Each year, 245 million women and girls aged 15 and older endure physical and/or sexual violence from intimate partners. Europe is not immune to this crisis. Eurostat’s 2018 report reveals that over 600 women were victims of murder by an intimate partner or relative within 14 EU Member States, with 35% of these atrocities taking place within what should be the sanctuary of their own homes.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women encapsulates the urgency of the crisis: “Violence against women is a horrific violation of human rights, a public health crisis, and a major obstacle to sustainable development. It is persistent, widespread – and worsening. From sexual harassment and abuse to femicide – the violence takes many forms.”.
The day is not just a call to awareness but a clarion call for action against the systemic and widespread violence that women face. Across Europe, countries are taking a stand, recognising the stark realities and developing strategies to combat this pervasive issue.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to gender equality as “the Great Cause of the Five-Year Term” is juxtaposed against the troubling rise in domestic violence cases, with more than 244,000 victims reported in 2022, marking a 15% increase and a 95% surge since 2017. Women constitute 87% of these victims, facing predominantly physical violence (66%), followed by verbal or psychological (30%), and sexual violence (4%). The French government is bolstering its commitment with a substantial budgetary increase to 2.4 billion euros for 2023, up 921.1 million euros from the previous year. Gabriel Attal, Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Economy, outlined the nation’s strategy: to continue the budgetary effort for the Great Cause of the five-year term of office sought by the President of the Republic. This includes doubling the budget for the Ministry in charge of equality between women and men, with a significant portion earmarked for measures aimed at tackling violence against women.
Belgium‘s advancements are notable, with the introduction of the #StopFéminicide law, establishing it as the first European country with comprehensive legislation against femicide. With 24 femicides in 2023, Belgium’s law marks a milestone in legally recognising and combatting gender-based homicides. Belgium also stands out as a “commitment maker to the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender-based Violence,” reflecting its dedication to this global challenge.
The Netherlands echoes this commitment with the Safe Streets campaign by UN Women Netherlands, combatting street harassment—a problem that 80% to 85% of Dutch women and girls encounter. Fifteen municipalities have now joined this campaign, indicating a nationwide resolve.
Luxembourg reveals that in 2022 two-thirds of women reported experiencing some form of violence in their lives.
In England and Wales, 6.9% of women aged 16 and over faced domestic abuse in 2022, while in Ireland, 1 in 6 women have suffered violence from a partner after the age of 15. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated in March this year: “For too long, women and girls have […] lived in fear of domestic or gender-based violence.” Recognising the issues, both governments are responding with legislation and national strategies. The Irish Government has produced the Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Agency (DSGBV) Bill 2023 which aims to create an entity tasked with coordinating government efforts to address DSGBV, and the UK government declared violence against women and girls a national threat, introducing legislation to tackle the violence, such as the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
In 2021, Greece reported a rapid increase in police reports from female victims of domestic violence, with most incidents involving intimate or former partners, and a total of 204 rape cases.
Despite leading the world in gender equality, Nordic countries exhibit the ‘Nordic paradox,’ with intimate partner violence (IPV) rates against women substantially higher than the EU average—32% in Denmark, 30% in Finland, 28% in Sweden, and 22.4% in Iceland, compared to the EU’s average of 22%. This incongruity highlights a critical area of social policy needing attention in regions otherwise known for progressive gender norms.
Portugal‘s figures indicate that in 2022, there were over 30,000 reports of domestic violence, with 28 fatalities including 24 women and four children. The country’s National Strategy for Equality and Non-Discrimination – ENIND 2018-2030, approved in 2018, aims to address this pervasive issue.
Finally, in Italy, from January to November 2023, 102 female homicides were reported, continuing a trend of over 100 annual killings in family or intimate contexts since 2020. Significantly, 31.5% of women aged 16 to 70 have faced physical or sexual violence. Nearly a quarter have been victimised by non-partner men, including acquaintances and strangers, with physical harassment being the most common form of sexual violence. As is the case in most countries, partners or ex-partners are the most frequent perpetrators of serious assaults such as rape and other forms of physical violence.
These snapshots from across Europe reflect not just the prevalence of violence against women but also the efforts being made to address it. From increased budgets and pioneering legislation to nationwide campaigns and comprehensive strategies, the message is clear: the fight against gender-based violence is intensifying, with nations committing resources and legislative power to safeguard women’s rights and well-being.