On the promotion of gender equality at EU level

Interviewer: Ms. Reding, violence is a serious problem at local, regional, national and international level: it affects one third of all women in their lifetime. Could you explain why the European Union is legitimate to act in eradicating violence against women? In addition, on the 7th March 2013, you have declared that “gender equality is a European achievement”. Could you clarify your statement?

 

Ms. Reding: Equality between men and women is a fundamental right and a common principle of the European Union. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the treaties since the very beginning (see Article 119 Treaty of Rome). The EU has notably developed since then a solid legal framework implementing the principle of equality between women and men.

Int: As the world’s second largest donor, the EU has a crucial role to play in helping development of women and girls and women expect that Gender Equality becomes a reality. Nevertheless, Gender Equality is not an explicit objective of the Europe Strategy 2020, nor is the problem of violence against women. Could this absence be a sign of a democratic deficit?

V.R. : Gender equality is also a key element of sustainable, smart and inclusive economic growth. Within the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy, ensuring one of the five targets aimed at reaching 75 % employment of 20–64-year-olds, implies to adopt gender equality measures to improve the position of women in the labour market. During the first semester of 2012, the Commission proposed country-specific recommendations related to gender equality issues that were adopted by the Council in May 2012. These recommendations emphasize the need to expand the provision of available and affordable childcare services (and full-day pre-schools/schools) in order to enable women to work on a full time basis, to close the gender pay gap, to eliminate gender inequalities in pension and disincentives in taxation issues. The Commission will continue to use this possibility to issue recommendations.

On EU activities about violence against women

Int: Ending female genital mutilation is one of the priorities of the European Commission to combat violence against women. On 6 March 2013, you hosted a roundtable discussion on FGM and launched a public consultation calling for views on how best to develop measures at EU level to fight FGM. Except for FGM, what are the other priorities and measures that you are going to undertake to fight violence against women?

V.R. : Violence against women is a violation of human rights and an obstacle and consequence of gender equality. Through a range of key initiatives – the EU shows its full commitment to a comprehensive framework to protect women against all forms of violence inside and outside its borders. The Commission’s policy response is shown in particular in its Women’s Charter, its Strategy for equality between women and men (2010-2015) , its victims’ package, its work on the European Protection Order and its firm stance on the Female Genital Mutilation. Our main priorities are: improving knowledge and data collection, adoption of legislative action when the EU allows to act, exchange of good practices, empowerment of women, awareness raising and funding.

Int: The framework of the ‘Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015’ mentions that the Action Plan to implement the Stockolm Programme gives an important place to the protection of victims of crime, including female victims of violence and genital mutilation, and it also announces an EU-wide strategy on gender-based violence. During the last two years, an important step towards this objective has been the adoption of a package of measures aimed at reinforcing the rights of victims of crime. More specifically, you have proposed the Directive for ‘EU-wide protection order’ and the Regulation on ‘mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters’. Could you explain what the impact of these directives could be and what your main expectations for the near future are on this issue?

V.R. : The EU has now adopted very effective measures in the field of criminal and civil justice. For instance, the Directive 2012/29/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2001/220/JHA, includes the right to respect and recognition, the right to provide and receive information, and the right to protection. It will ensure that the needs of victims are individually assessed and that the most vulnerable including victims of all forms of gender-based violence receive treatment appropriate to their requirements. The Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters (which was proposed by the Commission in its Victim’s Package) will complement the European Protection Order applicable in criminal matters. These two instruments will ensure that protection measures issued in one Member State can be recognized in another, following a speedy and efficient procedure, to avoid that the victims lose their protection if they move or travel. All those women suffering from various forms of violent and sexual crime can benefit from these measures. Member States are now required to timely and effectively implement these legal measures. The Daphne III program supports the work of European organizations and public authorities to prevent and combat violence against women.

On the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

Int: The Council of Europe’s ‘Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ adopted on 7 April 2011 introduces a comprehensive legal framework to prevent all forms of violence against women, to protect victims and to punish perpetrators. More importantly, this new treaty is the first legally binding international instrument that creates a comprehensive legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence. Nevertheless, until now, only four states ratified it. In your opinion, what could be the impact of this instrument?

V.R. : The adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in April 2011 creates new perspectives both for the EU MS and the European Union. It is the first international legally-binding instrument on violence against women in Europe. It intends to protect women against all forms of violence, and to prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence through a holistic set of measures. It covers and defines all forms of violence against women, including female genital mutilation, forced marriages (under civil and criminal law), stalking, domestic violence, forced abortion, forced sterilization and honour crimes and ensures that States Parties to the convention take all necessary measures to criminalize these acts. Similar to the CoE Convention’s approach, the EU approach also recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights and a consequence as well as an obstacle to gender equality. Therefore, it is important to encourage all EU MS to individually ratify this Convention. A possible EU accession to the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence opened for signature on 11 May 2011 requires a careful analysis of all its legal and policy implications, and possible added value.

On the follow-up of the agreed conclusions on VAW adopted by the Commission of the status of women (UN) in March 2013

Int: Ms. Reding, you regretted the incapacity of the United Nation’s Member States to agree on a consensual outcome concerning the status of women last year. This year the UN adopted ‘agreed conclusions’ on the issue of violence against women. Is the European Commission preparing an action with the United Nations for the coming years?

V.R. : The Commission is working on the implementation of the agreed conclusions in several instances in cooperation with the European External Action Service. Meetings with civil society, experts and Member States are taking place or planned. We also continue to be in constant contact with UN-Women. These agreed conclusions will also be taken into account in the context of the regular EU follow-up of the Beijing Platform for Action that the Commission follows together with the Member States. In this respect, it is important to acknowledge the important role and impact that the Council conclusions on VAW adopted under the Cypriot Presidency as well as the report prepared by EIGE on the same subject adopted end December 2012. The work of the European Parliament in this field will also be crucial.

Antonella Del Prete