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Document 52012IE1416

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Eradicating domestic violence against women’ (own-initiative opinion)

OJ C 351, 15.11.2012, p. 21–26 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)



Official Journal of the European Union

C 351/21

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Eradicating domestic violence against women’ (own-initiative opinion)

2012/C 351/05

Rapporteur: Mr SOARES

On 24 May 2012, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw-up an own-initiative opinion on

Eradicating domestic violence against women.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 September 2012.

At its 483rd plenary session, held on 18 and 19 September 2012 (meeting of 18 September), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 138 votes to 3 with 7 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC already issued an opinion on Domestic violence against women  (1) in 2006, highlighting civil society's concern about this matter. The recommendations set out at that time continue to hold true and are, therefore, not repeated in this opinion.


In its capacity as representative of organised civil society, and being aware that gender-based violence - including domestic violence - is a matter which concerns us all, the EESC reaffirms its commitment to combat this scourge in every way possible, weighing up a number of options, including that of holding a biennial debate on the issue.


The EESC recommends that European institutions and EU Member States:


Human rights: tackle domestic gender-based violence as an aspect of human rights, which would enable a holistic, multi-sectoral approach to be adopted to the problem;


Security and risk patterns: adopt measures to change security and risk patterns, strengthening the conviction that violence against women in the domestic environment is not an individual's private problem to be seen in isolation from society as a whole, but a matter of public order and safety;


Prevention: develop a domestic violence prevention policy by creating places where women can go for multidisciplinary support, with specialised staff and resources and through inter-ministerial action plans to engage men and young people in the elimination of domestic violence;


Protection policies: guarantee women who have been victims of violence priority access to housing, economic support, training and decent jobs, where the principle of "equal pay for equal work" applies;


Standardisation of statistical criteria: pursue efforts to standardise the criteria for registering gender-based violence, so that the data collected are comparable;


Education: ensure that education helps to change people's mentalities, which means, among other things, implementing genuine mixed-sex programmes, putting a stop to sexist language in schoolbooks and providing teachers with initial and continuous training which covers the problem of gender-based violence, including domestic violence;


Media: ensure effective implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive  (2), with a view to eliminating the negative portrayal of women in the media, in particular in advertising;


Health: reinforce the belief that domestic violence against women is a health-risk variable;


Joint responsibility: consolidate and support measures promoting joint responsibility for men and women in looking after children, older parents and family members with special needs;


Civil society organisations: Provide support for organisations which work with women who have been victims of domestic violence and which promote awareness-raising campaigns and training to combat gender-based violence;


European Year of Combating Gender-based Violence: dedicate a European year to the fight against gender-based violence;


Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence; The EESC calls on the European Union and all Member States to sign, ratify and implement this convention, which was adopted by the Council of Europe in 2011.

2.   Introduction


Violence against any individual is an attack on their dignity, on their physical and psychological integrity and human rights and on the principles of a democratic society.


Since States have an obligation to respect, protect and promote their citizens' rights, they should invest substantial public resources in specialist services and staff able to fulfil this obligation.


Public violence is condemned in society and society supports government measures taken to clamp down on and punish those perpetrating such violence.


However, there is another – more silent – form of violence, perpetrated in people's homes and affecting the victims in a possibly more brutal manner: domestic violence.

All members of a family may be occasional or constant victims of various types of violence which can lead to their death.


While all of these types of violence warrant attention, concern and action on the part of the authorities, the fact is that the group most systematically affected by this are women – domestic violence is one of the main causes of female mortality. This opinion is therefore focusing on domestic violence against women.


The European Union defines violence against women as being: "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life" (3).


Despite efforts over the last few decades by public authorities and various sections of society, organised or not, this form of violence is still viewed as a private problem when, in truth, it is a problem for society as a whole.


Domestic violence is a crime that must be sanctioned by law. The EESC acknowledges the efforts made by different countries in the EU to impose tougher measures on perpetrators. Nevertheless it is also important to identify the underlying causes of this phenomenon and the strategies needed to eradicate it, including a better understanding of the phenomenon by men.


Furthermore, the economic crisis is seriously harming social policies in many EU countries. Basic public services such as health, education and social support are being cut back at a time when families – particularly women – need them most. Special help-lines for women are being shut down, as are shelters for battered women; the budgets of national gender equality departments are being slashed and prevention and awareness-raising campaigns in the media are being cut back too.


The persistence of gender stereotypes and a patriarchal society, in addition to the economic inequalities and discrimination against women in jobs, wages and access to other economic resources, together with a lack of economic independence, limit women's capacity to act and make them more vulnerable to domestic violence.


The current economic crisis and the policies that have been pursued supposedly to counter it, together with the process of liberalising economies and privatising the public sector, not only reinforce the gender-based division of labour but also increase inequalities, exacerbating the conditions which give rise to violence.


The World Health Organization (WHO) (4) has recognised the damaging effect of globalisation on social structures. Anarchic globalisation may give rise to worse forms of violence against women, including trafficking of human beings.


Women belonging to minority groups, female migrants, women in poverty living in rural or remote communities, women serving a prison sentence, women in institutions, women with mental and physical disabilities and elderly women are more at risk of experiencing violence.


This own-initiative opinion will seek to take stock of domestic violence against women in Europe, provide an overview of the measures taken to date and spark greater awareness of this problem in society.


As the voice of organised civil society, the EESC is willing to set up, in conjunction with organisations concerned with this type of violence, a forum for discussing proposals to eradicate such violence and to share examples of good practice that could lead to effective prevention measures.

3.   The Council of Europe Convention – an instrument to be ratified and complied with


In 2011, the Council of Europe adopted a convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (5). This is the first legally binding international instrument which creates a global legal framework aimed at preventing violence, protecting victims and convicting the perpetrators. Its aim is to alert people to the fact that there should be greater equality between men and women, because violence against women is rooted deeply in gender inequality and perpetuated by a culture that is patriarchal and indifferent to this situation.


The convention takes into account all types of violence (physical, psychological, sexual harassment, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, harassment, sterilisation and forced abortion), irrespective of the victim's age, ethnic or national origin, religion, social origin, immigrant status or sexual orientation.


To date, this convention has only been ratified by one (6) of the 20 countries that have signed it (7), some with reservations (Germany, Serbia and Malta). The EESC calls on the European Union and all of its Member States to sign, ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible.

4.   General comments


45 % of women in the EU say they have suffered gender-based violence at some point. Between 40 % and 45 % say they have suffered sexual harassment at work. It is estimated that in Europe, seven women die every day as a result of gender-based violence (8).


This phenomenon, moreover, has a major economic impact: it is estimated that violence against women in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe has an annual cost of at least EUR 32 billion.


A survey carried out by Euro barometer in 2010 showed that the public (98 % of those surveyed) is largely aware of this phenomenon and that it is prevalent in society (one in four people said that they knew a woman who was a victim of domestic violence and one in five said they knew a perpetrator of domestic violence).


As early as 1980, the second World Conference on the Status of Women established that violence against women was the crime glossed over the most in the world. Thirteen years later, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna recognised that women's rights were human rights. Member States of the European Union undertook to comply with the fundamental objectives of the 1995 Peking Action Programme.


In the final declaration of the second European Summit of Women in Power (Cadiz, March 2010) (9), 25 ministers and numerous political leaders from throughout the European Union recognised that there was still much to be done before gender-based equality was achieved and that violence against women was a persistent problem and a serious violation of human rights. It stated that sexist stereotypes continued to generate discrimination and warned that the younger generations were copying sexist behaviour.


The European institutions have issued a variety of documents containing analyses and proposals for action, some of which are set out below:


European Council:

Council conclusions on The Eradication of Violence Against Women in the European Union (8 March 2010) which calls on the European Commission and Member States to pursue efforts to combat violence against women and to promote measures to finance these efforts.


European Parliament:

Resolution on priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework to fight violence against women (2011).

In September 2011, the European Parliament supported the granting of European Protection Orders for victims of gender-based violence, sexual harassment, abduction and attempted murder. This measure was an important step forward in building a European area for the protection of women.


European Commission:

Women's Charter (2009), Action Plan for the Application of the Stockholm Programme (2010), 2010-2015 Strategy for Gender Equality.

Various studies on violence against women to increase knowledge about this problem.

Adoption of a package of measures on 18 May 2011, aimed at strengthening the rights of crime victims (horizontal directive establishing minimum standards for crime victims' rights, support and protection; Regulation on the mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters.

Funding of specific programs such as Daphne III, as well as European organisations combating violence against women (European Women's Lobby).


On the other hand, Member States – although not on a widespread basis – have been producing legislation aimed at criminalising domestic violence, taking more drastic measures against perpetrators, making domestic violence a public crime, etc.


Despite the fact that there are still insufficient reliable and comparable statistical data on domestic crime at both national and European level, the figures available are alarming enough for there to be no doubt as to the magnitude of the problem (10).


Despite the figures and more rigorous legislation, there is still a widely held view that we are living in an egalitarian society, and this view could undermine the debate not only on domestic violence but also on other types of violence and inequalities between women and men in terms of pay differences, promotions at work, etc.


One type of violence that is often overlooked, because it is invisible to the outside world, is psychological violence. It is time to break the silence on this issue and acknowledge that psychological violence is a breach of human rights, which should be incorporated into legislation on gender-based violence.


Women who survive psychological violence are often severely traumatised and need holistic, multidisciplinary support in a secure environment for recovery. Having been forced to live in total social isolation, without being able to provide tangible proof of violence against them, they fear that no one will believe them. Their recovery is dependent on care providers believing what they have to say.


Domestic violence affects not only its direct victims but also those who witness it or who are aware of it. This holds particularly true of children, whose emotional fragility makes them especially vulnerable, with the effects potentially haunting them for the rest of their lives.


Although domestic crimes are not confined to attacks on women, the question is why other crimes committed in the home environment, such as paedophilia (90 % of cases being perpetrated by family members), are deemed to be loathsome, and yet in domestic violence cases, we still try to look into the reasons which lead the perpetrator to commit such crimes.

5.   Specific comments and proposals for action


It is important to answer the fundamental question as to why these crimes are, in many cases, deemed to be socially excusable and why very often the reason for the violence is placed at the door of the woman who has been attacked. The cultural and social reasons frequently given for such crimes, in addition to being wrong, merely help maintain the status quo.


The idea that domestic violence is rooted in antiquated cultures and traditions is based on the incorrect presumption that culture is a static set of beliefs and practices. On the contrary, culture is being shaped and reshaped constantly. Precisely because culture is heterogeneous, incorporating competing values, it has the capacity to evolve.


Culture is intimately linked to the exercise of power: standards and values acquire authority when those parties defending them hold power or positions of influence.


Women are also protagonists here, influencing the culture in which they live. Their participation in society and in culture is vital for transforming mentalities, practices and customs which are pernicious to their image and their circumstances.


Hence the importance of discussing the under-representation of women at different levels of power: as long as this question is not properly resolved and women are not adequately represented economically, socially and politically, in keeping with their number and their skills, the problem of violent acts committed against women will be difficult to solve or solved far too slowly. Although public policies to counter gender-based violence have an important role to play, the traditional image of women's role in society will only change when women have access to power on an equal footing with men.


The gender-identification models that have for centuries established passivity, submission and obedience as female virtues and aggression, strength and action as male virtues have constructed a type of personal relationship that has for centuries placed women in a position of inferiority and dependence.


Relationships based on identity-giving models that require one partner to submit to the other are no longer acceptable and men and women should question their stance on such models. This questioning should be underpinned by the affirmation of values such as freedom, independence and personal fulfilment.


In many cases of femicide (11), a large proportion of the victims had already reported acts of violence or threats. This demonstrates the importance of preventive work. In too many cases precautionary measures which would protect victims from their aggressors are not taken.


Preventive work can and should include, inter alia:

providing therapy for aggressors or potential aggressors. The aim is not to secure apologies or excuses for the act of violence or to expose the victim to situations beyond their control but to work on the causes and attempt to rehabilitate the aggressor, which would benefit everyone.

launching inter-ministerial action plans for the early detection and prevention of domestic violence through a referral and information system working within the education, social and health services;

engaging men and boys in the elimination of violence against women and girls;

engaging youth through an education campaign for a holistic approach of prevention and early intervention and giving more training to professionals working closely with young people.

monitoring cases of couples separated for reasons of domestic violence, with a view to protecting women at risk of harassment and stalking, which often culminate in death.


Departments specialised in protecting the victims of domestic violence need to have staff with specialised training and enough resources to ensure that measures adopted can be properly implemented; without adequate resources, such measures will not be effective.


It is very important to create places with multidisciplinary support where women can be heard, understood and believed. Psychological, cultural and religious factors and local customs ingrained in society over centuries, all interact in the phenomenon of domestic violence. There is no one single cause and it cannot be tackled with policy or penal measures alone. Coordinated multidisciplinary support which prevents women being exposed to repeated violence is a fundamental element in combating this phenomenon. Particular attention should be paid to women with disabilities and immigrant women, who are even more vulnerable. This type of support should also always include indirect victims of violence, especially children.


It is necessary to change the pattern of security which is associated too closely with organised crime, terrorism, attacks on people and goods, and drug trafficking in people's minds, and almost never associated with the dangers that many women risk in their own homes or at their places of work. If we were to incorporate more humanist criteria in the concept of security, attaching priority to prevention, many lives would be saved. New technologies can offer increased protection, such as that provided by electronic bracelets which prevent attackers at large in society to go anywhere near their victims when a restraining order has been placed on them.


Statistics on domestic violence do not properly describe the phenomenon because they are not able to take into account the real scale of the problem. For this reason it is urgent to standardise the criteria for registering domestic violence so that data can be comparable across Europe.


Governments should raise the profile of and support (also financially) the work of civil society organisations (women's organisations, human rights organisations, trade unions, etc.), without falling into the trap of controlling them or reducing their autonomy.


One area of particular importance is education. This can both perpetuate models and discriminatory practices, as well as bring about a transformation of mentalities and individual and collective attitudes. Schools should promote non-sexist and mixed-sex education based on equal rights and opportunities, endeavouring to ensure full personal development that has no connection with stereotypes and gender-determined roles and which rejects any type of discrimination victimising women. Schools can play a part in breaking down stereotyped images of male and female roles as commonly portrayed in the media. Schools can provide an excellent observatory for gender-based violence.


So that schools can play this valuable role, it is essential that teachers' initial and continuous training incorporate gender-based violence, including domestic violence. There should be constant periodical reviews of curricula and schoolbooks to eliminate all sexist language once and for all.


Another area of key importance is health. Placing women and teenagers at the centre of health strategies can strengthen the belief that violence against women at home is a risk variable and not an isolated problem.


Periodic, systematic reviews of registration and notification procedures should be carried out, thereby making sure that professionals are not burdened with excessive red tape and systems which are neither flexible nor sustainable. These procedures should provide an opportunity to register health problems as a risk variable (for example, in family planning and pregnancy consultations), as well as clearly differentiating between urban and rural needs.


In all sectors relating to the problem of gender-based violence, steps must be taken to ensure that a) awareness-raising campaigns and training are effective and adapted to actual circumstances, with the necessary means and resources available and b) regular mapping exercises are carried out to guarantee that any information provided is correct.


As regards awareness-raising campaigns and training, it is important to differentiate between awareness-raising (directed at all staff working in an organisation), training (given to everyone in contact with victims, with a view to helping detect the problem) and specific training (which everyone helping the victims should receive). Particular attention should be paid to the training of police officers and judges, given their role in dealing with complaints and prosecuting aggressors. Their approach can help transform a traumatic experience into renewed hope. There is also a need for penitentiary institutions to develop in-prison programmes for female survivors and male perpetrators of gender violence, as well as to make prison staff from all EU Member States more aware of this issue.


Lastly, by tackling the problem of domestic violence against women as a human rights issue, governments' responsibility for preventing, eradicating and punishing this type of violence is highlighted, as is their duty to report on how to meet these obligations.


Linking gender-based violence to human rights gives access to an important set of mechanisms for holding countries responsible at international and regional level, from human rights treaties and international criminal courts to the European regional human rights system (European Court of Human Rights – a Council of Europe instrument).


Tackling violence against women as a human rights question leads us to a holistic, multi-sectoral response, which adds a human rights dimension to the work carried out in all sectors. It forces us to consolidate and speed up initiatives in all spheres for preventing and eradicating violence against women, including in the courts, health, local and regional development policies and humanitarian aid, amongst other areas.

Brussels, 18 September 2012.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee


(1)  CESE 416/2006, OJ C 110, 9.5.2006, p. 89–94.

(2)  Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2010.


(4)  WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women: Initial Results on Prevalence, Health Outcomes and Women’s Responses (Geneva, WHO, 2005).

(5)  Council of Europe Convention adopted in Istanbul, Turkey, on 11 May 2011 (

(6)  Turkey.

(7)  Albania, Austria, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Ukraine.

(8)  Barometer 2011, "National Action Plan on Violence against Women in the EU", European Women’s Lobby, August 2011 (


(10)  See the report entitled "Combating honour crimes in Europe", submitted on 8 March 2012, World Women's Day, by the Surgir Foundation (not-for-profit institute based in Switzerland).

(11)  According to the United Nation's definition, "femicide" is the killing of a woman simply because she is a woman. "Femicide" constitutes continuous violence against women within and outside the family, culminating in her death. Investigations into "femicide", carried out in various countries, demonstrate that these crimes occur most frequently in people's close, private circles – in their close relationships.