Gender Equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental principle of the Treaty on European Union. 59% of European citizens that responded to a survey this year regard Violence Against Women (VAW) was the gender equality issue that must be addressed most imminently.
It is difficult to collect accurate and dependable data to measure just how big the problem of violence against women is at national and EU level. One of the main reasons for this is that women often feel too ashamed and scared to come forward. Information from the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 4/5 women did not seek assistance or report the crime after suffering violence.
Despite this, the Council of Europe estimates that 20 to 25% of women in Europe experience physical violence at least once during their adult lives and more that 10% have suffered sexual violence involving the use of force. These are truly shocking figures in 2015. The long-term effects of violence seriously damage both the physical and mental health of women. In addition, children who witness the suffering can also be damaged as a result.
So what is the EU doing?
Concrete actions are needed. In Brussels we are working to introduce measures to combat VAW on an EU-scale:
Ensuring protection and support for victims
As of 16th November 2015, the Victims' Rights Directive lays down a set of binding rights for victims of crime, and clear obligations for EU Member States to ensure these rights are in practice. This is vital as a proactive tool for eliminating VAW.
Taking action to eradicate trafficking
80% of all victims of trafficking registered in the EU are women and girls. Trafficking represents a gross form of VAW and the EU has therefore introduced a policy framework to eliminate it. The anti-trafficking Directive from 2011 supports the principle of non-punishment and unconditional assistance of victims as well as having gender-specific dimensions.
Data collection and research to better understand the phenomenon
As I mentioned before, data collection is difficult, however the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) carried out the first EU-wide survey on women’s experiences of various forms of violence. This showed that violence takes place everywhere, in every society, whether at home, at work, at school, in the street or online. One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence, or both. 65% of women have experienced sexual harassment. With more accurate data being collected across the EU, we stand a better chance at identifying the root causes and help to work more efficiently at eradication.
A solid framework: steps toward EU ratifying the Istanbul Convention
The Istanbul Convention is an international contract aimed at preventing and combating VAW. It is the first instrument in Europe to set legally binding standards to specifically prevent violence against women and girls. To help push towards this convention, the EU published a roadmap in October 2015 to help countries to take steps towards aligning with the convention's standards. Both in Brussels and back home in my constituency, I continue to lobby the UK government to ratify the convention and protect women and girls across, not just the South West, but the whole of the UK.
Improving awareness of gender-based violence
The EU also funds awareness-raising campaigns in EU countries and supports grassroots organisations, NGOs and networks working to prevent violence against women. One project in particular – the DAPHNE fund - has in the past helped to fund Women's Aid, the national charity for women and children working to end domestic abuse. Women's Aid is based here in my region in the South West but works tirelessly through the country to keep women safe and provide support to victims.
While the EU is taking positive steps to tackle violence against women, there is always room for improvement as we continue to work for a more safe and more equal society.