[Brussels 2 February, 2015] The sexual attacks that took place in several cities in Europe during New Year’s celebration one month ago has sent shockwaves throughout Europe. How could women experience such terrible violence in a public space filled with people for New Year in a modern European city? How can the response of the authorities, police and politicians alike have been so inadequate and inappropriate? Some have sadly used these attacks as an excuse to lame refuges and migrants more generally.
We express our solidarity with the women victims and we ask the public authorities to provide them with the adequate protection and support. We demand that the judicial system will work properly to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted.
Sadly however, these attacks and the poor response by the authorities are but another expression of the endemic violence against women and girls experience in Europe on a daily basis. At the European Women’s Lobby we condemn all forms of violence against women and it is one of our key priorities we fight alongside our members and partners for a society in which women and girls can live their lives to the full free from fear of violence. Male violence against women remains widespread and extremely prevalent everywhere in Europe, as data in Europe shows.
- Data FRA Agency 2014 ourfuture BLOG
In Germany, a quarter of all women have experienced physical violence from their intimate partners and 7% sexual violence from their partners. Moreover, recent studies show that in some countries, such as the UK, male violence against women is on the rise within the context of a decline in violence overall in the population.
Male violence against women is rooted in patriarchal values and in a society with deep gender inequalities in which men continue to be entitled to exert power over women in public and private life.Men and women all over Europe are exposed on a daily basis to a culture with sexualises and objectifies women’s bodies, and which trivialises rape and sexual abuse.
Furthermore, a very high percentage of the crimes linked to sexual violence remains highly underreported which reveals the inability of the enforcement mechanisms and criminal justice systems to deal properly with these cases. For example, 92% of the sexual violence crimes are not reported to the police in Germany. As recent studies have shown, the large number of sexual crimes remain underreported because women are afraid to ask for protection, they don’t know where to go and/or because they don’t believe that the existent legal system is going to protect them. This is highly linked to the outrageous and persuasive impunity of the perpetrators. For example, in Denmark only a 30% of the rapes reported ended up in a conviction; or in Sweden where only 14% of the men that were suspected of crime were convicted (to find out more, see EWL Barometer on rape in the EU in 2013).
- Change is needed ourfuture BLOG
Furthermore, the EWL has been calling the European countries and the EU to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention: The Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
To make matters worse, austerity measures across Europe have hit women hardest and have particularly resulted in cutbacks in public spending for comprehensive public services to combat violence against women. Everything from specialised police and medical services to access to justice and essential shelters for survivors been subject to cutbacks. In the EU, fifty women on average are killed every week at the hands of a partner or ex-partner: these cuts are quite literally life-threatening for women.
Our demands to advance women’s rights and combat violence against women have never been supported by extreme right-wing parties and media who are currently using the “Cologne attacks” as a pretext to promote xenophobic anti-immigration measures apparently in the name of women’s rights. If they were really supporting women’s rights, these organisations and individuals would be supporting the demands of women’s rights organisations to comprehensively address the problem of violence against women. On the contrary, these actors have been blocking important proposals to promote the advancement of women’s rights in national and the European Parliaments – especially when it comes to women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women’s human rights are universal and should be at the core of all policies and action. Half the population, half the future!
Joanna Maycock, Secretary General European Women’s Lobby
This blogpost is the first of our new BLOG #ourfuture.