EU needs to fix its violence and harassment problem

EU institutions are significantly delaying important measures to tackle gender-based violence despite a rise in the number of attacks, trade unions are warning on the international day for the elimination of violence against women.

Stronger protections for women are urgently needed following the Covid crisis, during which the number of reported incidents of violence against women increased significantly. That included a spike in violence towards frontline women workers as well as domestic violence and online harassment facilitated by intrusive surveillance software being used by some companies.

However, three important initiatives are currently blocked at European level:

  • The European Commission was due to present proposals to “prevent and combat specific forms of gender-based violence” on December 8 but they disappeared from the Commission’s agenda last week. It has now been six months since the Commission’s consultation on the issue closed.
  • EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women began in 2015 but also remains blocked in the European Council despite a European Court of Justice ruling in October that the EU is not required to wait for the completion of the ratification by all member states.
  • The EU Council is delaying member states’ ratifying the ILO Convention on eliminating violence and harassment at work by saying it will issue legal advice on ratification – which ETUC considers to be unnecessary - while also taking an age to give the legal opinion.  

 The ETUC calls on all Member states to follow the leadership of Greece and Italy and to ratify the ILO Convention as a matter of urgency.

The European Commission should today name a new date for its proposal to tackle gender-based violence and ensure that they reflect the important role of trade unions and collective bargaining in eradicating violence against women workers. The ETUC is concerned that this was not mentioned in the Commission’s consultation on the issue.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch said:

“While women face increasingly frequent violence and harassment, Europe is putting unnecessary political and legal wrangling ahead of action needed make workplaces violence and harassment free zones. There will be a lot of well-meaning messages coming from EU leaders today, but they will be judged on their deeds not words.

“Member states should follow Greece and Italy in ratifying the ILO convention 190 and we urge EU leaders today to make it a priority to stop violence against women. That includes empowering women workers to make the physical and digital workplaces violence and harassment free zones through trade unions and collective bargaining.
“Women working on the Covid frontline, particularly carers, transport workers, shop assistants and cleaners, have faced increased abuse during the pandemic while those working from home have faced new forms of cyber harassment. They need stronger and better enforced protections now.”