Even in Europe, violence destroys women

Mehru Jaffer

West or East, it seems that the plight of many women worldwide is depressing. In Europe, at least 45 per cent of women face physical abuse, and 10 per cent have suffered sexual abuse at some stage in their lives. European Union figures show that at least 1,000 women die every year due to domestic violence. For the same reason, European countries continue to struggle to put domestic violence at the centre of all reforms of national policies.

The United Nations defines the crime as any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. But, who is listening? Least of all European countries where the problem persists despite a 2002 vow by the Council of Europe and a 2006 demand for zero tolerance for all forms of violence, including rape within marriage, crimes of honour and genital mutilation.

Even in a relatively prosperous and progressive country like Austria, victims of domestic violence tend to keep quiet about their ordeal due to shame or fear of worse attacks from the aggressor. Rape within a marriage was recognised as a crime only in 1989.

The recent support extended by Austrian president Heinz Fischer is indeed inspiring. The president leads a campaign of men against violence. Once a year, he dons a white shirt and carries a white rose in his hand as a public protest against violence.

Inspired by the good president of the country, other leading male politicians like Werner Faymann, Green politician Alexander van der Bellen, as well as former Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer have joined the campaign that is supported by other celebrities like dancing star Frenkie Schinkels, cabaret artiste Florian Scheuba and Michael Niavarani.

This is a great moral support in a country where one in every five women is a victim of domestic violence. Research reveals that around 20 per cent of women face violence and 50 per cent of people asking for medical assistance are victims of violence.

Campaigners point out that violence against women is a crime. Even a single woman abused in the country is one too many. Despite the high rate of literacy and economic prosperity enjoyed by a central European country like Austria, it is surprising that many Austrian women continue to accept violence without realising that it is a sign of weakness rather than strength on the part of men to hit women and children. 

Experts report that incidents of domestic violence increase in Austria by almost 30 per cent during the sports season and when football matches are broadcast on television

Fed up with the scourge, it has been suggested in the past that domestic violence offenders be forced to wear electronic ankle tags, particularly since one in 10 offenders ignores court orders to stay away from the victim. The ankle tag alerts police and the victim when a person violates an agreed restraining order. Spain, where scores of women die due to domestic violence annually, is said to have reduced violence after introducing electronic ankle tags for wife-beaters.

Experts report that incidents of domestic violence increase in Austria by almost 30 per cent during the sports season and when football matches are broadcast on television. Almost 40 per cent of men who engaged in violence against their partner or wife were invariably drunk, statistics reveal. In Vienna, the telephone hotline for threatened women registered more than 50 calls a day, and the police registered 20 operations each day in cases of violence against women during a peak sports event.

Violence against women is still a big problem in Austria despite the country’s status as a forerunner in the protection of women. Authorities at the Autonomous Austrian Women’s Homes say that every fifth Austrian woman is a victim of male violence.

Austrian police admit that 17 to 20 operations of domestic violence are reported daily and over 3,000 women annually ask for shelter at homes for women. The problem is aggravated when, due to lack of accommodation, victims are turned away and they return to the domain of aggressive male members, whose position often reigns supreme in the family. This problem is most grave amongst immigrant families where women are mostly dependent on men. Immigrant men often use the totally dependent status of women to threaten them with deportation if they dare to leave the family.

Activists admit that the law of the land is ‘just’ but the fault is in the timely enforcement of laws. What the world needs are more men like Fischer who is inspiring other men to say a loud no to violence against women.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2013