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MEPs from across the political divide insist that the European Union should ratify the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, in line with a 2021 Court of Justice opinion.
The EU signed the Istanbul Convention in 2017 and signalled its commitment to eradicating gender-based violence. However, the EU ratification process has been stuck in the Council ever since, and six Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia) have yet to ratify the Convention.
A draft text, adopted on Wednesday by 469 in favour, 104 against and 55 abstentions, says the Istanbul Convention remains the international standard and a key tool in eradicating gender-based violence, including domestic violence.
One in three women in the EU, around 62 million women, has experienced physical and/or sexual violence and more than half of women (55%) in the EU have experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15.
MEPs said they “strongly condemn” attempts in some member states to revoke measures already taken in applying the Istanbul Convention and call on them to implement it fully.
MEPs say they also condemn the backlash against gender equality, women’s rights and the Istanbul Convention in some member states – for example in Poland, where the government is looking to withdraw from the Convention and has introduced a de facto ban on abortion They demand national authorities fight against disinformation about the Convention.
Six years after the EU signed the Convention, it has still not ratified it because of the refusal of a few member states.
However, the ECJ decision stated that the European Union can ratify the Istanbul Convention without having the agreement of all member states. The EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention does not exempt member states from ratifying it themselves, say MEPs, who urge the remaining six countries – Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia – to ratify the Convention without delay.
Criminal justice should only be one part of a comprehensive response to gender-based violence, MEPs say.
The report was requested by the European Parliament and stressed that the Council does not need to have a ‘common accord’ before adopting the decision to ratify the Convention on behalf of the EU, which means the Council can adopt it with a qualified majority (QMV).
The EU’s response should also encompass prevention, protection, and prosecution. Member states should ensure gender-sensitive training, procedures and guidelines, as well as specialist support and protection measures with a victim-centred approach for all professionals involved, including law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and public prosecutors.
Swedish EPP member Arba Kokalari, rapporteur for the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, said: “We as Europeans now have a window of opportunity to take the necessary measures to combat violence against women, which affects as many as one third of all women in Europe. It is time for the EU to ratify the Istanbul Convention. The EU must step up and go from words to action to stop gender-based violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.”
Polish Socialist deputy Lukasz Kohut, rapporteur for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee said: “Six years ago, the EU signed the Istanbul Convention, which aims to prevent violence, protect victims, and prosecute perpetrators. Our report is a strong signal supporting the Swedish Presidency’s efforts for the EU to accede to the Istanbul Convention. The reality – that violence is happening in many homes – must change soon.”
Pina Picierno, S&D shadow rapporteur for the women’s rights and gender equality committee, said:“137 women are killed by their partner or a family member every day. One in three women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women is a global phenomenon that Europe needs to lead the way in ending once and for all.
“The EU ratifying the Istanbul Convention on combatting violence against women as soon as possible would demonstrate a clear stance against gender-based violence in the EU. This is not the end of the road though. We are committed to doing more to protect women by ensuring gender based violence is a crime that is recognised in all EU countries so that anyone abusing on the basis of gender faces full justice. We are currently working on new EU laws that protect and support victims and that can help stop gender-based crime happening in the first place.”
The Greens/EFA Group said they call for the Council and the remaining Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention without further delay and to keep striving for a Union free of gender-based violence.