In Europe, half of women have encountered sexual harassment. One in three has faced physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetrated by intimate partners. As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, these statistics paint a grim picture that cannot be ignored.
In a recent statement on action to end gender-based violence, Eurocities sheds light on the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to violence against women and girls across Europe.
The current reality
Violence against women and girls stands as one of the most widespread and systematic human rights violations globally, and EU countries are no exception.
Incidence of gender-based violence is escalating, manifesting in rising rates of physical and emotional abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a surge in online harassment and workplace-related misconduct. This concerning trend underscores the urgency of addressing and curbing violence against girls and women.
“No means no!,” emphasises Marina Hanke, member of Vienna City Council, and promoter of the Eurocities’ task force on women’s rights and gender equality, “be it physical, psychological or cyber violence.”
City leaders take charge
“City leaders play a key role in challenging gender stereotypes, combatting violence against girls and women, and establishing safe havens for victims of gender-based violence,” says André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities.
Through local initiatives aimed at challenging gender stereotypes and debunking sexist norms, local governments are paving the way for a safer and more equitable society.
“Cities are committed to contribute to achieving this goal since long and have developed a range of actions and strategies to transform society into safe spaces where every girl and woman can live without the fear or threat of being harassed, exploited, violated, mutilated or killed,” highlights Marina Hanke.
These initiatives include establishing women’s shelters equipped with specialised services like legal aid, counseling or vocational training, empowering victims for self-sufficiency. Round-the-clock helplines manned by trained personnel provide immediate support and referrals to essential services.
In parallel, cities are working with grassroots organisations, channelling resources to support those initiatives, aiding women and children who have experienced domestic violence, and training professionals across various sectors, including law enforcement, healthcare, and education.
‘16 days of activism’
Cities are also running awareness and prevention campaigns targeting both women and men, to address the root causes of gender-based violence while supporting the victims.
One of the widely recognised campaigns is the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’ campaign, which takes place annually between 25 November and 10 December, International Day of Human Rights. During this period, cities commemorate victims of violence, raise awareness, and undertake symbolic actions like hoisting flags on public buildings to condemn violence against women.
The EU directive and beyond
While cities are taking proactive measures, the EU’s response to end gender-based violence is evolving. The EU Directive on combatting violence against women and domestic violence is set to introduce significant reforms.
This directive focuses on enshrining minimum standards in EU law to criminalise specific forms of gender-based violence, enhance victim access to justice and support services, ensure coordination among relevant agencies, and prevent these crimes.
“We do not tolerate any kind of violence,” says Evelyn Regner, Vice President of the European Parliament, in a speech targeting Eurocities members.
“The support of Eurocities is all the more important. You are close to the people. You are the ones who can ensure that the best medical and psychological care is available for the victims of violence. Only with a large network of cities like Eurocities working together with us, we can prevent violence at all. Together, we can build the violence-free Europe we all want to live in.”
Changing mindsets for a safer future
In the latest Eurocities statement, EU mayors call for immediate and comprehensive action. “Our collective plea highlights the urgent need for all member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention and for the EU institutions to amplify funding efforts and strengthen collaboration with cities. Together, we aim to establish a robust framework ensuring the rights and safety of all individuals within our communities,” says Sobczak.
The declaration stresses the need for gender equality to hold a significant position on the European political agenda. It calls on the European Parliament to focus strongly on women’s rights and gender equality in its next mandate, specifically through the FEMM Committee. It also advocates for inclusive sex education, including teaching consent and healthy relationships, as a means to dismantle patriarchal structures contributing to violence.
“We support the Parliament’s proposal for consent-based definitions of rape, and call for Europe to be a safe place for women and girls in all their diversity,” adds Hanke.
Training for first responders, such as social and health workers, police, firefighters and legal representatives, is key to creating a society that respects and safeguards the autonomy and safety of everyone.
Cities underline the urgency of improving funding mechanisms to sustain initiatives to combat gender-based violence and empower marginalised groups. They also call for greater collaboration between EU institutions, member states and local governments, intending to align policies with the lived experiences of cities, ensuring a comprehensive approach to eradicating gender-based violence.
This article belongs to a series showcasing urban actions against gender-violence. If you would like to know more about this subject and Eurocities’ work, you can click on the links below: