Victims of sexist violence have dyed black, once again, the news this summer in Spain and other parts of Europe. A social and structural problem that, at least, in this country is officially and rigorously accounted for. Most of the States of the European Union, however, do not have official statistics, or they are only partial. Some, like the far-right forces, do not even admit the concept of sexist or gender violence. In even fewer countries feminicide is criminalized in this way, with that name. There begins a fundamental problem: it is very difficult to combat what cannot be counted, or defined. The directive on the fight against violence against women and domestic violence, the first specific regulation on the matter carried out at a European level that is now being finalized under the Spanish rotating presidency of the EU, finally addresses this serious legal vacuum and statistician.
How far Europe is from rigorously knowing its problem is demonstrated by the fact that the latest public data at the EU level on violence against women date from 2014. And they are, more than anything else, estimates, since not all countries had ( nor do they do it yet) the victims of sexist violence do not do it in the same way. Even so, the few existing figures show the urgency: at least 50 women are killed by sexist violence every week in the EU.
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), the European Union agency created in 2010 “to make gender equality a reality in the EU and beyond”, has been repeating a mantra for years: “The EU needs comprehensive, up-to-date and comparable data to develop effective policies to combat violence against women.”
As of today, “the data is not comparable because the regulatory frameworks are not harmonized”, explains the person in charge of gender violence at EIGE, Cristina Fabre. “There are countries that still do not have crime statistics disaggregated by sex (neither victim nor perpetrator, nor by the relationship between the two). The definition of a couple is not the same either, there are countries with very restrictive definitions of what a couple is: only those who live at the same address, leaving out ex-partners and, therefore, many victims, ”she points out by email.
Spain, unanimously recognized as a pioneer country in the matter, has counted since last year as femicide all murders with a gender component, not only those perpetrated by partners or ex-partners. Without going that far, the Belgian Parliament also took a big step — a couple of years ago it didn’t even have statistics on femicide — by approving in June a bill that officially defines the notion of femicide, although without criminal value, and establishes four types: intimate femicide or murder perpetrated by a close person, non-intimate (for example, a prostitute murdered by a client), femicide after a violent act such as a forced abortion or genital mutilation and gender homicide, which includes the murders of transgender people.
On the contrary, there are countries that still do not have specific laws or criminal offenses, such as Denmark, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Finland or the Netherlands, Fabre points out. And there are also countries that are taking huge steps backwards in terms of women’s rights, such as Poland, which has even threatened to abandon the Istanbul Convention, considered the benchmark for preventing and combating violence against women. and domestic violence.
EIGE’s repeated claim to harmonize the data seems to have finally been heard. At least institutionally. When presenting its proposal for a directive on the fight against violence against women and domestic violence, the European Commission recognized that there is a problem of “underreporting of violence against women”. Hence, the directive, which includes the term “femicide” in its text and seeks to “guarantee a minimum level of protection against this type of violence throughout the EU”, specifically establishes the obligation that “all Member States collect data on violence against women and domestic violence to carry out a European survey every five years”.
For the MEP María Eugenia Rodríguez Palop, from Unidas Podemos, this is a “key” issue because “the more data and statistics, the greater the awareness”, explains the jurist and vice-president of the Commission on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (Femm) of the European Parliament. And it is a question, she emphasizes, “not only of collecting more data, but better data, with more filters and in a better classified way.” Because better administrative data, Fabre notes, also help “measure the institutional response to violence against women and its ability to protect victims, prevent their re-victimization and prosecute aggressors”, in addition to “better design and monitor measures ” implemented.
For this reason, for the European Parliament, which tends to go much further in these matters than the Member States represented in the Council — the MEPs approved, two years ago, a resolution to classify gender violence as a eurocrime, although in the end the initiative did not go through—one of the priorities when negotiating the text was to strengthen article 44, which stipulates “the system of data collection, development, production and dissemination of statistics on violence against women and domestic violence”.
Thus, in its final text, which must now be negotiated and harmonized with the Council’s position (more lowered and which, among other things, does not establish the obligation to carry out a population survey every five years, but merely indicates that the States “will try to collect” said data), the European Parliament establishes more specific data to be counted: “The murdered victims, including whether they had previously filed a complaint, the number of places available in the shelters of the Member States, the number of victims who have accessed support services or the number of calls to the national help lines”, lists Soraya Rodríguez (Ciudadanos), shadow speaker of the parliamentary proposal. A reinforcement of data measurement that EIGE supports. “In the current context, we believe that the Directive, as it was presented, is the best we can have, what we hope is that in the negotiations with the Council the standards are not distorted or lowered, it is essential that Parliament be able to maintain or improve the text of the proposal”, claims Fabre.
The Spanish presidency of the EU did not want to waste time: the Minister of Justice, Pilar Llop, launched the first trilogue, the negotiation between Parliament, the Council and the Commission to achieve a final text, on July 13, hours after the European Parliament take its final position. The next appointment will be on October 3. The objective, says Soraya Rodríguez, who participated in the first meeting, is to have an agreed text (common position) “between January and February”, so that it can be ratified during the Belgian semi-annual presidency of the EU that begins on January 1. A speed that is not only due to the urgency of the measures, points out the MEP: “We know that we need to work quickly during the Spanish and Belgian presidencies because then it will be the turn of the presidency to the most reactionary countries, Poland and Hungary”, whose governments have taken strong steps backwards in the rights of women, especially in terms of the right to abortion.
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