Gender-Based violence is a pervasive issue worldwide, including in Belgium. Recent figures by the European Institute for Gender Equality estimate that 36% of Belgian women have experienced violence, 3% higher than the EU average , and 24% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime (6% in the last 12 months) . 24% of women have experienced sexual harassment and stalking, and 43% of people in Belgium said they knew a woman within their circle who has been a victim of domestic abuse . The EIGE estimates that the cost of IPV against women in Belgium could amount to EUR 2.4 billion a year .
On November 27 2022, citizens of Belgium took part in a national feminist demonstration to show support for victim-survivors and call for meaningful change to tackle GBV. At the time of the protest, 20 femicides had been recorded in the country according to the 'Stop Femicide' blog .
Belgium has implemented various measures, including a national action plan to combat GBV, specialised support services, and legal reforms. The National Action Plan Against Gender Violence 2021-2025 (NAP) was adopted by all Belgian governments in November 2021 and provided more than 200 measures distributed among 17 ministries and 23 administrations . Notably, the NAP aims to work with police to record data on femicide and increase protection for vulnerable women. This will be accompanied by training courses for professionals in contact with people who have experienced GBV .
Estimated % Change due to COVID-19:
"In Belgium, the Flemish Helpline reported a 70% rise in calls for help in the third week of lockdown compared to the first week; the calls involved almost double the number of potential victims of violence” .
Current Law and Policy:
The fight against violence from an intimate partner and other forms of domestic violence requires an integrated approach. Belgium has committed itself to continuing to develop coordinated and integrated intervention strategies and to supporting the national bodies responsible for coordinating, implementing and evaluating relevant policies. The Government wants to strengthen legal measures in order to guarantee a safe environment for women and children who are the victims of violence. Recently, two new laws have strengthened the fight against domestic violence: a law on the temporary banning of a violent partner from the home in case of domestic violence, and another that enables persons bound to professional secrecy to inform the public prosecutor when they are faced with a victim of domestic violence.
Belgium has committed itself to attempting to sensitise the general public and specific groups, such as young people, to the issue of domestic violence. It is also continuing its fight against human trafficking, which involves developing an integral and integrated legal and regulatory approach to address human trafficking as well as its prevention, research into the issue, the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators. Belgium has committed itself to focusing on the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations and is to adopt a new NAP entitled ‘Women, Peace and Security’.
Gender Equality at Work
In 2022, Statbel, the Belgian Agency for Statistics, reported that in 2021 there was no longer a pay gap for young women in Belgium . Instead, larger wage gaps are revealed amongst older generations. Across all ages, women earned 5% less per hour than men in 2021, a small decrease from 5.3% the year prior . For workers under the age of 25, there is no difference in hourly wage. Between 35-44, the gap is 4.5%, and from 55+ it increases to 8.5%. Belgium, therefore, is one of the leading countries in the EU for closing the wage gap. However, greater an intersectional approach is needed to policy-making to ensure those most affected by inequality are not left behind.
Gender Equality in Politics
Belgium has made considerable strides in political representation. As of 2022, women hold 43% of seats in the House of Representatives and 48% of the Senate, exceeding the global average . Belgium has implemented measures to increase women's political participation, including voluntary gender quotas. The Tobback- Smet Act required political parties to fill at least one third of their electoral lists with women and led to an increase in the proportion of female members of parliament from 16% to 25% in 1999 . Sustaining and building on these efforts can lead to greater gender parity in all levels of political decision-making.
Belgium boasts a strong education system with high levels of gender parity. Girls' enrolment rates in primary and secondary education are on par with or higher than boys'. Women also outnumber men in tertiary education: 49% of women aged 25 to 34 have a tertiary degree compared to 36% of men of the same age . Belgium continues to invest in quality education and has implemented measures to address gender stereotypes in educational choices and promote gender equality in STEM fields. However, persistent gender imbalances in certain fields of study and underrepresentation of women in academic leadership positions require ongoing attention.