Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Stepping up a gear to eliminate violence against women in Europe
European Commission Conference on Violence against Women
Brussels, 25 November 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to welcome you to this conference on violence against women – on this, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Every day, in every country, in every town and in so many homes and public places, there are women and girls who are beaten, exploited, abused, humiliated, terrorised – very often just because they happen to be women and girls!
The international community has designated 25th November to raise awareness about the terrible problem of violence against women. It is also a day when we show our solidarity with women and girls who are victims of violence.
I hope that this conference will contribute to moving ahead on this important agenda, and that we will have two days of fruitful discussions on what role the EU can play in this process.
Before presenting the conference programme to you, however, I think that it is worth recalling how many women and girls are actually faced with violence in the world and Europe today.
Violence against women – facts and figures
Violence against women crosses all cultural, religious, socio-economic and national boundaries. It affects women of all ages and is not confined to particular groups of women within a society.
Although we still lack EU-level official statistics to determine the exact prevalence of violence against women in Europe, we do have quite reliable estimates showing how enormous this problem is:
The Council of Europe has estimated that 45 % of women in Europe suffer some kind of violence at least once in their lifetime and that every day one in five women in Europe is a victim of violence.
The most common form of violence against women is clearly physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner – also referred to as domestic violence. Earlier this year, we carried out a Eurobarometer survey on European citizens' perceptions of domestic violence against women - which is included in your conference package. The survey showed that the prevalence of the problem is considerable: One respondent in four knows a woman who is a victim of domestic violence and one in five knows a perpetrator.
The Council of Europe estimates that about 12% to 15% of all women in Europe have been in a relationship of domestic abuse after the age of 16.
At a global level, the UN estimates that half of all women murdered are killed by their current or former husbands and at least one in three women is subjected to violence from a domestic partner in the course of her life.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation – FGM. In Europe, Amnesty International estimates that there are 500,000 girls and women who have been mutilated and that 180,000 girls are at risk of mutilation each year.
And finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are approximately 5,000 so-called ‘honour killings’ in the world every year.
Another thing that is important to consider is how much violence against women actually costs our society as a whole. Recent research funded under the Daphne Programme estimated that domestic violence alone costs EU Member States 16 billion Euros annually. This research also suggested that every additional Euro spent on prevention of violence against women would give savings of 87 Euros on the total cost of domestic violence. A 1 Euro investment with a return of 87 Euros should be a good enough argument for any government to provide enough funding for prevention work, protection and assistance to victims.
Knowledge and awareness of the often hidden problem of violence against women has increased over the last two decades and it is now a well-known fact. The Eurobarometer survey that I just mentioned shows that 98% of EU citizens have heard of domestic violence.
Attitudes of European citizens towards such violence have also changed. The Eurobarometer – which follows on from a previous survey conducted 10 years ago – shows a major societal shift in Europe. Today, 86% of EU citizens believe that domestic violence is unacceptable and should be punished, compared to 63% ten years ago.
I am also pleased to inform you that this survey showed that most people in Europe strongly believe that the EU should be involved in combating violence against women.
So what can and should the EU do to end violence against women?
Millions of women all over Europe are faced with violence. Gender-based violence that affects women disproportionally is a structural problem of our society as a whole. It is not just a private affair!
The European Union is founded on the principles of fundamental rights, equality and the rule of law. Our society cannot tolerate that women are systematically being beaten at home or sexually exploited by traffickers or that girls are being mutilated, forced to marry or killed because they fell in love with the wrong boy.
I therefore believe that it is our duty to give a stronger response to eradicate violence against women and girls in Europe – at local, national and EU-level.
We have for many years worked under different EU policies to combat various forms of violence against women and girls, most notably in the areas of trafficking in human beings, sexual abuse and exploitation of children, criminal justice, children's rights, gender equality, social policies and human rights in our external relations. We have also provided important financial support through the Daphne Programmes to the work by civil society, universities and local authorities in Member States to combat violence and support victims.
I am convinced, however, that it is now time for the EU to step up our action and develop a clear and coherent policy response to tackle this huge problem in Europe. To maximise our impact, we will focus on concrete actions in areas where we have clear legal basis to act in the Lisbon Treaty. –That is why in our Gender Strategy the fight against violence is one of the five key priorities. Now we will concentrate on actions that can bring concrete results. I see three main strands that we will need to develop further:
1. Victims' rights
2. Gender equality
3. The Daphne Programme and funding opportunities under the new financial perspectives from 2014
The protection of the rights of victims of crime is a high priority in the Stockholm Programme. In that context, the programme has emphasised the protection of particularly vulnerable victims, such as women and children. We will thus work within the forthcoming Victims' Rights package which will be presented in May 2011 and include actions that will particularly focus on these groups. At this point in time, we are finalising our impact assessment. I can already confirm that this package will both include legislation and "soft law" measures to prevent victimisation and to protect and assist victims.
In parallel with our work within the criminal justice area, there will be actions that particularly focus on the empowerment of women, awareness raising and collection and analysis of statistics on violence. Last Monday, during my visit to Vilnius, I have specifically asked the Gender Institute to provide us with reliable data on this subject. The third – and equally important – strand of our plan of action is to improve the use of funding under various programmes, in particular the Daphne III Programme to combat violence against women, young people and children. As you know, Daphne has been a true success story of the Commission - and you have a snapshot of its achievements in a booklet that we have included in your package. Through Daphne, the EU has managed to create and support European multi-disciplinary networks of NGOs and local authorities, which are important platforms for exchange of good practices and expertise. However, we also need to help the national authorities to develop National Action Plans to combat violence against women. As this is currently not possible under Daphne, we will together with you new way to tackle this problem.
When developing these strands of action, I intend to take full advantage of my portfolio of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, and will make sure that synergies are made between all the different EU policy areas concerned – those I have already mentioned, but also other areas within Home Affairs, Health, Education, Social Affairs, and External Relations.
I will also ensure that we regularly consult civil society organisations, international and European organisations and other stakeholders.
As you may know, female genital mutilation is of a particular concern to me. Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is practiced mainly by certain communities in Africa and the Middle East and I will make sure that we address FGM in the EU’s development aid policies. But FGM is also a reality in Europe and I strongly believe that it is our duty to protect girls of migrant communities from the risk of mutilation and to alleviate the pain of women who live with the horrific scars from such practices.
The conference programme
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Commission has invited you to this conference to learn more about the nature and extent of violence against women in Europe and to discuss what role the EU can play in combating, and eventually eliminating, violence against women and girls in Europe.
We will have four panels:
First, on the origins, causes and social aspects of violence against women
Second on the legal aspects of combating violence against women
Third, on specific forms of violence, especially FGM – different experiences and approaches
And finally, on the EU's role and added value for combating violence against women
I am delighted to present a conference programme with speakers representing different stakeholders – national administrations, international organisations, NGOs, researchers, legal practitioners and the European Commission. A particularly warm welcome and thank you to you all!
I am also happy to announce that we have just concluded three important studies that have looked at the problem of violence against women from different angles. The studies' findings and recommendations on how the EU can move forward with this policy will be presented at this conference.
The conference will cover many angles of the policy framework that we need to refine at EU-level. I do believe that this framework complements and adds value to national policies and actions. At EU-level, we do not only propose legislation where we have Treaty competence. We can also support Member States in their efforts by providing a framework for sharing of good practice and exchange of expertise and experiences. We are also developing methodologies to promote harmonisation and comparability of statistics, which can be collected and analysed at EU level to build a more comprehensive picture. Finally, we fund innovative projects and European networks to reach the grass-roots where victims are in such great need of help.
Together we can improve the situation of so many women and girls who suffer in Europe from acts of violence.
I will now hand over the microphone to my dear colleague, Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Joëlle Milquet, who will present the outcome of yesterday's European Women Ministers Summit on violence against women.