A Step Forward, Yet Many Missed Opportunities: WAVE’s Initial Response to the EU Directive on Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence 

On February 6th, a pivotal moment unfolded as the European Council and the European Parliament reached a political agreement on the Directive aimed at combating violence against women and domestic violence. As Europe’s leading network of Women Specialist Services, representing more than 1,600 women’s organisations through 179 members based in 46 European countries, the Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts to ensure robust and inclusive legislation to protect and support victims of gender-based violence against women. Our response to the agreement reached reflects a combination of cautious optimism with significant disappointment. 

Acknowledging Steps Forward 

WAVE recognizes and welcomes certain aspects of the new Directive, acknowledging them as positive strides towards addressing gender-based violence against women in the EU. The inclusion of Article 36(bis) to promote a culture of consent, along with measures aimed at preventing rape and enhancing awareness of the concept of consent, mark critical advancements. Moreover, the Directive’s attention to online crimes, protection for human rights defenders, journalists, and public figures, and the incorporation of comprehensive aggravating circumstances reflect essential progress in combating violence against women and domestic violence. 

Another aspect that WAVE views positively is the introduction of a revision clause, which paves the way for future strengthening of the Directive. This provision offers hope for the Directive to reach the standards necessary to effectively address all forms of gender-based violence against women across the EU. 

Expressing Deep Concerns 

However, our initial analysis of the information shared by the co-rapporteurs reveals significant gaps that fall short of our expectations and the needs of women in Europe. It is disturbing to note that the Directive does not encompass measures to effectively address rape and sexual harassment. The absence of a consent-based definition of rape is particularly troubling, representing a significant setback in our collective fight against gender-based violence. The Directive’s limited scope in addressing the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups, including undocumented women and LBTIQ women, leaves significant numbers of women living in Europe with insufficient or no protection from VAW and DV, thus ignoring their lived realities. 

Furthermore, the Directive’s provisions on protection from discrimination appear inadequate in confronting the multifaceted nature of gender-based violence. This shortcoming underscores the necessity for a more comprehensive approach that aligns with the standards set by the Istanbul Convention. 

Moving Forward with continued Commitment and Determination 

The WAVE Network will provide a full analysis and response to the text once the full text of the Directive is made available. Our focus will be on assessing provisions related to comprehensive prevention, child protection, and women’s specialised victim support in line with the demands made by our Network over the past months. Important among these, is that the Directive recognizes and strengthens the role of women’s specialist services and facilitates the effective coordination between general and specialist services, clearly delineating their respective competencies. We expect the final version of the text to provide clear guidance, in harmony with the ongoing revisions of the Victims’ Rights Directive. A definitive delineation between general and specialist services must be established to guarantee that victims of violence against women and domestic violence receive the specialized support they require, based on their unique protection and support needs, thereby preventing secondary victimization.

Our experience over the past 30 years has taught us that progress towards gender equality and the full realisation of women’s rights is regrettably slow. The adoption of this Directive could have marked a transformative moment in the EU’s approach to combating violence against women and domestic violence. While we acknowledge the steps taken, we also recognize the missed opportunities that could have significantly strengthened protections for all women in line with the standards of the Istanbul Convention. 

WAVE extends its heartfelt gratitude to the co-rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs, and their dedicated teams for their unwavering commitment and hard work on this vital Directive. Our network will continue to advocate tirelessly for the rights of women and push for a Europe where gender equality is not just an aspiration but a reality. We pledge to remain at the forefront of efforts to enhance the Directive and ensure it becomes a robust instrument in the fight against gender-based violence.