'Fundamental inequality' at heart of domestic violence say experts

30.11.2011 - 12:49

The lack of equality that still exists between women and men continues to be the root cause of serious incidents of domestic and gender-related violence, a major conference on fighting domestic violence has been told.

“The starting point is that violence is a human-rights violation, a concept that has very important connotations,” Council of Europe (CoE) Deputy Secretary-General Maud de Boer-Buquiccio said at the 'Effective Ways to Prevent and Combat Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence conference, held in Bratislava on 29 November.

The conference was a joint collaboration between the CoE, Norway Grants and the Slovak Justice Ministry.

“With human rights,” she said, we tend to think of it being the responsibility of the state, so with domestic violence, it is though of as something between private citizens, but the state does have a right to protect. Lack of equality is the root of the problem, and also a consequence of violence towards women.”

Earlier in the day, she spoke about the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, a new Council of Europe instrument aimed at combating violence against women. About one-third of women worldwide suffer some form of serious abuse, she said. “Domestic violence is the largest form of abuse worldwide. How can we accept his fundamental threat to women, and to society as a whole?”

She said that a “zero-tolerance approach" to combating violence is needed, and added that the convention provides, “for the first time, a real tool for change. It is the first internationally binding agreement in Europe, and the most far-reaching legal text [on domestic violence] in the world.”

The convention, she said, had two purposes, to “bring a whole new approach to victim safety” and to “seek to change hearts and minds”. For this, she added, “taboos will have to be broken” with awareness-raising also playing an important part in the convention. Adolescents, she said, should be a particular target group for education on the matter, while, on another level, extensive training should be a matter of course for national police and judicial services.

Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women also acknowledged the convention as a “landmark” that understood the “complex interplay” of social and family factors that underpins domestic violence. According to Manjoo, “inadequacies in prosecution, reporting procedures, a lack of knowledge in key sectors, a lack of procedures, low penalties, a continued ambivalence about looking into private lives and poor provision of services” all add to this complex situation. Like many speakers throughout the day, she stressed the importance of awareness-raising, and the need to alter public perceptions of domestic violence. “social transformation,” she said, “is a crucial part of it.”

According to State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police Astri Aas-Hansen: “Violence remains widespread at all levels of society, in all countries of the world.” More women are effected by domestic violence, she says, than are effected by “cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria”.

“This is not just a women’s issue, it is a human issue, a global issue. We need to develop a further approach,” she said, adding that “Norway's position on this is clear: no religion, no tradition can be used as an excuse for violence.” The Norwegian government is currently preparing a survey, to be issued in 2012, that aims to develop a clearer picture of the situation in the country, which, she said, will hopefully lead to the development of better prevention strategies.

Combating domestic violence and violence against women, she said, “should be our war on terror”.