[Brussels, 2 June 2023] The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) highly welcomes the Council decision to give green light to the EU’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention.
“This historic decision has sent once again a strong message that the EU cares, that women are taken seriously and that violence against women is not a private matter but a structural issue embedded in patriarchy, sexism and misogyny”, said Reka Safrany, President of the EWL. “The message the EU has given is that women’s rights are fundamental human rights at the very heart of the EU project; and therefore all forms of violence against women must end”.
“Thank you to all involved, to the partners in the European Coalition to end violence against women and particularly to the political leaders”, she added.
The EWL congratulates the Swedish Presidency for the political courage to make the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention a reality after so many years of inadmissible political blockage. We praise the strong political leadership of the European Parliament over the course of these difficult years , specially the two rapporteurs, MEP Arba Kokalari (Sweden, EPP, FEMM Committee) and MEP Łukasz Kohut (Poland, S&D, LIBE Committee), who led to this historic vote at the Plenary session on 10 May.
The EWL also congratulates EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli and President Ursula von der Leyen, for keeping their promise and for having pursued this file and for their commitment to take legal actions and thanks the dedication of all the services of the Commission involved in this file . The success of this file shows that women political leaders committed to women’s rights do make a difference and, also, that whenever there is political will, there is a way.
“We call on all these leaders, especially at the Member States level, to show as much courage to adopt a robust Directive on violence against women and domestic violence, which will be crucial for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. These two instruments must be seen as sisters that must go hand in hand to end all forms of violence against women and girls in Europe”, said Mary Collins, Acting Secretary General of the EWL.
This is a collective achievement to celebrate. For the last 8 years, women’s rights organisations and other human rights CSOs have been working and campaigning together relentlessly asking for the EU to ratify the Convention: the most comprehensive tool that we all have to date to address the phenomenon adequately. The Convention recognises the structural aspects of violence against women and responds to the particular needs of victims of violence against women and domestic violence: the intimidation they suffer; and high risk of retaliation, repeated victimisation and the risk to their lives. The Istanbul Convention provides a full pack of comprehensive measures that – if implemented correctly – will save women’s lives.
For the first time, the EU will commit to a set of comprehensive binding measures to address violence against women, to report on its implementation and to data collection. The EU accession can also help to ensure that right across Europe women have the same level of rights and protection no matter where they live.
At national level, we recall that Member States will still be responsible for ratifying and implementing the Convention in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. Therefore we call on the EU Member States that have signed the Istanbul Convention but that haven’t yet ratified it to do so without delay: Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.
In these countries especially – but also in all others that have ratified and have yet to work towards its implementation – women’s organisations have been working relentlessly for years calling for adequate action and to move the file on the Istanbul Convention forward by integrating its principles and measures into the national frameworks.
Now, the EU accession presents an opportunity for all the EU Member States to commit to a common legal framework to address violence against women at EU level. The EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention will play a “unifying role”, as Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli mentioned in her speech.
For this, implementation will be key and concrete legal tools will be needed. This is why the EWL very much welcomed the European Commission proposal for a concrete Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The proposal of the Commission is already a very good basis for the negotiation as it proposes harmonisation of definitions of crimes linked to sexual exploitation, including sexual violence, and cyberviolence; and it proposes concrete measures to give response to the specific needs of victims of violence and to ensure their access to justice.
Now we call on all the EU leaders to continue making a difference by turning commitments into concrete actions. EU leaders must continue to show as much courage by swiftly adopting and enhancing a robust Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence.
The EWL welcomes the decision of the Council of the EU to propose a Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. We are happy to see that this Directive counts with a solid majority among the Member States which increases its likelihood to be adopted. However, we deeply regret to see that the proposal made by the European Commission in March 2022 has been regrettably watered down by the Member States on many crucial aspects of the Directive, particularly the harmonised definition of rape.
“Member States have decided to leave out a fundamental piece of the Directive: the criminalisation of rape as a form of sexual exploitation. This political choice is absolutely unacceptable to women’s organisations. The Council must recognise that rape is a crime that is at the very core of the violation of women’s fundamental rights, systematically used to silence women across Europe”, said Réka Sáfrány, EWL President. “This decision is regretable not only because there is enough legal basis for the EU to legislate on this matter, but also because there is an urgent need to combat rape on a common basis, which is clearly not the case at the moment”, she added.
Victims of rape do not have the same level of protection across Europe as definitions of the crime vary widely across Europe . Many member states do not yet have adequate definitions based on the notion of freely given consent but still retain forced-based definitions that do not offer adequate protection to victims  . In this context, only a small number of women feel safe to report and ask for help  and therefore a great majority of sex crimes remain undisclosed. And for those that dare to report, there are far too many obstacles.
We know too many cases of women being re-victimised and humiliated during criminal investigation proceedings, being blamed and required to demonstrate how much they resisted the crime, and being judged themselves on the basis of gender stereotypes and moral views about women’s sexuality.
“We will not accept this! Our EWL members are mobilized widely contacting political leaders and taking action across Europe to seek a robust Directive that criminalises all forms of sexual and reproductive exploitation of women, including sexual violence and abuse over women’s sexuality, and all forms of online violence against women and girls. We also call to set the highest standards for specialised support mechanisms to protect victims and ensure their access to justice and reparation”, said Mary Collins, Acting Secretary General of the EWL.
This general approach of the Council on the Directive will be definitely adopted at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting of 8-9 of June in Luxembourg. When the Council meets next week we want to ensure that every single one of the Member States will feel ashamed to agree to backtrack, water-down or dilute this Directive, which requires a qualified majority to be adopted.
We trust that the European Parliament will adopt a strong and comprehensive proposal to enhance the text of the Directive - thanks to the determination of the two rapporteurs MEP Francis Fitzgerald (Ireland, EPP, FEMM Committee) and MEP Evin Incir (Sweden, S&D, LIBE Committee). We count on the Spanish Presidency to be ready to make improvements to the current Council proposal during the trialogue negotiations.
We ask all the EU institutions not to let victims down: women in the EU are counting on you today.
You too have a historic opportunity to bear pressure to put an end - once and for all - to violence against women and girls in the EU, including all forms of sexual exploitation and cyberviolence. You too can have your voice heard to put pressure on the EU Institutions by signing this WeMove petition.
The European Women’s Lobby is the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in Europe. Founded in 1990, the EWL works to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men and represents more than 2000 organizations across Europe.
We remain at your disposal for any further information you might need. Feel welcome to contact:
Laura Kaun, Policy and Campaigns Director
Irene Rosales, Policy and Campaigns Officer
Mirta Baselovic, Communications and Media Coordinator
 Rapporteurs in the previous term of the EP were Anna-Maria Corazza- Bildt (EPP, Sweden) and Christine REVAULT D’ALLONNES BONNEFOY (S&D, France)
 In particular, we recognise the hard work led by the Gender Equality Unit, DG Justice at the European Commission.
 Sara de Vido and Lorena Sosa (2021) , Criminalisation of gender-based violence against women in European states, including ICT-facilitated violence, published by the European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/25712c44-4da1-11ec-91ac-01aa75ed71a1
 Council of Europe (2022): “Mid-term Horizontal Review of GREVIO baseline evaluation reports”. https://rm.coe.int/prems-010522-gbr-grevio-mid-term-horizontal-review-rev-february-2022/1680a58499
 Only 22% of women who experience intimate partner violence report it to the police. In particular, of violent incidents of a sexual nature, 60 % were reported to the police. Reporting is lower than average when the perpetrator was a family member or a relative (only 22 % of incidents were reported to the police). That has significant implications for under-reporting of domestic and/or intimate partner violence. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Crime, safety and victims’ rights – Fundamental Rights Survey, 2021: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2021/fundamental-rights-survey-crime