“We say: enough is enough.”
That was the European Commission’s promise when its leaders announced 2017 as a year of action on violence against women in November 2016.
On May 11, the European Union took a welcome step towards fulfilling this promise when the council of member states agreed to sign the Istanbul Convention, a ground-breaking European treaty to combat violence against women and domestic violence. The convention sets out minimum standards on prevention, protection, prosecution, and services, requiring states to provide access to hotlines, shelters, medical services, counseling, and legal aid.
The next step is ratification, as the EU did in 2011 with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Action is also needed by EU member states. Thirteen of 28 – including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Hungary – have yet to ratify the convention.
According to a 2014 study by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, nearly one in three women in Europe have experienced sexual or physical violence. In a 2016 EU-wide survey, more than a quarter of respondents said that nonconsensual sex can be justifiable. Yet protection measures vary widely across the EU.
Violence against women and girls devastates lives and can lead to disease, disability, homelessness, mental health problems, and death. According to 2013 data from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 3,300 women were killed as a result of domestic violence in Europe during the year – about nine women a day.
So it is critical that the EU as an institution sets an example by promptly ratifying and implementing the convention in its law, policy, and programs, which can facilitate consistent interpretation of and cooperation on measures such as the European Victims’ Directive and cross-border protection orders.
The EU and member states should all ratify the Istanbul Convention and work to put its standards in place. This means prioritizing protection for all survivors – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or residency status – and conducting prompt, credible investigations and prosecutions to hold perpetrators to account.
Enough is enough.