26 June 2017

Loud and United to end violence against women and girls

On the 8th of June 2017, EuroNGOs attended the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) public event “Loud and United to end violence against women and girls” – a fully booked conference featuring Gloria Steinem and the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Observatory on violence against women and girls. The conference was followed by a public demonstration in the heart of Brussels.

What was it all about? What’s the problem?

We looked at various institutions and how they tackle violence against women (VAW), listened to the victims as well as current and future decision-makers, and were inspired by a passionate activist for women’s rights. We left the room and immediately acted; in the heart of the city, we made our voice heard and staid united in the fight against VAW around the world. 

Many aspects of the problem have been described- from the recent attacks of populist parties on reproductive health and rights to new forms of violence, like cyberviolence, and from the impact of funding cuts in social measures to the underreporting of violence and blaming of the victims.

What are we doing about it? What are the solutions? 

The different parties involved, including civil society organizations, experts and representatives of states and the European Union are prioritizing this issue and collaborating in tackling it, but what are they doing concretely?

Experts

They monitor the realities and suggest ways forward. The EWL Observatory on violence against women is a dynamic group of 34 experts from 29 countries in Europe and five International and European women’s organizations. This unique structure was established in 1997, two years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Since then, it plays a key role in identifying burning issues and monitoring progress towards a Europe free from male violence against women.

Civil society organizations 

They support the victims and give them access to the services they need. Below you can see 4 powerful examples. 

  • Sexual Violence Center Cork – provides information and advice on legal issues, medical issues and service availability to the survivors of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse 
  • Lilies of the Streets - an international art project that aims to bring out the stories of people involved in prostitution
  • Maison des femmes (FR) – a “one-stop-shop” for survivors of VAW, offering a variety of services in the same house
  • Women Tribunals – applies transitional justice, when institutionalized legal systems don’t serve justice for women

States working together at regional level

States negotiate and sign agreements and then turn them into laws at national level. Two relevant examples of legal instruments at regional level are the Directive on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting Its Victims and the Directive on the European Protection Order to tackle violence against women in a coordinated and effective manner.

One of the most recent commitments from member states to work together to end VAW is the signing of the Istanbul Convention by the European Union. Ms Marja Ruotanen, representing the Council of Europe as Director of Human Dignity and Equality, highlighted the importance of the Istanbul Convention, which is building on previous work but also complementing the existing framework. It is a tribute to all the victims and it must be followed by the commitment to implement it and have monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The signing of the Istanbul Convention will be followed by defining concrete competencies and agreeing on actions to be taken. 

Malta is holding the Presidency of the EU and will soon hand over to Estonia. Malta ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2014 and worked tirelessly to convince other countries to do so as well, including by organizing a conference on best practices. Thus, all EU countries have signed the convention so far. The future Estonian Presidency to the EU promised to continue the fight against VAW by intensifying the cooperation efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations and ensuring that there is a wide consensus on the topic, including regarding the concept of a digital Europe and the fight against digital violence. Estonia will ratify the Istanbul Convention very soon.  

The European Parliament is also sending a clear political message that the EU is competent in this regard and must protect the fundamental rights and values of its citizens. The interim report with the EP’s position is out since April and will be voted on this July.  

What do we need?

Inspiration 

Gloria Steinem reminded us of the importance of learning from each other and from the past, because things were not always like this. It is the control over reproduction that led to control over women’s bodies, which then led to violence. Everything is inter-connected and what we should fight against are supremacy crimes, with the aim of maintaining women in a place they were told they deserve. But patriarchy is not the only system. And we see a progressive movement towards gender equality, but we also see backlashes and attacks of women’s rights. However, there is something to grasp for, the signs are out there that show that VAW is a predictor of violence at large (referring to the evidence published in the book “Sex and World Peace” by researcher Valerie Hudson).

Evidence

In 2014, the first EU-wide survey on VAW was published and made the issue visible. Policy is important in giving direction. The European Commission had the mandate to follow-up, which resulted in another report highlighting the economic costs of VAW. 2017 is the year of focused actions to combat violence against women and new data is going to be released in November about VAW by Eurostat. Last but not least, the VAW index is planned to be introduced in the Eurobarometer – a special report is available here.  

Mobilization 

More than 100.000 people signed the “Rise Up Against Violence” petition and the book with signatures was handed to the EU decision makers. The conference was followed by a demonstration organized together with Belgian women's organizations, that took place at Place de l’Albertine, Brussels. You can see photos from the conference and the public event here and follow the Facebook #LoudUnited hashtag here

This article was written by Anamaria Suciu, EuroNGOs Assistant, who attended the conference and the public demonstration.