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Time for a Directive on Violence against Women

Submitted by on 09 Mar 2012 – 12:56

By Mikael Gustafsson MEP, Chair, Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, European Parliament

Despite the fact that violence against women has been a topic of debate over several decades, the international community has not managed to put an end to it. Considering the extended scope of the Lisbon Treaty, I think the time has come to introduce a directive on violence against women.

The starting point must be that gender-based violence is a violation of fundamental freedoms and rights, such as the right to security and human dignity.

Respect for human rights is a key value in the EU Treaty. And gender equality is a fundamental EU principle.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states that European society should be characterised by equality between women and men.

The Lisbon Treaty has provided possibilities for the EU to introduce common provisions in the field of criminal law.

The Union also has the right to introduce minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension, resulting from the nature or impact of such offences. This competence also applies in cases where there is a special need to combat crime on a common basis.

The text of the Treaty makes particular reference to trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children.

As regards police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters having a cross-border dimension, Parliament and the Council are able to establish a minimum common standard.

Violence against women is historically and structurally determined. According to the UN, it is constituted by ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life’.

Gender-based violence does not simply relate to violence within the meaning of criminal law. It extends to different types of crime directed against women simply because they are women. It is a type of abuse which contributes towards the repression of women as individuals and as a group. Violence inflicted on women is usually also sexualised.

Gender-based violence covers offences in the form of violence in close relationships, sexual abuse, human trafficking, forced marriage, genital mutilation and other forms of violations of integrity which particularly affect women and young girls.

It is a complex problem, but I believe it must be solved. Especially if we are serious about the principles that govern the European Union. And we have the means to do it.

The European Parliament has in fact already pointed out the need for a comprehensive legal act to combat all forms of violence against women. In April 2011 it voted for the report of Eva-Britt Svensson, and thereby proposed a criminal-law instrument in the form of a directive against gender-based violence.

The time has come for the European Union to act. We are now looking forward to the proposal from the Commission.