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Irish MEP and former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (file photo) PA Images
European Parliament

Lack of urgency to tackle violence against women 'unacceptable', Frances Fitzgerald says

The Irish MEP said there has been a backlash against women’s rights in some EU countries.

THERE IS A lack of urgency from governments to tackle violence against women across Europe, an Irish MEP has said.

Frances Fitzgerald said that hesitation towards introducing an EU-wide consent-based definition of rape, based on a legal argument that it does not fall under the banner of sexual exploitation, was “not acceptable”.

Fitzgerald and Swedish socialist MEP Evin Incir are leading the process to introduce EU-wide laws tackling domestic violence and violence against women.

Under the current draft, rape, sexual assault, and cyber stalking would become an offence at an EU level.

But some member states are against including a consent-based approach to rape in the proposed EU directive, something Fitzgerald said indicated a “lack of urgency” to tackle gender-based violence.

She said that “strong” legal advice from some member states suggested that an EU-wide rape law would be “an overreach”, as the legal foundation of sexual exploitation was to target trafficking.

“Now, you can read that however you like, the way I read it is there isn’t enough political motivation at the moment from some member states to include rape,” Fitzgerald told the PA news agency.

“You can get somebody moved from Ireland to Germany for murder, but when it comes to rape, they’re saying ‘No, let the member states deal with that’.

“They don’t say ‘it’s because we don’t like the definition’.

“They don’t say ‘it’s because what are you talking about with consent?’ which is the belief of certain member states, they really find it hard to get their heads around the idea of consent.”


Fitzgerald said although Ireland and the UK have legislated for a consent-based definition of rape in recent years, in other European countries “there’s a backlash” to women’s rights.

“That backlash is very serious. You see it in Hungary, you see it in Poland, you see it elsewhere,” she told PA.

“I’ve been quite shocked at some of the attitudes I’ve seen to gender-based issues, and how difficult it can be for some member states to be as advanced as we are in Ireland, actually.”

She said France and Germany are among the countries that have voiced opposition to the inclusion of rape in the directive.

“There’s no problem with FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) or cyber violence, but there is with rape, and I can’t help but feel that it’s something to do with the very crime itself and member states’ difficulties in managing it from a criminal justice point of view, and therefore being nervous about anything that seeks to kind of put an overarching framework around that.

But it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to women. It’s not acceptable to citizens. Try and explain to anybody why rape is not sexual exploitation at a very practical level.

“If the individual members went on the airwaves and said, ‘No, we’re not supporting inclusion or rape because we just don’t think it should be a European crime’. Why don’t you think it should be a crime? This happens everywhere.

“It is actually a Euro crime, but it’s not theoretically in the treaties defined as a Euro crime.”

Gender-based violence

Asked about whether there was a lack of urgency from governments to tackle gender-based violence, she said: “I would have to say yes, overall.

“The seriousness of the crime is still internationally not being matched by the intensity of the approaches needed, and this is a symptom of that.

“A city the size of Marseilles, Amsterdam or Zagreb disappears every 10 years as 858,000 women are murdered globally.

“So I can’t help but think it is part of misogyny, and it’s part of a patriarchal society that we live in, that we’ve had such a job getting (crimes against women) to the top of the agenda.”

Screenshot 2023-10-22 13.01.47 Justice Minister Helen McEntee (file photo) Brian Lawless / PA Images Brian Lawless / PA Images / PA Images

Asked if the law would eventually be watered down to get agreement across the EU, Fitzgerald said it was too early to say.

“The challenge at the end of the day will be – can you call it a directive on violence and domestic-based violence if you don’t (include) rape?

“I’ve just written to (Justice Minister Helen McEntee) now sort of asking Ireland to be more proactive in terms of working with other member states as well.”

Asked about recent criticism of her Fine Gael party colleague, McEntee, by government colleagues for not focusing enough on policing, Fitzgerald said: “It’s not one or the other.

Dealing with domestic, gender-based violence, hate crime, these are serious, serious crimes.

“So take away the word ‘woke’ from them and say ‘we have to do this as well as the policing issues’.

“I actually got a lot of very progressive legislation through that I got a lot of support for in the parliament. Mind you, we had a majority government, it’s more difficult when you’re in a coalition.

“I don’t accept that criticism of Helen at all. But, you know, I often say, there’s still a lot – in political parties as well, all political parties – of everyday sexism, and it surfaces from time to time.”

Press Association