MEPs give guarded welcome to new crackdown on violence against women and girls

Martin Banks
Stop sexual harassment and violence against women, rape and sexual abuse concept, STOP gesture with hand, Stop drugs, human rights violations, human trafficking, Copy space.

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), A compromise deal has been reached for the EU’s directive on violence against women and domestic violence, it has emerged.

The “long-awaited” directive is the first piece of legislation that combats violence against women at the EU level and, say MEPs, “will make a difference for women and girls.”

MEPs had fought for a consent-based law to become a legal reality but the blocking minority in Council was successful. The agreement reached today is not ideal, say Left-leaning members, but they add that the Parliament was able to secure several improvements to the text.

They say this “is an important milestone in eradicating gender-based violence.”

Commenting Malin Björk (Vänsterpartiet, Sweden) admitted: “The deal we have reached is not as ambitious as I would have hoped and worked for.”

He added,”In particular, it will not include an EU-wide consent-based rape law. However, the directive is still a huge step forward.

“For the first time, and after two decades of feminist struggle, we will have an EU instrument that addresses and condemns gender-based violence. There are strong provisions on the support and protection of women victims.

“There is also strong wording on preventive aspects. It is a great step forward to get all member states to inform and educate, on all levels of society, about women’s rights and consensual sex, to prevent gender-based violence.”

Further comment came from another MEP, María Eugenia Rodriguez Palop (Spain).

She added: “After years of struggle and many months of tough negotiations, we have just reached an agreement with the Council to move forward with the directive on violence against women. Some stubborn and irresponsible member states prevented the inclusion of rape as a criminal offence.

“However, important progress was made in the fields of prevention, protection and access to justice as well as regarding victim support that will apply to all forms of violence criminalised under EU and national law. There is no more room for those who deny the reality of gender-based violence. Today the EU has taken an important step in the fight for women’s and girls’ rights!”

Criminal offences included in the text are: female genital mutilation; forced marriage; non-consensual sharing of intimate or manipulated material; cyber stalking; cyber harassment and cyber incitement to violence or hatred.

Improvements secured by the Parliament include:

  • Provisions on rape prevention including the importance of promoting consent as the central component of sexual relationships as well as specialized assistance to victims of sexual violence.
  • A review clause obliging the Commission to revisit the text of the Directive five years after its implementation with a specific reference to the possible introduction of new offences.
  • Access of victims of sexual violence to healthcare services including sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
  • An intersectional approach to discrimination and support.
  • Strong provisions on protection and access to justice, victim support, prevention and early intervention, coordination and cooperation.

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Brussels Morning is a daily online newspaper based in Belgium. BM publishes unique and independent coverage on international and European affairs. With a Europe-wide perspective, BM covers policies and politics of the EU, significant Member State developments, and looks at the international agenda with a European perspective.
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Martin Banks is an experienced British-born journalist who has been covering the EU beat (and much else besides) in Brussels since 2001. Previously, he had worked for many years in regional journalism in the UK and freelanced for national titles. He has a keen interest in foreign affairs and has closely followed the workings of the European Parliament and MEPs in particular for some years.