May 20. 2024. 10:46

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EU lawmakers renew call for Istanbul Convention accession, want more protection

EU lawmakers renewed calls on Tuesday (February 28) for the accession of the Istanbul Convention to the European Union but called for more protection against sexual harassment during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

The EU signed the Istanbul Convention, a comprehensive human rights treaty that seeks to prevent gender-based and domestic violence, in 2017. However, it was never ratified, as six member states have yet to agree (Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia).

In 2008, the process for drafting the Convention began with an expert group set up by the Committee of Ministers of Justice of the Council of Europe (CoE). After the draft was finalised in 2010, the Convention was opened for signatures in 2011 in Istanbul.

The appeal to have the accession was announced during Vice-President of the European Parliament Ewa Kopacz’s speech on Tuesday.

Following her speech, EU lawmakers echoed concerns that the Convention, in its current form, does adequately provide for victims of sexual harassment.

“Our appeal to the European Union to have accession to the [Istanbul] convention has to be sounded out loud and clear,” said Kopacz during the committee meeting.

“The Istanbul Convention needs to be an international standard and is a key tool to prevent violence against women, particularly victims of domestic violence. We once again have to highlight the importance of the [Istanbul] convention and do everything to prevent gender-based violence, and we have to protect the victims and punish the perpetrators,” Kopacz said.

This comes after the joint report on the Istanbul Convention was approved during the previous Strasbourg plenary session on the 15th of February. The report found that depending on the member state in which you reside, the rate at which women experience workplace harassment ranges from 11 to 41 per cent.

The same report also stated that European institutions emphasising the European Parliament as a legislative body should be examples for all employers in the EU for workplace harassment procedures and victims’ protection policies.

What were the main findings of the report?

“We still don’t have a system which provides complex protection for the victims of sexual harassment,” MEP Sylwia Spurek said at Tuesday’s session.

“Has the European Union done everything that is possible? Has it done [and] taken every step and used every resource to solve the problem? This is what the report is about essentially and our amendments as well,” continued Spurek.

Compromises for the convention include more protective measures, such as proposed Amendment 24, which allows for a clear definition of sexual harassment.

The Parliamentary discussion also specifically mentioned the current vulnerabilities of Ukrainian women at high risk of sexual abuse, harassment, and even trafficking.

Further measures

A proposed mandatory anti-harassment training for MEPs and parliament staff was also discussed during the meeting. The training would be in addition to the 241 amendments first proposed in the January 2023 draft report on sexual harassment in the EU and MeToo evaluation.

Growing access to education on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in and outside of the European Parliament was also debated.

“We have to properly involve men and boys as early on as possible so we can start changing attitudes to violence, and here [Parliament] and schools play a very important role,” said MEP Carina Ohlsson.

Harassment in the workplace was also a concern, and Spurek spoke on the vulnerability women face. “We have to look at the sexual harassment in the workplace, [and] sexual harassment in certain professions, unified professions, but we need a system that is on the side of the victim, which provides support to the victims and a sense of safety.”

According to data from Eurostat, “in 2021, 5.2 million women and 3.6 million men aged 15-74 in the EU reported feeling discriminated against at work. The difference between those two numbers was mainly due to the difference in those who reported feeling discriminated against based on gender: 0.2 million men compared with 1.6 million women.”

“Unfortunately, harassment continues; this is unacceptable, so we have to take additional measures, and we can find these in some of the amendments being tabled,” Ohlsson said.