On International Women’s Day, the European Commission proposed the first ever EU law to combat violence against women and domestic violence. IPPF EN thanks the Commission for this historic and ambitious initiative.
We very much welcome this draft Directive, which proposes a wide range of crucial measures to combat violence at all stages, from prevention to prosecution. The Directive will help protect women and girls in the EU from forms of violence that affect them disproportionately.
The EU must ensure that the Directive protects women and girls in all their diversity. IPPF EN stands for the protection of all people from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and calls upon the EU to ensure the safety of everyone.
Sexuality education recognised as key to prevention
IPPF EN is particularly pleased that the Commission has recognised the need to strengthen sexuality education, as an essential tool to prevent violence. Harmful gender stereotypes, which are at the root of gender-based violence, must be combatted from an early age. The Directive affirms the importance of education programmes in schools and in early-childhood education and care, to combat these stereotypes, and to strengthen the socio-emotional skills that young people need to be able to develop healthy and respectful relationships.
IPPF EN also very much welcomes the criminalization of rape based on the absence of consent. Shockingly, 18 EU Member States still require force or threats to have been used in order for rape to be punishable. All Member States must urgently review their legislation, to bring it in line with this consent-based definition, as already adopted in the 2008 Istanbul Convention.
The criminalisation of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Directive is also critical. FGM causes women and girls great harm and suffering, in violation of their sexual and reproductive rights.
Finally, in this digital world, the Directive also crucially criminalises online stalking, harassment, incitement to hatred, and revenge porn. Member States must step up their efforts to ensure the internet is a safe space for women and girls. Women who are active in public life, especially those who defend women’s rights, are amongst those most systematically targeted, with the intent of silencing them, threatening their well-being and even physical safety, as is the case in Poland for instance.
But all forms of GBV should be eliminated, including violations of SRHR
IPPF EN calls on the European Commission to work towards eliminating all forms of SGBV. The Directive refers to a number of specific forms of violence that violate women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including forced abortion and forced sterilization, in addition to sexual violence and FGM, which we welcome. Broader violations of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), such as gynaecological and obstetric violence, forced pregnancy, and the denial of abortion care – which has caused the deaths of at least three women in Poland, should also be recognized as violence and combatted.
Victims should have access to comprehensive support services, including SRH care
The Directive proposes several measures to ensure victims’ access to support services. We regret however that the Directive fails to grant sufficient importance to access to healthcare services for victims/survivors. Access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care specifically is not mentioned as an essential type of healthcare that victims/survivors of sexual violence must have access to.
All victims should be protected and supported
IPPF EN aims to protect everyone from SGBV, including people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics. We encourage the EU to adopt an inclusive and intersectional approach to truly protect the safety of all Europeans. The definition of rape in particular should protect all victims, regardless of their sex or gender, in line with the internationally agreed language in the Istanbul Convention.
IPPF EN welcomes the recognition that some groups of women are particularly at risk, or have specific needs that must be addressed, including women sex workers, and women fleeing armed conflict.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced high numbers of women to flee their homes. In their response to the crisis, the EU and its Member States must urgently protect them from SGBV, particularly rape and human trafficking, which always proliferate in crisis situations, and address their SRHR needs, both in and out of the EU.
IPPF EN will now work with the European Parliament and Member States during upcoming negotiations, to advocate for the swift adoption of the strongest text possible.
In parallel, we call on the Council to achieve the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention by qualified majority, following the ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU, thereby overcoming the current political stalemate preventing this vital instrument from protecting women and girls in the EU. All EU Member States must also urgently ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention.