention of violence through sustained measures that address its root causes and aim at changing attitudes, gender roles and stereotypes that make violence against women acceptable (raising awareness, education, training of professionals, participation of the private sector and the media);
  • protecting women and girls who are known to be at risk and setting up specialised support services for victims and their children (shelters, round-the-clock telephone helplines, psychological assistance, rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres);
  • prosecuting the perpetrators, including enabling criminal investigations and proceedings to continue even if the victim withdraws the complaint;
  • improving equality between men and women, and empowering women. It breaks new ground by requesting states to criminalise the various forms of violence against women, including physical, sexual and psychological violence, stalking, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. It ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Today, the EPP Group is working very hard to overcome resistance by certain EU countries (eight) against the EU accession and ratification. We stress that this reluctance to ratify the text is often based on misconceptions and misleading arguments regarding how the word ‘gender’ is used in the Convention.

The Istanbul Convention defines violence against women as “all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

We will continue to call on the Commission and the Council to take tangible action to help all EU countries ratify the text as quickly as possible and to initiate an open dialogue to clarify the definition of ‘gender’ in the Convention.

The EPP Group wants EU ratification to take place as soon as possible. It will not only confirm the EU’s commitment to combating violence against women but gives us a responsibility to do more, to strengthen existing frameworks and to push for practical actions. Work is ongoing on the implementation of the Convention by the EU Institutions, bodies and agencies which must comply with the obligations internally (as an employer) and analyse the existing EU acquis in light of the Convention to ensure compliance.

It was a historical step forward when the EU signed the Istanbul Convention. Now, all EU countries and the EU need to ratify it and implement it. We must continue to join forces all over Europe to combat violence against women and girls. Religion, tradition or culture can never justify men's violence against women. It's about empowering women and girls and promoting gender equality in our societies.

The EPP Group will continue to be committed to zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. The accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention will strengthen the legal framework to prevent violence, combat impunity and protect women and girls.

Related Working Group

Legal & home affairs