Thank you, Minister Dalli, for your inspiring words and for hosting us all in your beautiful country.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is much to celebrate in the area of gender equality. Europe is a good address for women. Women in Europe are graduating from universities, they are breadwinners, innovators, heads of state.

But there is also still some homework to do in Europe on gender equality. In Europe, too many women are, at one point or another in their lives, beaten, inappropriately touched, intimidated, stalked, raped.

You know the figures as well as I do: 1 our of 3 women beyond the age of 15 has experienced some form of violence. It is an absolute disgrace that in our European Union, committed to the principles of human rights and gender equality, women and girls have their rights violated on such an endemic scale.

And what is more: when this happens, we are often told that this was somehow the women's own fault.

According to the latest Eurobarometer, more than 1 in 4 respondents said that non-consensual sex could be justifiable in certain situations.

It also shows that only one in ten people who know a victim of domestic violence speak to the police about it. Even fewer people speak to health or support services, even though 75% of people know these services are available.

We absolutely must do better. This is why I have taken the initiative to dedicate 2017 to combating violence against women. As we say in our campaign: Say No. Stop violence against women. This will only work if each of us does his or her part and if we combine our efforts to end this problem.

The support of the Maltese Presidency, and that of the European Parliament, is crucial to move ahead at the European level.

We too will step up efforts through a number of focused actions. First and foremost, we will support you, who work either as a public official in Member State, or within civil society to combat violence against women, to prevent it, and to support its victims.

Last year, I've been meeting with many practitioners around Europe, who help victims of gender based violence. I visited NGOs, shelters, talked to the operators of help lines and to survivors.

I perfectly understand that for activities to be effective, they need to be tailored to the specific national or local context.

Currently, the Commission supports 12 national Member State projects that are aimed at developing and implementing practical and targeted information, awareness-raising and education activities.

Let me give you some concrete examples of what we do.

Many projects will train professionals.

Judges and state attorneys from Croatia will be trained to address existing barriers to effective legal protection of women who are victims of violence.

Doctors and nurses from Finland will be trained to recognise violence, and to encourage disclosures, report violence and raise awareness of shelter services at the regional level.

Education, social security, justice and security professionals from Portugal will learn how to recognise sexual violence as a form of violence in intimate relationships,

The curriculum of the Police Academy in Cyprus will incorporate specific training on violence against women.

With the funding, we also aim to prevent violence.

In Romania young people will be taught about stereotypes, gender equality, and gender-based violence.

In Ireland a specific focus will be on sexual violence for 15 to 17 year olds.

Other projects focus on specific types of violence against women:

Such as in Slovenia, where the objective is to prevent cyber violence and cyber harassment of women and girls.

Or the projects concentrate on specific target groups:

Here in Malta women with disabilities, migrant women, and LBTI women who are victims of violence will receive particular attention.

While in Italy, the project will specifically address men and boys, and will use major league stadiums, televised football matches and TV programmes on football to disseminate the message that violence against women is unacceptable. 

All these projects have ambitious, measurable goals. By the end of the project:

Latvia aims to increase the number of calls to victim support hotlines by the same number, ensuring at the same time a 15% increase of victims of violence that receive state financed rehabilitation services.

And Iceland aims to increase the number of reports to the police by 20%.

Besides cooperating with the Member States, the Commission will also fund civil society organisations. Their work is very valuable and has a lasting impact on the ground and a direct influence on the lives of girls and women in the European Union.

Two grant opportunities from Commission are currently open for proposals, one which awards grants to educate and raise awareness among girls and boys about gender-based violence and another which is aimed at promoting access to justice and support to victims of gender-based violence and the treatment of perpetrators. These calls will close on March 8, on the international women's day.

Later this year, the Commission will organise several Mutual Learning Seminars for Member States, where countries share their most successful policies to tackle violence against women or help victims.

We will further encourage Member States to navigate the funding towards building shelters and asylum houses. We will encourage police officers to learn from their colleagues who are successful in recognizing the victims of domestic violence and providing them with protection. We will introduce to the teachers and sport couches the preventive measures they can apply in their roles. We will share with mayors how they can build safer cities for women to increase the prevention of women from violence. And we will discuss with filmmakers how they can contribute to fighting gender based violence.

I am proud to announce that today, we launch a web platform, that will teach professionals such as teachers, doctors and nurses, police officers, lawyers, judges, or asylum officers, in 9 languages, how to prevent female genital mutilation and support those affected by it.

You will learn more about the tool later today, but let me already congratulate the partners from "United to End FGM" for their outstanding work, and I encourage you all to widely advertise this online tool.

Our commitment also includes enforcing and reinforcing the EU legislative framework to combat and prevent violence against women and to support its victims.

We have modern EU rules in place to ensure that women who have suffered violence will not be victimised again. The Victims' Rights Directive guarantees that victims are recognised and treated with respect and sensitivity. That they are protected from the offender and from the stress related to their participation in criminal proceeding. That they can access free-of-charge and confidential support services which provide for emotional support and trauma counselling and that shelters are available for those victims who are in need of a safe place. 

All Member States must now ensure that these rules are applied in practice. Later today you will get an update from my colleagues on the state of play regarding effective implementation of this important piece of law.

In addition, the Commission is putting all efforts behind the EU accession to the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention. The accession to the Istanbul Convention would allow for a more coherent interpretation of EU rules that already exist in the area. It would also facilitate the efficient pooling of resources. It would furthermore contribute to the EU's credibility at international level and with partner countries by accepting scrutiny of our action under the independent monitoring scheme of the Convention (the 'GREVIO').

 

I would like to express my profound gratitude to Malta for supporting the accession in the ongoing negotiations in Council. And I want to call on the Member States to support rapid progress on this important file. It is urgent that we send a clear signal on this.

Let me stress once more, that I believe we can only end the gender based violence if we join forces. I warmly encourage you to work together and I stand ready to support you in your work.

I would like to thank the Maltese Presidency and the FEMM Committee of the European Parliament for their support. I look forward to working together with you on this as "team Europe;" In 2017, let's make a difference, let' make sure violence against women becomes an issue of the past.