EU Directive on gender-based violence: Big step forward for women but not in the workplace


In a landmark move towards gender equality and the protection of women's rights, the Council of th EU has adopted on the 7th of May 2024 a new  Directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence . This Directive marks a significant step forward in legislative efforts to address gender-based violence, but European trade unions were disappointed to find that it falls short of delivering real improvements in the prevention and eradication of such violence in the workplace.

The Directive introduces crucial changes to legislation concerning gender equality, setting forth measures to combat various forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking. In particular, the following criminal offenses are part of the Directive: female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, non-consensual sharing of intimate or manipulated material, cyberstalking, cyber harassment, the unsolicited receipt of sexually explicit material, and cyber incitement to violence or hatred. However, after the long and difficult negotiations between the European Parliament and Council of the EU, the article on criminalization of rape based on lack of consent did not make the final text of the Directive. Another important point for trade unions is the fact that the Directive contains measures on prevention, protection, prosecution, and access to justice. The victim’s and survivor’s rights are strengthened as they can claim full compensation from offenders for damages resulting from the offense of violence against women or domestic violence which are part of the Directive.

However, despite repeated efforts by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and its members to include provisions addressing gender-based violence in the workplace, the final text of the Directive lacks explicit measures to effectively tackle this issue. The text only includes an article that provides for, the Commission to “assess whether further measures at EU level are necessary to effectively tackle sexual harassment and violence in the workplace taking into account applicable international Conventions, the EU’s legal framework in the area of equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation and the legal framework on occupational safety and health”, at the latest 5 years after the transposition.

While education trade unions express disappointment over the Directive's limitations regarding workplace violence, they emphasize its importance as a tool to address gender-based violence more broadly. They call on national governments to swiftly transpose the Directive into national legislation, ensuring its effective implementation and enforcement.

The adoption of the Directive coincided with adoption of the  Council conclusions on Economic Empowerment and Financial Independance of Women, an issue often directly intertwined with the violence. These Conclusions advocate for stronger measures to promote women's economic empowerment, including integrating a gender perspective into economic policies, addressing the gender pay gap, and improving access to sex-disaggregated data.

Of particular relevance to education trade unions is the acknowledgment of undervalued jobs, such as those in education, healthcare, and care sectors, where women are overrepresented. The Council Conclusions stress the importance of promoting gender-sensitive lifelong learning and training opportunities to enhance women's financial and digital knowledge and skills.