Build consent culture across Europe to stamp out sexual violence, PES Women urge

Build consent culture across Europe to stamp out sexual violence, PES Women urge

PES Women President Zita Gurmai said:

“Marking the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention, we are still seeing too little progress, not only on ratifying the Convention but also on implementing its provisions. Far worse, some Member States are withdrawing from it.

“The legal definition of rape based on the absence of consent is a recognised international human rights standard in Article 36 of the Convention. However, among EU Member States, fewer than half have criminal codes that follow this definition. In many European countries, for a crime to be considered rape, the law requires coercion, the use of force or threats, or the inability to defend oneself. This is outdated and does not reflect the experiences of many women and girls, especially those who have been raped by a friend or partner, or who froze in shock.

“The recent uproar of the continuing ‘Me Too’ waves, as well as the rise in domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns, have again brought to light how urgent the need for action is. Civil society mobilisation, public outcry and effective laws are important, but we also need political leadership, comparable data, consent and sexual education for boys and girls, investments in public services and legal training of first responders and judges. That is how we build a true consent culture.”

The Executive agreed that what European women need is a change in national penal codes, so every Member State has consent-based laws with a clear “only yes means yes” policy. The Nordic model – introduced prominently in Sweden – has proven very effective. Not only have more perpetrators been sentenced (up to 75% increase) but prevention has also improved thanks to clearer limits and scopes in this country. Consent-based legislation is particularly important in shifting the legal burden of proof onto the accused. Moreover, the new law has created a change in the mindset and culture in Sweden, bringing about more healthy relationships and a greater understanding that sex without consent is rape. 

Zita Gurmai added:

“We hope to see more discussions in Member States around the benefits of consent laws. This is the only effective way to turn the tide on ‘rape culture’ and move towards true consent culture for Europe.”

PES Women hopes that more parties and stakeholders will speak out to end sexual violence and push for consent-based legislation. In this context we commend the efforts of the Portuguese Presidency, such as through several webinars and a high-level conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Convention. We are also looking forward to the continued cooperation with European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, who has promised to deliver on a Declaration against gender-based violence by the end of this year, parallel to finalising the accession of all EU Member States to the Istanbul Convention.

PES Women reiterates its condemnation of Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention and Poland’s latest attempt to replace the Convention with an alternative treaty that allegedly would legalise the first instance of domestic violence, ban abortion and equal marriage. These moves come at a moment when international commitment and European solidarity to end violence against women and girls and the promotion of respect are needed more than ever.


[1] Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden