Each year 8 March is International Women’s Day. Equality for women has taken huge steps forward since 1908 but there is still a long way to go. Women continue to struggle for equality in terms of financial independence, success in senior leadership roles and engineering, science and technology careers and in receiving equal recognition in sport. In 2014 women are not treated equally. Male violence towards women continues in a huge array of forms the world over and women continue to be oppressed by society.
As part of an event to mark International Women’s Day 2014, I was invited to attend European Parliament in Brussels, for a two day seminar highlighting the work they are doing to address the inequalities suffered by women.
The seminar was entitled; ‘Women and the elections: will this time be different? and ‘Domestic abuse: a challenge for all of us.’ At this event, it was revealed that the levels of violence towards UK women are often higher than the EU average.
The following piece was commissioned by Women’s Views on News and published on their site 6 March 2014.
A survey unveiled by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in Brussels calls for all EU member states to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention as a measure for combating violence against women.
The survey ‘Violence Against Women: an EU-wide survey’ was conducted by the FRA, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, over a period of two years. It involved interviewing 42,000 women in all the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU). A minimum of 1500 took part from each member state except for 900 for Luxembourg.
One woman from each household was asked about her experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including incidents of intimate partner violence (domestic violence). The survey also asked about stalking, sexual harassment and the role played by technologies in women’s experiences of abuse.
The results reveal extensive levels of violence towards women throughout the European Union, with significant levels of under-reporting of incidences.
The figures for the UK show women have experienced higher levels of physical and sexual violence than the EU average.
The UK ranked in fifth place – below Finland, Sweden, Netherlands and France – for the highest number of women reporting physical and/or sexual violence by a male since they were aged fifteen.
Likewise, the survey indicates that the numbers of female children experiencing violence before the age of 15 years is higher in the UK than the EU average.
In the UK, 44 per cent of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15 years, compared to an EU average of 33 per cent. And 27 per cent of women in the UK have experienced partner violence; the EU average was 20 per cent.
Physical violence by a partner after the age of fifteen is also higher in the UK than the average EU figure at 28 per cent compared with 20 per cent.
At 7 per cent, the figure for women experiencing sexual violence after the age of fifteen in the UK is closer to the EU average of 6 per cent.
Women experiencing sexual violence by a partner from the age of fifteen is 3 per cent higher than the EU average in the UK – at 7 per cent.
Experiences of psychological violence by women since the age of fifteen is also reported as 3 per cent higher than the EU average, at 46 per cent.
The figures reported in the FRA report equate to 13 million women in the EU experiencing male physical violence in the course of 12 months before the survey interviews and 9 million women in the EU experiencing sexual violence in the same period.
Women were asked specifically about their experiences of stalking and sexual harassment and the role of the internet and social media.
Sixteen per cent of the UK women involved in the survey reported experiencing some form of stalking in the twelve months immediately prior to the survey interview, and 19 per cent since the age of fifteen. This again is higher than the EU average figure.
A shocking 68 per cent of UK women reported experiencing sexual harassment since the age of 15 years compared to 55 per cent on average in the EU as a whole.
In the 12 months prior to the survey interview, 25 per cent of women in the UK reported having experienced sexual harassment; the average for the EU was 21 per cent.
Of the women who reported having been victims of stalking, 34 per cent said they reported the most serious form of stalking to the the police. The EU average was lower than this, at only 26 per cent.
One of the key ways to combat violence against women across Europe highlighted by the FRA is for all member states to be encouraged to sign and ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention.
The purpose of the Convention is to establish a framework for governments to ensure they are working to combat violence against women by ensuring they prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women and girls.
It formally defines and criminalises forms of violence against women including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, physical, sexual and psychological violence. To date only three member states have ratified the Convention; Malta is shortly to become the fourth country.
The UK signed the Convention in 2012, but it is yet to ratify it. If it did so, the government would be forced to implement the conventions provisions in its domestic policy and legislation. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention is seen as a way of protecting women from male violence and as a deterrent for perpetrators.
Talking about the survey, Joanna Goodey, head of the Freedom and Justice Department at the FRA data, said: ‘Official statistics are lacking and that’s why the report was called upon.
‘It’s been needed for years and provides EU data on violence against women.
‘It involved a random sample of women aged 18-74 using face to face interviews conducted privately in women’s homes.
‘It took over two years to develop the survey with the help of experts and gives us women’s everyday experiences of violence by partners and non partners.’