Loud and united to end violence against women

Barbara Dockalova | Jun 15, 2017
EWL event in Brussels
From the Baltic nations to the United Kingdom, over 100 feminist activists from across Europe crammed into a venue in the historic Brussels City Hall last week to stand “loud and united to end violence against women and girls”.

The event was organised by European Women’s Lobby (EWL), which was marking 20 years anniversary of their Observatory, established two years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995. Having identified male violence against women as one of their top priorities, the EWL members decided to create this unique structure to put strengthened political pressure on the European states to prevent and respond to violence against women. The EWL Observatory plays a key role in identifying emerging issues and advocates for improved policies and service provision for prevention and support of women victims of male violence.

Violence against women in Europe

Violence against women whether domestic, invasion of women’s reproductive rights, sexual harassment or cybercrime, has the same goal - to silence and control women and maintain male authority. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Thanks to the hard work and commitment of women’s rights organisations, we have seen some progressive steps and changes within the European Union to penalise perpetrators and seek justice for survivors.

Yet, a lack of access to justice and victim blaming is still the norm in Europe, and leads to a culture of under-reporting. It is saddening to see that EU, being one of the most progressive bodies for the rights of all, is still struggling with one of the biggest violations of human rights.

In Europe, 50 women die every week from male domestic violence that is one woman every 3.4 hours. Every second, a woman faces sexual harassment on the street, and every 8 minutes, a man rapes a woman. Over 75% of women in top management positions are experiencing sexual harassment at work. And 61% of people with disabilities in Europe have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15. There continues to be attack on sexual reproductive health rights by governments that are adapting new laws, which penalizes women’s rights to safe abortion. In places like Romania, helplines for survivors of violence is not catering to the needs of women, preventing women who experience sexual violence from getting support. Many governments used the global financial crisis as an excuse to cut services for women experiencing violence. In UK alone, one in four women who have already been referred, are turned away from refuge because there is no room .

Backlash against feminism

Coupled with cuts to services and a proliferation of violence, there continues to be a major backlash against the work of women’s rights organisations and movements. Attacks from populist parties and an increase in anti-feminist campaigns and organisations, propelled by a conservative media, has a detrimental effect on establishing the progressive policies and laws that activists and civil society organisations have been campaigning for.

It is clear that the struggle against violence against women and girls in Europe is not over. A group of European Parliamentarians is campaigning for zero tolerance on violence and are advocating for ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention would address many of these issues. Since the convention was open for signature in May 2011, the progress towards ratification is slow. Only 14 out of 28 EU member states have ratified the convention, UK has not.

The Istanbul Convention is the most ground-breaking and legally binding document, which is centered on the survivor’s experience and sends strong signal against violence across Europe. The convention will provide better data, which is currently lacking because violence is not often reported. It also would require states to prevent, prosecute and eliminate all forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence including those that are currently less recognised such as stalking, ‘honour’ crimes, forced marriage and FGM. It is the most advanced treaty that builds on experience on all existing instruments, and is a catalogue of actions to be taken up by authorities and the international community.

Petitioning the European Union

Last week, it was privilege to witness the handing of the “Rise up against violence” petition with 105,000 signatures to the new EU presidency (Estonia). The petition is calling on the EU Justice Ministers to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention. Well-known American activist and feminist leader, Gloria Steinem, supported our call to action. She reminded the audience that multiple forms of violence affect women and that there is a strong connection between global warming, race, ethnicity and cast. It is clear that the universality of our problem leads us to stay together and strong. Gloria Steinem ended by saying "if we each have a torch, there would be more light."

In the time it’s taken to write this blog, another woman in Europe has died from violence and 200 more have been sexually harassed. We must remain loud and united, until all women live free from violence.

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