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Strengthening the EU Directive on VAW and DV: A Call for Gender-Specific Measures and the Essential Inclusion of Women Specialist Services

The WAVE network, which represents more than 1,600 specialist women’s services in 46 European countries, is a promoter of women’s rights and has been actively involved in providing expert analysis and amendments to the proposed EU directive on violence against women and Domestic Violence ( 2022/0066 (COD)). Our commitment is for a Directive that raises the level of protection of women’s rights in Europe.

The WAVE network unreservedly condemns the failure of EU member states to include in the directive a definition of rape based on consent as well as an approach to the phenomenon of violence that takes into account gender differences (which make, for example, that women experience sexual violence differently than a man). In our decades of advocacy, we have seen a worrying trend of increasing gender-blind policies across Europe. These policies, often under the false pretense of being inclusive, actually hide the specific challenges women face in domestic violence, as the COVID-19 pandemic and high rates of femicide in Europe have proven. This underlines the urgent need for a directive that explicitly adopts a gender-sensitive approach in line with the standards of the Istanbul Convention for the Protection of Women’s Rights.

The Council’s resistance to including Article 5 on rape and their gender-neutral approach is alarming. We urge continued action to ensure this essential protection is not omitted. Despite these challenges, WAVE will continue to advocate for essential protections. We are committed to advocating until the end towards a Directive that provides comprehensive protections for all women.

A critical aspect of our advocacy is the recognition and explicit inclusion of Women Specialist Services (WSS) within the Directive’s articles and recitals. The recognition and inclusion of Women Specialist Services in sectoral legislation does not in any way undermine the existence or significance of general support services. However, unlike general support services, WSS offer targeted, gender-sensitive assistance, vital to the prevention of revictimisation and vulnerability among women victims, addressing the intersecting and diverse needs of women. Ensuring direct access to these services is not just an ethical imperative for all women, but also crucial for protecting the rights of victims with special protection and support needs which are not adequately catered for by general services, particularly those facing intersectional discrimination, such as migrant women, minoritized women, women of colour, women with disabilities, and LBTIQ women, among others.

Based on the above, WAVE strongly calls for the integration of Women Specialist Services into the Directive, ensuring they complement general victim support services. This approach aligns with a collaborative, multi-agency working method, and reflects the minimum standards set by the Istanbul Convention.

We also draw your attention to the recently published 2023 WAVE Country Report that underscores the critical significance of Women Specialist Services (WSS) in Europe. The report exposes the detrimental repercussions stemming from WSS’s inadequate availability, a consequence of gender-neutral policies that have led to a decrease in funding and investment in feminist organisations and services. This profoundly concerning situation is further exacerbated by escalating opposition toward feminist organizations and the women’s rights agenda, which ultimately undermines and restricts women’s access to protection and support in cases of violence against women and domestic violence.

The EU’s commitment to the Istanbul Convention, while commendable, is not comprehensive enough in scope and impact, hence it requires a more comprehensive embrace in the Directive. We urge the European Parliament to fully adopt the Convention’s holistic 4-Ps approach including effective Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Integrated Policies. We caution against adopting gender-neutral articles in the Directive that would weaken or bypass these essential benchmarks, in particular concerning Women’s Specialist Services, as it could diminish the focus on the specific issues faced by women.

Excluding or undermining the role of WSS in the Directive, driven by a gender-neutral agenda and perspective, would not only undermine women’s fundamental rights in Europe but also jeopardize the survival of women’s organisations providing such support. Experience, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, has shown how gender-neutral policies can restrict the operational capacity of these organizations while violence against women and domestic violence exponentially increases, including rates of femicide and infanticide.

We stand resolute in our demand for the recognition and inclusion of WSS in the Directive, a non-negotiable condition for the continued support of the proposed Directive by WAVE and its 1,600 members. If the proposed Directive fails to adopt a gender-specific, intersectional approach and include Women Specialist Services, we will have no other option than to openly withdraw support for the Directive for failing to serve its main purpose of preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in the European Union.

Find out more here.