Europe's Dismal Record on Gender

AGORA moderator's picture

The results of Europe’s most comprehensive survey on violence against women are shocking. The survey, released last Wednesday, reveals that more than one-third of Europe’s women say they have been subjected to physical or sexual violence from the age of 15 on. About the same percentage say they suffered violence as children, while 12 percent say they were sexually abused as children — half by men they knew. Women also reported widespread stalking, sexual harassment and cyber-harassment via social media, email or text messages.

The saddest statistic may be this one: Only a relatively small percentage of the women, 14 percent, reported the worst instances of abuse by a partner to the police. And only 13 percent reported the worst instances of violence by a nonpartner. In other words, much of the worst violence remains invisible and goes unpunished.

The survey, conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is the first of its kind. Questions were asked of 42,000 women across the union’s 28 member states. Their answers reveal how intimately violence against women is embedded in every aspect of family and social life.

Surprisingly, given their long history of gender equality, Scandinavian countries reported the highest incidences of violence against women. Just over half the women in Denmark reported physical or sexual abuse. The figure in Finland was 47 percent; Sweden’s was 46 percent. Of all E.U. states, Poland had the lowest rate, with 19 percent of women reporting physical or sexual violence. In both Britain and France, the number was 44 percent.

Europe has got to be able to do better than this. Though it prides itself on its commitment to lofty human rights standards, Europe does no better than the dismal world average when it comes to how women are treated. A study by the World Health Organization last year indicated that more than one-third of women worldwide are affected by physical or sexual violence. Violence against women is not only a violation of basic human rights; at these levels, it represents a public health emergency.

In response to the new survey, Malta immediately announced that it would ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on violence against women, making it only the fourth E.U. nation to do so. Others should follow.

Women, especially young women, need to feel safe to report violence committed against them. And law enforcement authorities, community service workers, schools, businesses and victim support organizations must work together to get the message out: Violence against women is never acceptable, and it is a crime that will no longer go unreported or unpunished.

Source:The New York Times, March 10th, 2014