Since the beginning of Coronavirus lockdowns, police, women shelters and NGOs have reported a surge in domestic violence, especially violence targeting women. The pandemic exposed how common this serious human rights abuse is and how insufficient the measures to fight it still are. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) call on the EU and the Member States to use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to step up their efforts to effectively protect women's rights.
“No country in Europe has achieved gender equality — the prevalence of domestic violence is a sad reminder of that,” says EIGE Director Carlien Scheele. “Yet chronic underreporting of violence at the hands of a partner means we only know a partial truth. Governments need to make clear that violence is not a private matter and ensure the police, justice and health sectors are able to work together to help victims.”
“Even without the coronavirus pandemic, one in five women in the EU have been a victim of domestic violence. Moreover, women in households that struggle to make ends meet are even at a higher risk,” says FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty pointing to earlier FRA survey. “The current spike in domestic abuses underlines that the EU and its Member States need to act to protect women during this crisis, and bolster their measures in the future to end violence against women once and for all.”
As lockdowns and quarantines continue in most of Europe, women face a higher risk of domestic violence.
The danger is real. Globally, 64 % of women who are killed die at the hands of an intimate partner or family member, a study on homicides finds.
Many EU countries reacted swiftly, putting in place counselling support, providing refuge for victims in hotel rooms, launching awareness campaigns or promoting hotline numbers.
EIGE and FRA welcome these measures. Yet, the extent of action needed to safeguard victims has exposed how insufficient the support measures are even during normal times. For example, the number of beds in women’s shelters is only about half that required under the Istanbul Convention, which 21 EU countries have signed and the EU has committed to accede to.
The end of lockdowns will also bring new challenges. Financial insecurity in view of income and job losses, as well as a looming recession, can present additional triggers for violence and may make it more difficult for victims to leave an abusive relationship. FRA’s earlier survey shows that 30% of women who find it difficult to make ends meet have experienced intimate partner violence, compared with 18% of women who do not struggle to get by.
This underlines that the EU needs to put in place lasting structures to end violence against women. The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to step up our efforts – we must seize it.
EIGE and FRA call on the EU and its Member States to consider the following actions:
As long as women face violence, gender equality will be impossible. And as long as we do not have gender equality, violence against women will continue.
Let’s work together to end violence against women once and for all.
European Institute for Gender Equality
EU Agency for Fundamental Rights