The European Parliament does not limit its important discussions to topics related to politics, economy, finance and foreign policy. Issues concerning how to safeguard and improve human rights have always been fundamental for MEPs.
One of these human rights-related issues was tackled by the European Parliament last week in Strasbourg. The topic was violence against women – an indivisible part of the European Union’s commitment for the protection of human rights.
In Strasbourg, MEPs discussed sexual harassment and violence against women during a debate with EU Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Crețu. The issue, however, is not a new phenomenon in Europe.
As stressed by several of the MEPs, violence against women is not a problem that necessarily comes from abroad, meaning that foreigners (i.e. immigrants and refugees) are to blame.
What is more, the acts of this type of violence can vary between different social, cultural, religious and even national groups.
Another important fact is that there is no truth to the allegations that immigrants, especially Muslims, commit far more violent acts against women than European citizens.
In the European Union, we have grown accustomed to ignoring problems that have existed for centuries. And when we can no longer ignore the problem, it is easier to blame the newcomers, the immigrants (first- and second-generation), as well as religious minority groups because they are different. But no matter who is to blame, the problem exists and in many cases it is very difficult to address with legislation alone.
Despite the great progress made by European societies concerning women’s rights, women continue to face some forms of psychological and/or physical violence. Both at home and at the workplace.
The MEPs last week reiterated their call for an EU directive on combating violence against women, as had been requested by the parliament last year. They also claimed little progress has been made in eliminating violence against women. The MEPs also called on all EU member states to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as the Istanbul Convention) as soon as possible. To date, only 12 of the 28 EU member states have ratified it. wAccording to a survey conducted by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, one in three women in the EU has been the victim of physical and/or sexual violence. This is a total of 62 million women.
The problem has becomes even more acute in recent years due to the increase in human trafficking. The smuggling of modern-day sex slaves to the EU member states has increased in recent years. In some states, we have numerous recorded instances in which EU nationals are arrested by the police on charges of transporting or holding slaves.
Sex slaves are not of course the only victims in the discussion of violence against women. In many cases, women are forced into employment without payment or adequate living conditions and often held against their will by unscrupulous employers. This is mainly in agriculture and domestic cleaning jobs.
Unfortunately, human trafficking has become even more difficult to address due to the waves of migrants and refugees that have been making their way to Europe from the Mediterranean Sea, namely Italy and Greece.
Organised crime is active in this ‘business’ and controls human trafficking affairs. It is therefore necessary, once these women arrive to the EU, to be immediately protected. EU member states must create the necessary structures in order to ensure that information about human rights and gender equality is explained and widely disseminated.
Of course, it is also necessary to inform the immigrant men arriving to Europe that these rights are part of the European culture and they must be respected. But it is also important to provide the same information to European men, citizens of the EU member states. After all, sexual harassment and violence against women knows no nationality, religion or colour.