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Commission encourages member states to ratify International Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work

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The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Decision allowing member states to take forward the process of ratifying at national level the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work.

The Convention, adopted during the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centenary in June 2019, is the first international instrument setting out global standards on work-related harassment and violence.

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “The new Convention is a much-needed international instrument to protect everyone's right to a workplace free from violence and harassment. Once adopted, this Decision will support Member States in leading the way for its ratification and implementation.”

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said: “Violence against women at work affects us all – the victims of course the most, but also the colleagues and teams around them. The International Convention is the legal solution ensuring that women and men do not suffer from violence and harassment at work. I encourage the member states to ratify this Convention. We must all do our part to bring about real change towards gender equality.”

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The Convention recognizes that violence and harassment at work can be a human rights violation or abuse, posing a threat to equal opportunities. The EU cannot ratify ILO Conventions because the EU is not a member of the organization, only member states can ratify such Conventions.

When the ILO instrument touches on EU competences, a Council decision authorizing ratification is required.According to the survey on violence against women conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 1 in 2 women in the EU said they have experienced some sort of sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. Of all sexual harassment, in 32% of the reported cases, the perpetrator was someone related to the woman's employment (colleague, boss or customer).

More information about the Convention is available on the ILO website.

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Domestic violence

How the EU is tackling gender-based violence

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Gender-based and domestic violence remain common in Europe, especially affecting women and girls. The EU is taking measures to put an end to it, Society.

Most EU countries have laws tackling violence against someone because of gender or sexual orientation, but the lack of a common definition of gender-based violence and common rules to address the issue helps to perpetuate the problem. That is why the European Parliament has repeatedly called for new EU legislation on this.

Women and girls are the main victims, but it can also affect men. LGBTIQ+ people are also often targeted. It has negative consequences at the individual level as well as within the family, community and at an economic level.

Check out what the Parliament is doing for a Social Europe.

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Specific rules to punish gender-based violence

In order to better fight gender-based violence in all EU countries, in September 2021 MEPs urged the European Commission to make it a crime under EU law, alongside terrorism, trafficking, cybercrime, sexual exploitation and money laundering. This would allow for common legal definitions, standards and minimum criminal penalties throughout the EU.

The initiative follows a call from February, when Parliament requested an EU directive to prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence. On that occasion, MEPs highlighted the need for an EU protocol on gender-based violence in times of crisis to tackle the problem and support victims of domestic abuse. Services such as helplines, safe accommodation and health attention for victims should be included in the plan as “essential services” in every EU country, Parliament argued.

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Check out this infographic on COVID-19’s impact on women.

Sexual harassment and cyber violence

Responding to the increased use of social media and new technologies, MEPs are currently working on proposals to tackle gender-based cyber violence, due to be presented in November 2021, building from a 2016 report on harassment online.

Istanbul Convention

Finalising EU accession to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence remains a political priority. All EU countries have signed up, but some have yet to ratify it. In January 2021, Parliament welcomed the Commission’s intention to propose measures to achieve the Istanbul Convention’s objectives in 2021 if some member states continue to block its ratification by the EU.

Female genital mutilation

The Parliament has adopted laws and resolutions to help eliminate female genital mutilation worldwide. Although the practice is illegal in the EU and some member states prosecute even when it is performed outside the country, it is estimated that about 600,000 women living in Europe have been subjected to female genital mutilation and a further 180,000 girls are at high risk in 13 European countries alone.

In 2019, the Restorers, a group of five students from Kenya who developed an app helping girls deal with female genital mutilation, were shortlisted for Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Parliament awarded the 2014 Sakharov Prize to Congolese gynaecologist Dr Denis Mukwege for his work with thousands of victims of gang rape and brutal sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Women: The main victims

  • One in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15
  • More than a half of all women has been sexually harassed
  • In almost one in five cases of violence against women the perpetrator is an intimate partner


(Source: Violence against women, an EU-wide survey commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 2014).

Fact sheets 

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EU's gender equality strategy must not fail to address the damaging effects of the #COVID-19 crisis on women says #EESC

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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) calls on the European Commission to promptly implement its new Gender Equality Strategy, while tackling the damaging gender impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has further exacerbated existing social and economic gender inequalities, increasing violence against women and different forms of discrimination against them.

In the opinion adopted at its July plenary session, the EESC stated that the Commission must make sure that the Strategy takes into account the negative repercussions of the crisis for gender equality. The EESC also emphasised that the COVID-19 crisis requires the gender perspective to be incorporated into all member states' recovery measures.

"With COVID-19, women have increasingly been at risk of violence, poverty, multiple forms of discrimination and economic dependence. The strategy should be implemented without delay, to prevent women from continuing to pay the price for the pandemic," rapporteur for the opinion, Giulia Barbucci, told the plenary.

Barbucci said that the EESC supports the Commission's approach of using gender mainstreaming to incorporate the gender perspective into all fields and all stages of policymaking. This should also include the governance of finance programming mechanisms.

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As the pandemic has further exposed the glaring gender pay gap, the EESC welcomed the announcement of a Commission initiative to introduce binding measures on gender pay transparency as early as this year and rejected any postponement of such an initiative.

Women represent the majority of workers in the health, social care and the services sector, which has put them in the front line during the pandemic, posing a risk to their health. As jobs occupied by women tend to be underpaid, undervalued and precarious, it is essential to give greater social recognition and economic value to these occupations, which would contribute to reducing pay and other gender-related gaps.

The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the need to finance measures in favour of work-life balance, the absence of which is often the culprit, together with persistent stereotypes, for gender-related gaps in the economy.

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Women still bear the brunt of care responsibilities at home, which strongly limits their social and economic empowerment and prevents them from receiving fair pay and pensions. The EESC recommends a systematic approach to care policies and urges EU Member States to continue their efforts to increase the supply, affordability and quality of early childhood education and care services.

In the opinion, the EESC puts a strong accent on eradicating violence against women, which has increased during lockdowns: "Domestic violence has seen an exponential rise during the confinement, while cyber violence has become a growing threat for women. Member states have no tools to deal with online harassment of women and girls, and the Commission should come up with proposals for this common problem," warned the co-rapporteur Indrė Vareikytė.

The EESC calls upon the Commission to launch initiatives to tackle violence and sexual harassment in the workplace and at home and has repeatedly asked for online harassment and bullying of women to be added to the definition of illegal hate speech.

According to the EESC, civil society organisations can play a vital role in the prevention of violence against women and in the promotion of a gender-sensitive culture, by raising awareness and collecting and sharing good practices. The EESC has repeated its suggestion for an emergency legal fund to be established at EU level, which would provide support to civil society organisations that challenge legislation that violates women's rights in court.

Vareikytė underlined the important role played by the media in creating and perpetuating stereotypes that lead to prejudice against women and create further inequalities. She said that the EESC is calling for a new thematic focus – media and advertising – to be included in the next Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

"The power of the media to create and perpetuate stereotypes must no longer be underestimated and we have to tackle it. The representation of gender in the media is still stereotyped, and the situation in the advertising sector is even worse. Advertising should promote gender equality in society, and not vice-versa, as is often the case," Vareikytė said. The media should thus adopt codes of conduct and other measures outlawing sexism and damaging stereotypes.

In its opinion, the EESC also calls for various measures to close persistent gender gaps in other fields: it asks member states to adopt specific measures to improve educational and career guidance to counter gender segregation in education and employment, which currently prevents many girls and young women from choosing a career path that is considered less traditional. The EESC also calls for actions to reduce the digital gender gap and encourage women to enter STEM, AI and ICT sectors, which hold better career prospects and the promise of better pay.

Another persistent shortcoming is the lack of balanced participation of men and women in decision-making. The EESC once again asks the Council to proceed with discussions on the directive on improving the gender balance on corporate management boards.

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#IstanbulConvention - All member states must ratify it without delay, say MEPs

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To end violence against women, MEPs call on the EU to accede to and all member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

The non-legislative resolution, adopted by 500 votes in favour, 91 against and 50 abstentions on Thursday (28 November), calls on the Council to urgently conclude the EU ratification of the 'Convention on preventing and combating violence against women', also known as the Istanbul Convention. It urges the seven member states that have signed but not yet ratified it - Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and the UK - to do so without delay.

MEPs condemn the attacks and campaigns against the Convention in some countries, which are based on deliberately misinterpreting and falsely presenting its contents to the public, they say.

MEPs request that the Commission adds combating gender-based violence as a priority in the next European Gender Strategy. They also ask the Commission to submit a legal act tackling all forms of gender-based violence - including online harassment and cyber violence - and plead for violence against women to be included in the catalogue of EU-recognized crimes.

All member states should ensure that the Convention is properly implemented and enforced by allocating adequate funding and human resources to the right services. Providing appropriate training for all professionals dealing with victims (magistrates, doctors, police officers...) is particularly essential.

The EP also reiterates its position in favour of specifically earmarking €193.6 million for actions preventing and combating gender-based violence in the Rights and Values programme.

Background

The Istanbul Convention, adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011, entered into force in 2014 and was signed by the EU in June 2017. It is the first international instrument of its kind - states that ratify it must follow comprehensive, legally binding standards to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims and punish perpetrators.

According to a 2014 Fundamental Rights Agency survey, one in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. 55% of women have been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment (11% have been subjected to cyber harassment). One in twenty have been raped.

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