España and Violence Against Women
ANGELA LONG observes an unflagging commitment to victims of gender violence in the land of machismo
The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Every other night, there it is on Spain’s TV news: ‘mujer asesinada, machista violencia’.
Woman killed, machisto violence: there’s no real equivalent of machista/machismo in English, but we all know what it is. Yet something has been lost in the translation to English usage. ‘Machismo’, discovered in the 1960s, was equated with robust masculinity, a hairy chest, muscled arms, the dark hair and glinting eyes of a Latin lover.
Way too benign.
In the heart of Spain, machista indicates hatred, an ancient disgust and cruelty towards women. The figures for women killed by their partners are shocking, around one death a week, both in their cumulative total and in each individual tragedy, as they are recounted heartbreakingly by the news cameras. This year, after not even two months, 16 women had died at the hands of a spouse or ex-partner.
Yet in the midst of this darkness there is light.
A sustained, low-key, implacable campaign to draw attention to ‘violencia machista’ has been going on for years here, but still makes the news with its eye-catching displays. In February, a plaza in central Madrid was covered in hundreds of shoes, red shoes, or shoes splashed with red paint, for the blood that had been spilled.
This gives pause to those from elsewhere in Europe where it has become unfashionable to complain about gender violence which targets woman. The reason was the counter-moves to focus on male victims of domestic violence in the early 2000s. These arguments have force: nobody should endure continual violence at the hands of their life partner. But in the enthusiasm of some to seek some parity, the statistics were ignored. Women suffer violence at the hands of their partners in a 9:1 ratio to the opposite. Or, for every man beaten up (few are killed by women), there are nine bruised and bloodied women. The United Nations, which has been running a campaign on this issue for 25 years, quotes 2012 as a sample year, in which almost half of the women who were killed violently were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six per cent of men in the same year.
To deny this is to claim, analogically, that food supplies should go to countries where a few hundred don’t have enough to eat, not tens of thousands. The scale of a problem makes it more intense, and necessitates a solution.
The gender violence dichotomy is part of the swirling social change of the 21st century, but also a legacy of the 1960s and ‘70s feminist movement, when “bra-burning” and widespread use of contraceptives liberated women from their traditional roles of child-bearers and home-carers.
Or did it?
Spain is an interesting example of gender roles. There are plenty of women in politics, mostly youthful-looking middle aged women, obvioiusly formidable operators. One, Maria Dolores de Cospedal, is both defence minister and secretary-general of the ruling political party, Partido Popular (PP). There was national mourning when Rita Barbera, the long-time and legendary mayor of Valencia, died suddenly of a heart attack in a hotel room last November.
But the other side of the coin is the lingering strength of machismo, the supremacy of the male. Madrid-based feminist group Las Tejedoras claim that more than two-thirds of gender violence cases go unreported, or are not taken seriously when reported.
“The root of the problem is that we have a sexist upbringing, a media that foments sexism, families that were educated under sexism and which reproduce the same ideas, and on the other hand laws and public policies that are very weak in these areas of education and values,” another member of Tejedora, María Naredo, told El Pais.
Yet against this social background, the determined and well-publicised campaign against violencia machista continues. Almost every week, as well as the tragic death of another woman somewhere in the country, there is a ‘manifestacion’ drawing attention to this, and the great history of injustice against people because of their biological gender.
Spain in fact has a special court for victims of gender violence, los Juzgados de Violencia Sobre la Mujer. The establishment of this court, over 10 years ago, was controversial, with competing claims that violence was a broad human issue. Divorced fathers and conservative lawyers argued bitterly against it, but the highest courts, and social leaders, in the land supported it, and triumphed. There is also a special phone number to call if a gender or domestic attack is suspected – 016. This appears at the foot of news reports on ‘violencia machista’.
Looking at the bigger picture, the United Nations has ambitious targets for reducing violent deaths, globally, for its Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development programme. Its latest research shows that, predictably, men account for the vast majority of violent deaths each year – 84% according to 2015 figures. But there the vast majority are soldiers and paramilitaries, or members of gangs. The drug trade accounts for many sordid fatalities, and these are overwhelmingly male. A similar percentage, 85%, was found to be the number of female victims of intimate partner violence in a recent French study.
In Spain, the heartening thing is the durability of the campaign to spotlight ‘machista violence’. In late 2015, more than 20,000 people took part in a major demonstration in Madrid, and, as the TV recounts, there are periodic marches and rallies to maintain focus on the issue across the country. A BBC correspondent noted at the time of the 2015 rally that Spanish statistics for domestic, or gender violence, were not worse than in comparable countries, but commented that “ violence against women is high in the public’s conscience in Spain”. Here, as in other countries, politicians and campaigners speak of ‘eradicating violence against women’. This may be pie in the sky, but if the brutality can be made taboo, what a great achievement that would be.
Relevant link and source of main image – http://theconversation.com/are-todays-standards-for-being-a-real-man-leading-to-violence-against-women-48189