Violence against women includes all acts of gender-based violence that cause or are likely to cause physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering – namely sexual violence, rape, genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sterilization, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, stalking for the purpose of harassment, sexual harassment, femicide, hate speech, sex crimes in online form (cyber violence), non-consensual sharing or manipulation of intimate material, cyber stalking and internet harassment.
Domestic violence is a form of violence against women that occurs within the family. Women are disproportionately represented as victims of all forms of violence because of underlying patterns of coercion, power and/or control. Last but not least, cyber violence is an extension of the violence that victims face in offline environments. Despite the widespread spread of cyber violence, the regulatory process is so far highly fragmented, with significant legal gaps identified at both EU and Member State level.
Significant for the EU agenda to combat violence against women is the new Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as the Istanbul Convention), which has comprehensively addressed violence against women and domestic violence. In 2016, the proposal for a Council Decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (COM(2016)111) was presented. A year later, the Convention was signed, on behalf of the EU, by the European Commission and the Council of the EU. However, the accession process has not been finalized so far as the EU Council has not adopted the final decision. In the meantime, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted on 18 December 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981 after ratification by 20 countries. By the Convention’s tenth anniversary in 1989, almost one hundred nations had agreed to abide by its provisions. States Parties to the Convention condemned discrimination against women in all its forms and agreed to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, a policy of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Romania ratified the Convention on 7 January 1982.
The June 2019 International Labor Organization Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment at Work (C190) aims to stop violence and harassment through the adoption of innovative international instruments, making it the first international standard to end violence and harassment in the world of work. The Convention fills existing gaps in legislation and protects all workers, regardless of their contractual status – trainees, apprentices, licensed workers, volunteers or job seekers.
At EU level there are several legal instruments relevant to victims of violence against women and domestic violence. These establish either general rules applicable to this category of victims or specific rules on certain forms of such violence.
Recent developments at EU level to combat this phenomenon include:
· 2019 – The political guidelines for the European Commission 2019-2024, in particular those referring to “A Union of Equality”, highlight the need to prevent and combat violence against women, protect victims and punish perpetrators;
· 2020 – Gender Equality Strategy 2020-20255 (COM(2020)152) includes measures to prevent such violence, to protect victims, to prosecute perpetrators and to implement comprehensive and coordinated policies in this area.
· 2020 – EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights 2020-2025 (COM(2020)258) calls on the European Commission, EU Member States, civil society, all stakeholders, to get involved and pay particular attention to the specific needs of victims of gender-based violence.
· 2020 – Proposal for a Directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union (COM(2020)682) aims to ensure that workers in the EU are protected by adequate minimum wages, enabling them to make a decent living wherever they work, by establishing a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and to increase workers’ access to minimum wage protection.
· 2020 – Equality Strategy for LGBTIQ people 2020-2025 (COM(2020)698) addresses the inequalities and challenges affecting LGBTIQ people with a view to creating an Equality Union. It pays particular attention to the diverse needs of LGBTIQ people and the most vulnerable groups, including people facing intersectional discrimination and transgender, non-binary and intersex people, who are among the least accepted groups in society and who generally face higher levels of discrimination and violence than other groups within LGBTIQ communities. The strategy argues that discrimination is often multidimensional and that only a cross-sectional approach can lead to sustainable and respected changes in society.
· 2020 – Digital Services Act (COM(2020)825) which helps protect online users.
· 2021 – Gender Equality Action Plan (GAP) III (JOIN(2020)17) is an ambitious agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the EU’s external action; combating gender-based violence becomes one of the priorities for EU external action.
· 2021 – Proposal for a Directive on strengthening the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value for men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms (COM(2021)93) seeks to remedy the respect of the fundamental right to equal pay and the enforcement of this right across the EU by setting pay transparency standards that enable workers to claim their right to equal pay.
· 2021 – Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 (COM(2021)101) aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities over the next decade, both at EU and national level, with a strong commitment from Member States and regional and local authorities to deliver the actions proposed by the European Commission.
· 2021 – The Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights (COM(2021)102) reiterates the commitment to combat gender-based violence, reducing it in employment by at least half compared to 2019.
· 2021 – EU comprehensive strategy on the rights of the child (COM(2021)142) reaffirms the rights and their role in society, in particular in relation to nature, climate change, discrimination and injustice.
· 2021 – A more inclusive and protective Europe (COM(2021)777) aims to include hate speech and hate crimes in the list of EU criminal offences.
· 2022 – The European Commission’s annual report on gender equality in the EU (SWD(2022)54) notes that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In 2020, women’s labor market participation rate fell by 0.5% compared to 2019, after a decade of steady growth.