[Brussels, 23 January 2024] While we, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), are outraged by the disgraceful decision of the governments of France and Germany to persist in blocking a consent-based definition of rape (based on the standards of the Istanbul Convention) in the proposed Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence.
We call on the European Parliament to ensure that this Directive is adopted before the European elections, to prevent EU Member States from jeopardising this long-awaited law to uphold women’s human rights in Europe.
The EWL acknowledges that 13 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) have supported keeping Article 5 on rape. However, the shameful position of France and Germany – who hold a blocking minority – has made it impossible for the Belgian Presidency to include the article on rape (one of the most brutal and heinous forms of violence against women) in the compromise text of the Directive. The EWL questions whether this is a tactic to shelve the Directive. The decision of the Council inadmissibly puts at risk the whole Directive in the very last weeks of the negotiations before the end of this political mandate. We will not stand by and let this happen!
This Directive is the first ever piece of legislation at the EU level that sets minimum standards to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Directive will:
- Harmonise the definitions of at least seven forms of violence against women, including five forms of online violence against women, namely: non-consensual sharing of intimate or manipulated material; cyber-harassment; cyberstalking; unsolicited receipt of sexually explicit material, and cyber incitement to hatred; female genital mutilation and forced marriage;
- Offer a complete package of rights to victims of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence (as per national definitions) establishing minimum rules for reporting and access to justice, early intervention, protection and support to victims
- Establish minimum standards for data collection and ensure coordinating mechanisms.
The EWL is extremely disappointed by the governments of France and Germany, which have remained indifferent to the relentless efforts and calls from women’s organisations, citizens, and legal experts to make rape a crime and to ensure that all women and girls in Europe have the same rights throughout Europe. It is clear that this decision is completely hypocritical taking into account that a consent-based definition of rape is already mandated in the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, the so-called Istanbul Convention. France, Germany and the EU are parties to the Istanbul Convention and are, therefore, already bound by the provisions therein.
Just five months before the EU elections, the lack of commitment to women’s rights by the two largest EU governments sends a strong message to millions of voters.
However, on the other hand, we can clearly see that Europe does care about women if the Directive is adopted. The relentless work by the European Commission and the members of the European Parliament, especially the Rapporteurs Frances Fitzgerald (EPP, Ireland) and MEP Evin Incir (S&D, Sweden), and the Shadow Rapporteurs, testify that women’s rights are at the heart of their concerns. They have opened the door to placing violence against women at the heart of the EU’s political agenda, a demand of the EWL for the past 30 years!
It is of the utmost importance to continue the negotiations to ensure the adoption of a robust EU Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence that grants adequate protection and support to victims throughout the EU. There can be no peace and security while women fear for their safety. Male violence against women is a long-term systemic issue across Europe and this is an emergency threatening the security of women’s lives. 2.300 women are killed every year in Europe at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. One in 3 women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence and one in 2 women have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15. 7 % of women who have experienced cyber harassment have also experienced at least one form of sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner (FRA, 2014). In times when a rising number of women (and girls) in the EU feel so unprotected that suicide is considered as their only option after being victims of image-based sexual abuse, cyber-harassment or cyberstalking , we absolutely need a Directive that provides for the first time ever an adequate and ambitious framework of legal definitions to address all forms of cyber-violence.
In the framework of the last weeks of negotiations leading up to the next (and last) Trialogue meeting, the EWL calls on the Council, under the leadership of the Belgium Presidency, to be ready to adopt a compromise text that responds to the demands of the European Parliament. In the very last weeks of negotiations, we call on the Member States to adopt the Directive which includes a package of rights of victims of violence against women and domestic violence to live up to the standards of the Istanbul Convention. Concretely, we count on the Council to make significant compromises to improve the text in line with the European Parliament’s requests. In this regard, the EWL deeply regrets the Council’s decision to exclude key articles on the Directive including the article on rape and the definition of sexual harassment in the workplaceand forced sterilisation.
It’s time to make violence against women and girls a political priority.
Europe can make a difference. Do not shelve the Directive, adopt it now!
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.
Policy and campaigns officer
Policy and Campaigns Director
Communications and Media Coordinator
 EWL HerNetHerRights Mapping the state of online violence against women and girls in Europe (2018).
Verónica (32 years old) committed suicide after an intimate sexual video of her was widely distributed to her colleagues without her consent. Tiziana (31 years old) did the same after a long battle through courtsto have intimate videos removed from the internet.