In recent years there have been multiple initiatives and events at an EU level which aim to combat this issue. 2017 marked the year of focused European action to combat violence against women. The initiative was headed by Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, who was praised by the European Women’s Lobby for her strong commitment to ending women’s human rights violations in the EU.

In order to achieve this aim, the Commission has provided financial support to allow NGOs to train doctors, lawyers, police and teachers in identification and prevention techniques to combat gender based violence. Professor Sara Chandler, President of the European Bars Federation (FBE), described this as an “important initiative” and stated that the FBE “supports all initiatives to combat violence against women, including facilitating a culture of appropriate and timely response to reporting violence, supporting safe refuges for survivors of violence, exposing trafficking of people, and preventing female genital mutilation (FGM) though greater awareness of lawyers.”

Key Initiatives and Events

The Commission highlighted its efforts on the annual ‘International Day for the elimination of Violence against Women,’ which took place on 25 November.

The institution reiterated the importance of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, a set of comprehensive standards introduced by the Council of Europe which aim to prevent violence against women and provide protection for victims through integrated policies and effective monitoring. The Commission called upon all remaining member states to ratify the Convention.

With regards to action outside Europe, the EU launched the ‘Spotlight Initiative’ in partnership with the UN, which aims to identify and tackle the root causes of violence against women and girls around the world. The programme will run between 2017 and 2013 and has an initial investment of €500 million, with the EU as the main contributor.

Despite a productive year of ongoing measures, the Commission has faced criticism for its failure to reduce gender based violence in certain areas.

The institution’s efforts were discussed at the annual Colloquium on Women’s rights which took place in Brussels on 20 & 21 November. The event brought together stakeholders from across Europe with a view to improving mutual cooperation and encouraging political engagement for the promotion and protection of key fundamental rights across Europe.

Contributors discussed the lack of financial investment in appropriate resources for victims of domestic and sexual violence, with many vulnerable women being turned away from support centres. They discussed the ongoing prevalence of FGM, which is exacerbated in countries such as Bosnia and Serbia due to a lack of public trust in police and discrimination against certain cultural and religious groups. EU intervention is essential to ensure equal rights and protection for women in these countries. Contributors called upon the Commission to provide more funding, as well as legal intervention to ensure accountability for perpetrators and education to end the cycle of victim blaming in sexual abuse cases.

Gender Equality Index

The Gender Equality Index (GEI), published by the European Institute for Gender Equality, is a composite indicator which has been used to monitor the progress of gender equality throughout EU Member States since 2005. The initiative aims to eradicate gender-based violence by providing a set of indicators to assist member states in assessing the extent and nature of violence against women, thus enabling them to monitor and evaluate institutional responses.

Sara Chandler describes the index as “an important tool for legal professionals, as its publication is informative and helpful in contributing to the consolidation of strategies for change in Europe. One of the most serious forms of gender inequality is violence against women, rooted in the unequal power relations between women and men.”

Statistics from the GEI show that on average across the 28 member states, 33% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence and 69% of these women have suffered health consequences as a result. Additionally, 55% of women have experienced sexual harassment and 18% have been stalked.

The figures demonstrate a clear need for more effective policy measures to be introduced and enforced in order to fully eradicate gender-based violence in Europe. Sara Chandler commented that “It is disappointing to read that progress on gender equality on the whole has been slow, and in some cases there has been a reversal.”

The 2017 Commission initiative has demonstrated clear progress in several areas and has been met with praise by campaigners for women’s rights. However there remains an imbalance in efforts, with slow progress in areas such as FGM and sexual harassment.

The dedicated year to target gender based violence has brought together a myriad of stakeholders and campaigners, facilitating productive dialogue and raising awareness of the wide range of issues women and girls face within the EU and worldwide. The Commission has stated that eliminating violence is at the heart of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and will therefore remain a strong focus over the next decade.

In the field of lawyers, the Law Society of England & Wales is calling on all individuals in the law, women and men, qualified or not qualified, to complete the  5 minute survey  on this link in order to produce a snapshot of the situation of women in the law by  31 December 201