I thank the Senators for facilitating this motion today.
Yesterday, the Government approved my request to seek its approval to opt in to this EU Commission proposal for a directive combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Dáil passed its motion on this matter yesterday evening. The political guidelines presented by the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted the need to prevent and combat violence against women, to protect victims and to punish offenders as a key priority for the Commission. The European Parliament has also repeatedly called on the Commission to propose legislation on violence against women and domestic violence, and on gender-based cyberviolence.
Violence against women is gender-based violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes all acts of gender-based violence that result in or are likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering. Domestic violence is a form of violence against women as it disproportionately affects women. It occurs in the family or domestic unit, irrespective of biological or legal family ties, either between intimate partners or between other family members, including between parents and children. Again, women are disproportionately represented as victims due to the underlying patterns of coercion, power and-or control with such violence being a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. It was fitting that this proposal was published on 8 March this year, which was International Women's Day.
The proposal aims to make the current EU legal instruments relevant to combating violence against women and domestic violence more effective by filling identified gaps in protection, access to justice, and support for victims of these heinous crimes. It also seeks to align EU law with established international standards - most obviously the Istanbul Convention, which is widely recognised as the most far-reaching legal instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. While Ireland ratified the convention in 2019, the current EU proposal aims to ensure the application of minimum standards in all EU member states, including those that have not yet ratified and, unfortunately, those that are considering withdrawing. Currently, no specific piece of EU legislation comprehensively addresses violence against women and domestic violence. This directive will be the first act that specifically addresses this type of violence.
All member states address violence against women and domestic violence in legislation and policies but to different degrees. Of course the different approaches can create legal uncertainty about rights for such victims across the Union. While the EU already supports member states in addressing this kind of violence by using funding and policy measures, and relevant horizontal legal instruments, further targeted legislative action at an EU level is necessary to make the existing measures more effective and to further strengthen EU instruments to combat violence against women and domestic violence by laying down minimum rules. For the member states that are parties to the Istanbul Convention, the EU measures would support the convention's implementation. The current proposal would enable further co-ordinated measures across the EU and enable EU enforcement. With the proposal, the Commission aims to strike a balance between ensuring that the obligations it lays down are effective, and leaving flexibility for member states to take into account national specificities and needs when implementing its rules.
In January, this House debated a motion on violence against women where it was recognised by all Senators that we need to do more. As shifts in long-held mindsets and changes in behaviours do not occur over weeks or even months, we need to continue to work as hard as possible to see real changes happen. Tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in all of its forms is a priority for me and this Government. It is a personal priority for me. As all Senators will know, I have worked for the last 18 months on the goals and desired outcomes of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which I will bring to the Government very soon. I know that this House is as committed as I am to achieving our goal of a society where there is zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women. I hope that the strategy will be the most ambitious to date. Realising this goal requires a range of actions and a collective effort. In tandem with the strategy, we must also be part of a collective effort at an EU level. I do not need to remind anyone how often the issue of violence against women comes to the fore. There have been too many tragic cases and too many times where we have called for more to be done. I have met many victims and their families. The level of trauma and pain that they have experienced really cannot be described.
Violence against women and domestic violence are pervasive throughout the EU. It is estimated to affect one in three women, with one in five women having suffered domestic violence. Looking at more specific types of violence, the Fundamental Rights Agency's 2014 EU-wide survey on violence against women outlined that one in ten women reported that they had been victims of sexual violence, and one in 20 women reported that they had been raped. Cyberviolence is just as prevalent. In 2020, it was estimated that one in two young women experienced gender-based cyberviolence. It is well established that women in general more frequently experience cyberviolence based on their sex or gender, in particular sexual forms of cyberviolence. Cyberviolence particularly impacts women who are active in public life, as many Senators in this House can probably attest to. This can have the effect of silencing women, hindering their societal participation and undermining the principle of democracy as enshrined in the Treaty on European Union.
I am pleased to say that many of the measures proposed in this directive are already part of Irish law, such as the offence of rape based on consent; the criminalisation of female genital mutilation; and the criminalisation of certain forms of cyberviolence. The directive also calls for preventative measures, including by raising awareness and training professionals who are likely to come in contact with victims. My Department regularly runs awareness campaigns in this space, including the Still Here campaign, which we ran during Covid restrictions and garnered very positive feedback. The training of professionals is also a big aspect of Supporting A Victim's Journey, which is my plan to look at how we can improve the criminal justice system as it impacts victims. In that regard, what is being proposed is not new for Ireland.
The directive is comprehensive. As such, there are some measures required that may require a tweak to existing law and practice. As some measures are more targeted at civil law countries, they will need to be fully explored. Since the UK's departure from the EU, Ireland is the sole country with the Protocol No. 21 article. As such, it is essential that we utilise this at an early stage to ensure that we can participate in the discussions and that the final text of the directive takes account of our unique position as much as possible and is shaped to accommodate our common law system as much as possible.
There is a strong reputational aspect to be considered for opting in to this directive. Along with publication of the third national strategy, under Ireland's presidency of the Council of Europe I will host a conference of Council of Europe justice ministers on the topic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence this September. Given the crossover of timelines between this opt-in and the new strategy, and the significant public attention on this issue in recent months, promoting work on this issue domestically but not agreeing to a common approach at EU level may appear contradictory to our EU partners, particularly at a time when solidarity is more important than ever. Therefore, we should demonstrate to the EU how we are serious about tackling violence against women and domestic violence by utilising our Protocol No. 21 opt-in to participate in this measure.
I commend the motion to the House and appreciate the flexibility with time shown by the Acting Chairperson.