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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Q&A: International Day for the elimination of Violence against women

Brussels, 24 November 2015

What do Europeans think about violence against women?

Over half of respondents to a Eurobarometer published earlier this year (59%) think that violence against women is the gender equality issue that should be dealt with most urgently. Europeans are most likely to think about sexual violence and violence in close relationships or domestic violence when they hear the term ‘violence against women’. They are also most likely to cite sexual violence, violence in close relationships or domestic violence and human trafficking as priority issues for the EU to tackle within its fight against gender-based violence.

What is the EU's role in tackling violence against women?

The Lisbon Treaty states that Member States should take all necessary steps to tackle domestic violence and help protect victims. Women and girls who are victims of violence need appropriate support and protection, which is reinforced by effective and deterrent laws.

What concrete actions is the EU undertaking?

The European Commission has carried out concrete actions to combat violence against women, including:

  • Ensuring protection and support for victims

New rules that apply as of 16 November are bringing about major changes in the way victims of crime are treated in Europe. The Victims' Rights Directive lays down a set of binding rights for victims of crime, and clear obligations for EU Member States to ensure these rights in practice (see IP/15/6095). The rules apply to all people, regardless of their nationality, who fall victim to crime in the EU. These rules recognise the specific vulnerability of victims of gender-based violence and give victims a right to specialist support according to their needs.

As of January 2015, new rules entered into force to give victims of domestic violence reinforced protection when travelling or moving to other EU countries (see IP/15/3045). These rules are composed of a directive and regulation to cover the different types of protection orders across the Member States.

Moreover in the area of compensation to crime victims, there are rules on compensation for crime victims. According to the Directive, persons who have fallen victim to intentional, violent crime in another EU Member States can receive fair compensation from the national compensation systems .

  • Tacking action to eradicate trafficking

The majority of victims of trafficking registered in the EU are women and girls (80%)[2]. The EU has recognised trafficking of women and girls as a form of violence against women and has adopted a comprehensive legal and policy framework to eradicate it. The anti-trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU approximates EU States' criminal laws, it establishes robust provisions on victims' protection and prevention, as well as supports the principle of non-punishment and unconditional assistance of victims. The EU Strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings 2012-2016 complements legislation with a series of actions, including on gender dimensions of trafficking in human beings.

  • Data collection and research to better understand the phenomenon

The EU has worked to gather accurate and comparable European data on gender-based violence. The first EU-wide survey on women’s experiences of various forms of violence, carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), shows that violence takes place everywhere, in every society, whether at home, at work, at school, in the street or online. One in three women has been a victim of physical or sexual violence, or both. 65% of women have experienced sexual harassment.

In cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Eurostat collected crime data recorded by the police and justice systems. The first results were published in September 2015 and showed that in many EU Member States, over half of murdered women are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member.

The European Working Conditions Survey, carried out by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), also provides information on violence experienced by women at work. The survey shows that in 2015, 17% of women in the EU were exposed to adverse social behaviours, including verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, humiliating behaviours, physical violence, sexual harassment and bullying or harassment.

On the request of the European Commission, two researchers have mapped recent surveys and studies on attitudes towards violence against women in the EU. This reveals the still widespread nature of attitudes of acceptability and tolerance of violence against women, linked to victim-blaming and gender stereotypes. This research will help to better define and target awareness-raising activities in this area.

  • A solid framework: steps toward EU ratifying the Istanbul Convention

The EU is now taking steps towards ratifying the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention, which offers a comprehensive approach to combatting violence against women, and which could strengthen the EU's efforts in promoting its fundamental values of human rights and equality between men and women. The European Commission published a roadmap on a possible EU accession to the Convention in October 2015, as a first, concrete step.

  • Improving awareness of gender-based violence

The European Commission also funds awareness-raising campaigns in EU countries and supports grassroots organisations, NGOs and networks working to prevent violence against women, under the DAPHNE III, PROGRESS and Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programmes. These projects have, for example, empowered advocates for change among FGM-practising communities, supported the evaluation of existing programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence in Europe, and trained support services for victims of sexual violence in universities to better respond to incidents and young victims' needs. The Commission has also supported Member States in publicising national helplines for victims, in training relevant professionals and in raising awareness among the general public about this problem.

What is the EU doing to help promote gender equality in non-EU countries?

The European Commission and EEAS recently adopted a Gender Action Plan for external relations for 2016-2020, which prioritises violence against women and girls (e.g. through promoting access to justice and strengthening child protection systems). The EU continues to systematically raise the issue of combating violence against women and girls and the types of discrimination from which such violence originates in its relations with third countries and regional organisations.

From 2007 to 2013, almost 700 million euro have been invested on the promotion and fulfilment of women's rights and on the fight against any form of violence against women and girls in non-EU countries.

Under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the EU is working with the OSCE to conduct a follow-up to the EU FRA survey. The survey on violence against women (VAW) will produce a unique set of data focused on gender that will help to generate a comprehensive picture on the prevalence of violence against women in the selected OSCE countries and conflict-affected contexts. Countries already identified in a first wave of this action are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine (and conflict-affected areas related to these countries where the situation is stable and conducive to survey research).

The EU demonstrated its strong commitment to women's human rights and empowerment during the preparatory phase of the 2030 Agenda. Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls stands at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, and includes a specific target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. The EU will strive for an effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including by mainstreaming the gender aspects through the whole of the Agenda.

The EU plays a role in countering and preventing sexual violence in conflict through various instruments: bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, development and humanitarian assistance, the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, Common Security and Defence Policy Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations. Following up on the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, held in London in June 2014, the EU adopted at the end of 2014 a Guide to Practical Actions at EU level for Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. Through a holistic approach, the EU will undertake actions in the areas of prevention, support, protection and accountability, and will promote cooperation in the multilateral fora. Furthermore, the EU will continue to support all the efforts of UNSR on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The EU continues to tackle gender based violence through its humanitarian assistance.. Assistance provided can include medical care, psychological support and, as much as possible, referral to legal services and socio-economic assistance. Moreover, sensitisation and awareness-raising strategies must be pursued to fight stigma. Last year the EU allocated over 12 million euro in response to gender-based violence to 40 projects in over 20 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Syria.

The Commission has been actively involved in the global initiative "Call to Action on protection from gender-based violence in emergencies", aiming to fundamentally transform the way gender-based violence is addressed in humanitarian operations and foster accountability within the humanitarian sphere. During this year's UN General Assembly, Commissioner Stylianides participated in the launch of the Call to Action Roadmap and renewed the EU's commitment to this initiative. The Roadmap outlines an operational framework for the next five years to meet the need for accountability, collective action and locally driven programming to respond to gender based violence in emergencies.  

What is the EU doing to end female genital mutilation?

An estimated 500,000 women and girls in the EU alone; and 125 million victims worldwide have suffered from female genital mutilation. Ending this form of violence is among the priorities of the European Union's efforts to combat violence against women (see MEMO/15/4201).

In November 2013, the Commission announced a new push to fight female genital mutilation in the European Union and beyond (IP/13/1153), with a series of actions to work towards the elimination of FGM. The Commission and European External Action Service Communication set out a series of actions to work towards the elimination of FGM, including:

  • Better understanding of the phenomenon: developing indicators through the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) and at national level to better understand numbers of women and girls affected by and at risk of mutilation. This year EIGE developed a common methodology that Member States can use to estimate the number of girls at risk on their territory;
  • Prevention of FGM and victim support: making use of EU funding (such as the EU's Daphne programme, the Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action programme and the future Asylum and Migration fund) to support activities to prevent FGM, raising awareness of the problem, empowering migrant women and girls, and training health professionals and those working with victims. In 2015, the European Commission held a call for proposals for projects preventing and combating FGM and other harmful practices (4.5 million euro);
  • More effective prosecution by Member States: support enforcement of the existing national laws prohibiting FGM through the analysis of criminal laws and court cases brought so far, disseminating training material for legal practitioners, for example through the Commission's e-justice platform, and enforcement of rights of victims to specialist support as under EU law;
  • Protection of women at risk on EU territory: ensuring correct implementation of EU asylum rules (notably the recast Qualifications Directive and the Asylum Procedures Directive) to guarantee protection of women at risk, raising awareness of professionals working with asylum and encouraging Member States to resettle children and women at risk by providing support through the European Refugee Fund and the future Asylum and Migration Fund.
  • Working to eliminate FGM at global level: addressing FGM in bilateral dialogues with relevant partner countries, working with the African Union and at the United Nations to promote global initiatives against FGM, advocating for improved national legislation and supporting civil society initiatives in countries affected, training and guidance for staff in EU delegations on FGM-related issues. The EEAS is also currently conducting a diplomatic outreach with a global focus on all forms of violence against children and women and a particular focus on child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). In line with the priorities of their human rights country strategy, EU Delegations will implement activities to combat violence against children and women at country level.

To ensure the various actions are followed up and remain on the political agenda continuously, the Commission has committed to monitoring and taking stock of progress on an annual basis around the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM (6 February).

More information


EU Justice: Violence against women

EEAS: factsheet on Female Genital Mutilation

European Commission's actions to fight Female Genital Mutilation


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