International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. This year’s event is devoted to ending violence against women and Denise, from Sindrome de Estocolmo, called for a collective posting on the issue to raise awareness. Since I’m in Spain at the moment, I decided to look into the issue of violence against women here, how does it compare to other countries in Europe and what has been done about it.

A 1994 study of ten selected causes and risk factors for disability and death among women between 15-44 years old has shown that rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria. Imagine that! It kills or disables more women than cancer!
The Council of Europe has recently launched a campaign against domestic violence throughout Europe calling parliaments, governments and local authorities of the 46 member states to join forces with local and international NGOs to eradicate this pernicious crime. Currently, 12% to 15% of European women over 16 have suffered domestic abuse in a relationship and many have died.

The Council defines domestic violence as: “one of the most serious and pervasive forms of violence against women. It exists in all Council of Europe member states and occurs at all levels of society. Domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men against former or current intimate partners, although it is recognised that violence is also perpetrated by women and occurs in same-sex relationships. (…)
…the term ‘violence against women’ is to be understood as any act of gender-based violence, which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. This includes, but is not limited to, the following: a. violence occurring in the family or domestic unit, including, inter alia, physical and mental aggression, emotional and psychological abuse, rape and sexual abuse, incest, rape between spouses, regular and occasional partners and cohabitants, crimes committed in the name of honours, female genital and sexual mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, such as forced marriages.”

In Spain there is a Instituto de la Mujer, part of the Secretaría General de Políticas de Igualdad, which issued a comprehensive study on the issue of violence against women in Spain last year. According to this study, 3.6% of women in Spain over 18 declares having been victim of abuse during the last year by a person living in the same household. This percentage represents a total 677,352 women. A further 9.6% are considered “technically” abused, which represents a total 1,786,978 women. Not all is bad news – these numbers have improved in recent years. The first used to be 4% in 2002 and the second came down from 11.1% (2002). In 1999 the figues were 4.2% and 12.4%. In Catalunya the percentage of abused was 12.1% (1999), 9.7% (2002) and 8.9% (2006).

Over 75% of abuse is caused by the woman’s partner – whether husband, fiancée, boyfriend or ex. Over 66% of women declare having been suffering abuse for more than five years.

In 2006, 68 women were killed in Spain by their partner or ex-partner. So far, 3 women were killed in Catalunya this year, the latest being Mercedes Molina from the town of Badalona who was burned alive by her husband. She was 58 years old.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Catalan government has announced a new law to fight domestic violence. There are two main changes to the current law:

  • official charges will no longer be necessary to guarantee a woman’s protection and access to juridical & social services. This was brought forward by the fact that only 30% of the women killed by their partner had previously denounced them to the authorities.
  • government officials will take in consideration only the woman’s income when granting the right for free legal services; this decision used to be based on the family’s income which prevented many women abused by their husbands who were nevertheless economically dependent to have access to legal counsel and other services.

I haven’t been here for long but I can say that the issue is discussed continuously on the media. A new law came into effect in 2004 to deal with the issue and while I don’t have the specifics on the impact it has been having, people are always calling on the government to closely monitor its effects and update what isn’t working. A sign of this is the new law being proposed here in Catalunya. I can say that there is at least awareness of the problem and with awareness will come a higher sensitivity and less tolerance towards those who commit these kinds of crimes.

Women in both Spain and Catalunya seem to be highly organized and vocal. Hopefully the numbers of women killed/abused will recede even more in the upcoming years.

Some links:

International Women’s Day 2007

Combating Violence Against Women: Stocktaking study – very thorough study listing recommendations and monitoring what individual European countries have done to tackle the issue.

Status of Women Canada – International Women’s Day in Canada


If you have a blog, join us in this “group posting” about International Women´s Day. Write something about March 8th, women, gender violence, or simply post about local events associated with the day on your blog. You can also post a picture, a poem…  If you do, let me know!