A letter co-signed by 15 MEPs, including EPP leader Manfred Weber and the members of Parliament’s Committee on Women's Rights, was sent on Monday to European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli and the presidents of the Council and Commission.
In the letter they are asked to consider the urgency of combatting the “often hidden pandemic of domestic violence” and the MEPs call for “concrete action” at EU level including new legislation.
The letter says, “The current health crisis has revealed a long-running but often hidden pandemic: domestic abuse during this period of confinement.”
It says the EU’s commitment to tackling violence “in all its forms is well-known” but adds, “however, now is the time for concrete action.”
The letter concludes: “Violence against women is a crime: we must have zero tolerance for it. We call on the Commission to use all available tools and policies, including proposing a Directive to tackle gender-based violence.”
The same message was also echoed in a parliamentary committee debate on Monday.
“Violence against women is a crime; we must have zero tolerance for it. We call on the Commission to use all available tools and policies, including proposing a Directive to tackle gender-based violence” Letter from MEPs
Organised by the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, the discussion, mostly online, focused on the worsening plight faced by some women during the health crisis.
French Renew Europe member Irène Tolleret said the crisis, during which there has been a reported sharp rise in domestic violence in many countries, had highlighted the importance of promoting women’s rights and, in particular, efforts to combat violence against women.
She said the worrying current trend “shows we need a framework directive against gender-based violence.”
The MEP added, "We also need a pact between Member States to harmonise women’s rights in Europe and a council on gender equality bringing together ministers dealing with this issue.”
“Women’s rights must be systematically at the heart of the EU agenda. We must not budge an inch on this.”
Spanish ECR deputy Margarita de la Pisa said, “Women have played a key role in tackling the pandemic so we need to consider this in today's debate about violence against women,” while Pina Picierno, an Italian Socialist, said the rise in domestic violence meant there was a risk "of advances in women’s rights being reversed.”
“Women’s rights must be systematically at the heart of the EU agenda. We must not budge an inch on this” Irène Tolleret MEP
She added that she had recently been personally attacked on social media “for standing up” for women’s rights.
European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli told the Committee, “Gender-based violence is an issue that is close to my heart and also the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.”
The Maltese official added, “That is why we have a clear plan and strategy on this issue. I can tell you today that there is also the possibility of the Commission proposing new legislative measures to tackle the problem.”
The pandemic, she told members, has illustrated the importance of addressing domestic violence.
She added, “We are still collecting evidence and data about the rise of the problem during lockdown. Of course, societies are now opening up so, maybe this will create other problems.”
Elsewhere, Parliament’s cross-party MeTooEP campaign has launched a survey to “evaluate” online workplace sexual harassment.
Telework, it says, “protects the entire society against the spread of Coronavirus but teleworking has different economic, social and health consequences for different groups in society.”
“I can tell you today that there is also the possibility of the Commission proposing new legislative measures to tackle the problem” Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality
In a statement it says, “Women are negatively affected from teleworking and are at increased risk of online sexual harassment in the teleworking sphere and on private social platforms.”
“Sexual harassment is not limited to physical workplaces. It can occur digitally too, from the safety of our own homes.”
“The sharing of non-consensual images such as zoom-bombing, cyber-stalking, bullying, the development of sextortion as well as revenge porn are some of the different forms of online sexual harassment.”
MeTooEP says the survey will obtain data and evidence about “this new reality.”
MeTooEP was launched in March 2018 to combat sexual harassment and improve working conditions in Parliament.