Our Position

Position Paper on the proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence

On the 8 of March, the European Commission published their proposal for directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The proposed directive will criminalise rape based on lack of consent, female genital mutilation and cyber violence. Cyber violence includes non-consensual sharing of intimate images, cyber stalking, cyber harassment and cyber incitement to violence or hatred.

The current legal EU framework for combating violence against women has a number of significant weak points. Legislation in the Member States is varied, offering unequal protection for women against all forms of violence, and in the prevention of violence and sexual harassment. The fear of reporting violence or sexual harassment is a major issue, with judicial systems not providing sufficient support to women. Violence and sexual harassment are underreported due to fear and shame, added to the fear of dismissal and of poor prevention policies. Specific legal instruments are needed to tackle the varying degrees of protection offered, and to address underreporting. Harmonised legislation would also be valuable in protecting victims within the EU.

Violence against women and domestic violence are estimated to affect 1 in 3 women in the EU. One in two have experienced sexual harassment. Online violence is also on the rise, in particular targeting women in public life, such as journalists and politicians. Women experience violence at work, with around a third of women who have faced sexual harassment experiencing it at work.

Zero tolerance against the violence and harassment at the workplace
Eurocadres welcomes the Commission’s proposal but finds it insufficient and unprecise. Gender-based violence and harassment remain prevalent in the world of work, with an urgent need to focus on the prevention of harassment and violence at the workplace. The obligations of employers and more concrete procedures to intervene in preventing violence and harassment are missing in the proposal. The link between domestic violence and work is also unrecognised. Domestic violence must be considered a workplace issue when it directly impacts on the victim’s work participation, work ability and safety. This is particularly important when teleworking, given the movement of work organisation from the employers’ premises to an alternative location.

The proposal presents preventative measures that are insufficient, such as awareness-raising campaigns, research and education programs. Instead, the directive should provide adequate and specific procedures, policies and practical solutions to prevent and stop violence and harassment at the workplace. Anyone can be affected by violence and harassment in the world of work, but the risk of violence and harassment can vary depending on the work sector, occupation, and working arrangements, such as working alone, working late at night, or the public nature of the work. Workplace risk assessments should be comprehensive and screen all risk-factors, also including domestic violence. The proposal should also include the obligation for employers to implement and update guidelines to prevent and tackle gender-based violence and harassment, including cyber harassment and bullying. Strong workplace policies with clearly defined employer and worker responsibilities would ensure a workplace free from violence and harassment. The development of a safe work environment is also a way to positively impact productivity.

Cyber violence and harassment
The proposal addresses the growing and diversifying phenomena of cyber violence, cyber bullying and cyber harassment against women. As the Istanbul Convention do not cover or address specifically cyber violence and harassment, the directive should contain clear and precise proposals to prevent and address these issues. Despite cyber violence’s wide prevalence, regulation is fragmented both at EU and Member State level.

Bullying is the use of force, coercion, intimidation, belittling, domineering or threat to cause harm. It can be one-on-one or group bullying. When a group of workers uses physical and emotional abuse and harassment to target an individual it is called ‘mobbing.’

In order to ensure that victims of cyber violence are identified widely and receive appropriate support, the proposal should comprehensively cover hate speech and trolling/troll targeting. Workers who have a presence online – for example, workers in the media sector such as journalists, are at a greater risk of cyberbullying, online violence and harassment as well as women in public positions, e.g., politicians, researchers, prosecutors, judges and officials. As we have seen during the pandemic, women in the health sector may be targeted, with public service staff also vulnerable.

Online hate, such as coordinated online mob attacks, hate mailing, troll targeting are different tactics aiming to silence a person or to influence a person’s decision-making. Cyber targeting aims to deliberately ruin the reputation of a person and influence their actions by inciting people to attack him/her. The proposal should tackle online shaming/troll targeting as a punishable act.

Reporting, training and awareness-raising
Information and training are essential to any strategy to reduce violence and harassment. Once policies have been created, they should be consistently applied and effectively communicated to all relevant parties and accompanied by initiatives to raise awareness. Workers, managers, and supervisors should be trained to implement these prevention tools efficiently.

Developing effective reporting, complaint, and dispute resolution mechanisms should be covered by the proposal, with a clearly defined role for worker’s representatives and labour inspectorates. European social partners must play a clear role in the drafting of legislation, the setting of minimum standards, and the implementation of prevention methods through training and continuous evaluations. In order to effectively tackle the cause of gender-based violence, the Commission proposal should include more concrete initiatives to protect citizens.