Making violence against women a thing of the past in Europe

Amnesty International


1 December 2014

Having lived through the pain and violence of female genital mutilation (FGM), survivor and activist Aissatou Diallo had no choice but to flee Guinea to protect her two daughters from this mutilation. Seven years ago, Aissatou sought asylum in Belgium from this recognised form of violence against women (VAW). She became an advocate to end FGM, and has worked with her community to achieve this. Since then, Aissatou has had one dream – to say that she is part of the last generation to have undergone FGM, not just in Guinea, but in Europe and beyond.

VAW is a clear and dangerous obstacle to gender equality. And yet, according to an EU-wide survey from March 2014 by the European Union (EU) Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), a staggering 13 million women in Europe experienced physical violence over 12 months; one in three experienced some form of violence; and 500,000 lived with the consequences of FGM in Europe. So, what will the EU do to end VAW and FGM, and turn Aissatou’s dream into a much needed reality

The changes in leadership at EU level present a renewed and vital opportunity to achieve gender equality in Europe, by, amongst others, ending VAW, including FGM. As the new Commissioners settle in, it is timely to recall Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová’s pledge to combat VAW in Europe. She herself broke the cycle of silence on VAW to convince EU member states to show leadership by ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women (the Istanbul Convention). She also committed to consider EU accession.  This is key if the EU is to be a credible human rights actor. The Convention is currently the most comprehensive international tool on VAW. Its vision for women in Europe and beyond to lead a life free of violence is groundbreaking.

The EU has not been inactive on combating VAW. The 2013 Commission communication on the elimination of FGM was a good example of holistic action. Since the Convention’s adoption, MEPs and the Council have called for more ratification, including by the EU, and for more EU specific action on VAW. But with six EU member states yet to sign, and twenty yet to ratify, much more work is needed.Europe needs more than a piecemeal approach – it needs vision. EU actions should be integrated into a broader strategic policy framework to end VAW at home and abroad, with the Istanbul Convention providing the basis for it.

It is now time for the EU and its member states to accelerate efforts, and sign/ratify the Istanbul Convention. Latvia has the unique opportunity to lead by example as it takes over the Presidency of the EU from January. The College of Commissioners should support Latvia, and deliver on their predecessors’ commitments, and make preventing VAW a key priority of the next Gender Equality strategy.  Prevention work takes time and effort, but is absolutely essential in ending VAW and FGM. As part of her work, Aissatou knows this only too well. But step by step, she uses the tools of relationship-building with her community, and her voice to speak to their hearts and minds about why FGM must stop. Through the Istanbul Convention, European decision makers have a powerful tool in their hands. The new leaders and the member states mustn’t waste this opportunity to turn Aissatou’s dream, and that of millions of women, into a reality, to end VAW and FGM once and for all.