Covid-19 and Gender Based violence in the EU

The Johns Hopkins University in the US and Victoria University in Australia, assume a 20% increase in violence during an average three-month lockdown in all 193 UN member states. In the EU the situation is dramatic with a 60% increase in emergency calls from women subjected to violence by their intimate partner being reported by the World Health Organization in European member states. In France the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa, has revealed a dramatic increase in domestic violence cases across France, and particularly in Paris since the lockdown started. This has also been the case in many other European countries, as in Belgium, Jean-Louis Simoens describes a three-fold increase in calls to the listening service of the Collective Against Family Violence and Exclusion (CVFE). In the UK the charity Hestia, has seen a 47% increase in victims using its free app Bright Sky.

This surge is not going unnoticed by police, local authorities, national governments, and charities who are all seeking solutions to creating safe spaces for women to seek help during lockdown. Responses are both national and European based. In the UK Pharmacies have now become crucial safe spaces enabling women to seek help. Where woman are unable to flee the domestic space and too afraid to speak the silent solution is available enabling women to report violence to the police. Other initiatives have been employed in Spain, as victims are encouraged to denounce violence in pharmacies by asking for a Mask 19, which functions as a code, alerting staff to call the authorities. This initiative has been repeated in France and in Italy where victims can ask for a 1522 Mask to denounce domestic violence.

Other initiatives in the EU have included limiting the sale of alcohol in Greenland to make the home environment safe for children and to rent empty hotel rooms to accommodate domestic violence victims in Germany and Belgium. On a European wide level help is also provided via trusted websites such as Victims support Europe and many support services are also run by WAVE women against violence Europe.

Furthermore, solutions have also been developed locally and in Italy an app has been created by the police force in the city of Lecce called Youpol. The app enables victims to transmit photos and messages to the police force and give their geographical location if they want to, as well as permitting neighbours or other bystanders to leave anonymous reports regarding witnessed and suspected episodes of domestic violence. The app is easy to install on smartphones and tablets and enables users to lodge emergency calls to the police and get immediate help.

However, more importantly the Covid -19 pandemic has highlighted the need to re-evaluate gender equality and the protection of women’s rights in the longer term. The European Institute on Gender Equality EIGE and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights FRA call on the EU and its Member States to use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to step up their efforts to protect women's rights.

EIGE and FRA call on the EU and its Member States to consider the following action plan:

  • EU countries that have not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention or not fully aligned their national laws with its requirements should do so swiftly. This would, for example, facilitate the use of emergency barring orders. In countries where legislation already provides for these orders, police should use them more often.
  • The police, justice and health sectors in EU Member States should work together to manage the risk of violence against women. Professionals in these sectors should be properly resourced and trained to respond to such cases.
  • Data collection on violence against women should be harmonised between EU member states to ensure the phenomenon can be adequately measured and addressed.
  • In light of the many positive measures to eliminate violence against women at the national level, the EU should coordinate the exchange of good practices between member states.
  • Many EU countries have legal definitions of hate crimes (against ethnic and sexual minorities for example). A workable legal definition of femicide to denote the killing of women and girls because of their gender should be considered.
  • Support the European Commission’s proposal to add violence against women on the list of EU crimes defined in the EU Treaty. This would recognise the structural nature of violence against women and propel joint efforts to eliminate it.