Only yes means yes! A new EU law on gender-based violence brings us closer to a feminist Europe

This month, we witnessed a defining moment for equality in Europe. For the first time ever, there is a draft EU law to combat gender-based violence (GBV).

We’ve been campaigning for a Europe-wide law against gender-based violence for years, side by side with NGOs and civil society. We are determined to make this moment in feminist history one to remember. A moment which leaves no one behind.

The proposal for the new law – only the first draft of the Gender-based Violence Directive – is finally here. Here’s what you should know about it.

Why do we need an EU law against gender-based violence – and how will it affect you?

Once adopted, the law will mean all EU governments will be legally required to pass national laws to fight against gender-based violence in their countries. Right now every EU country has a different approach to gender-based violence. Because of this, some people are safer in some countries than others.

This legislation sets out a basic common approach. It will mean that no matter where you are in the EU, any nonconsensual sex will be classified as rape. The law considers female genital mutilation (FGM), cyberstalking, cyber harassment and image-based sexual abuse as a crime.

The law is urgently needed. It will impact all of us. Gender-based violence affects 1 in 3 Europeans. If not you, then someone you know. And the COVID pandemic has only made this worse. Physical, psychological and sexual violence has increased across Europe. The situation is so serious that the United Nations has called it a “shadow pandemic”.

Keep reading to find out how a law against gender-based violence can protect your human rights.

Only yes means yes – the gender-based violence directive will make consent the law

Actress Laverne Cox saying “if someone doesn’t want to have sex with you, don’t have sex with them”

Whether you are with a Tinder date, on a night out at a club or cosying up on the couch with your long-term partner – your boundaries and what you are comfortable with must always come first. The only true consent is an enthusiastic yes!

The draft law finally criminalises rape across Europe on the basis of lack of consent. Only yes will mean yes. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. This is a huge step towards a feminist Europe!

Female genital mutilation is a crime – and will be in every EU country

It’s estimated that at least 190,000 people are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) in Europe alone. And 600,000 people in Europe are already living with the consequences of FGM.

The draft gender-based violence law aims to criminalise female genital mutilation (FGM) across all EU countries.

A scoreboard which ticks up to reveal the score Feminism 1, Patriarchy 0

Stop cyberviolence – women and LGBTQI+ people have a right to be safe online

Other examples of violence on the list to be criminalised across the EU by the new gender-based violence law are:

  • Cyberstalking – using the internet and other digital means (like social media, email, instant messaging apps) to stalk another person online
  • Cyber harassment – using the internet to harass another person, including sending threatening or harassing email/instant messages or using blogs or websites to torment someone
  • Image-based sexual abuse – or spreading explicit photos or videos of another person without their consent to cause them distress (often committed by an ex-partner as a means of “revenge”)

However, the way we criminalise cyberviolence in the current draft completely lacks a gender perspective. This is one area where we need to improve the law. We must do more to eradicate gender-based violence in the digital sphere!

A woman moves to sit in front of a computer, with text that reads To the computer!

A gender-based violence law made for you – why it must be intersectional

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to gender-based violence. We all experience GBV differently – based on factors like class, race, ability, age, religion, gender expression, gender identity and sex characteristics (along with many other things). These factors overlap, making everyone’s oppression and risk of violence unique.

Migrant women, women of colour, trans women, indigenous people, people with disabilities as well as non-binary and gender diverse folks are particularly vulnerable to violence.

This is because of systematic oppression in our societies, rooted in privilege and power.

The directive against gender-based violence can support, protect and strengthen victims’ rights with a human rights, victim-centred and intersectional approach.

We are delighted to see that the draft law includes provisions on intersectionality, which considers the diversity and specific needs of more vulnerable groups of people.

We fought tirelessly for an intersectional perspective during the build up to the release of the draft law – and we see the draft as a great start!

Text on a bright pink background reads if you’re not intersectional, you can’t sit with us.

Although, there’s some more work to do here too – keep reading to see what’s missing.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a feminist theory that highlights that all oppression is interconnected. Factors such as class, race, ability, age, religion, gender expression, gender identity and sex characteristics all overlap and create interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. An intersectional approach embraces and values that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression.

These different forms of discrimination must be taken into consideration when making decisions within our societies and communities. Otherwise, we will end up with unequal policies and solutions that only work for a small minority.

Gender-based violence – let’s talk about prevention, protection and reparation

We have to tackle the problem at the root. The new gender-based violence law should give us all the tools to stop GBV from happening in the first place.

Let’s start with prevention. Education and awareness-raising campaigns are central to preventing gender-based violence. Can you imagine if someone would have taught us to recognise gender-based violence at school or youth clubs? We need to empower young people to spot acts of violence – and know how to address them.

We also need better support services for women and gender diverse people who have experienced gender-based violence. (For example – just one concrete thing that would make a world of difference is to provide access to information in all relevant languages.) Reparation for victims and/or survivors is non-negotiable.

The draft law to combat gender-based violence is not perfect on this. But we see a solid set of measures on prevention, protection and support of victims and survivors. We’re on the right track!

Woman with purple hair saying Don’t stop, keep going.

What’s missing from the EU’s gender-based violence law – why our fight for a feminist Europe is not over yet

Feminist, queer, Black, indigenous, PoC and disabled activists have been loud and clear: EU policies do not adequately protect the rights of gender diverse people.

Gender-based violence must to be understood as violence against women and girls in all their diversity and LGBTIQ+ people on the grounds of gender, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.

Why? Because GBV doesn’t only affect cisgender women, but anyone who doesn’t conform to outdated gender norms. That is why trans women, trans feminine and non-binary people, face drastic amounts of violence. Their experiences must not and shall not be erased.

The EU has the opportunity to make sure gender diverse people are specifically protected from gender-based violence – but right now these protections are missing from the proposed law.

We’ll keep fighting to make sure we leave no one behind in our fight for everyone’s sexual freedom and safety.

A hand waves a rainbow pride and trans pride flag back and forth

What next? The road to a feminist Europe is paved with… political action!

The iconic end scene from Thelma & Louise (1991), with two main characters driving off while holding hands

The European Parliament now has a chance to improve the draft Gender-based Violence Directive. Our Greens/EFA MEPs will be working hard to make sure the law is as inclusive and ambitious as possible.

We will keep advocating to have a coherent approach to gender-based violence, including in the domestic and digital spheres, and make sure that the context of structural gender discrimination informs all measures to prevent and combat GBV!

We’ll also carry on our campaign to add all forms of gender-based violence to the list of EU crimes.

What we now need is political will from other MEPs in the European Parliament.

It’s time for a feminist Europe!

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