What is more dangerous for a woman than breast cancer of traffic accidents? Unfortunately it often is her own partner. Depending on the region, 20 to 59 percent of the world’s female population is exposed to domestic violence, according to “Terre des femmes”, an NGO.
Domestic violence means to exert power and control over the partner and thus is mostly never a single event but performed systematically as physical, sexual and psychological violence. It ranges from threats and humiliation, to beating up, rape and even murder. Social isolation and economic dependency are common characteristics as well.
The fact that it is mostly women who suffer from domestic violence is closely linked to global structural gender inequalities, as reported by “Terre des femmes”. That means that even in so called modern societies boys and girls often grow up with role expectations of masculinity being defined as the exercise of power, physical strength, leadership or dominance, and femininity understood as tolerance, empathy, passivity or even inferiority. That is why domestic violence is a problem throughout all social backgrounds, no matter if your partner is a doctor, a lawyer or a cleaner.
In some countries the acceptance of male violence is high, even in the European Union. Domestic violence is frequently treated as a private matter. This seems to be particularly the case in Hungary, where this type of offense is subject to private charges.
According to Dr. Júlia Spronz, a lawyer at “Patent”, a Hungarian NGOs fighting for women’s rights, current procedural rules in cases of domestic violence “send a clear message to society that violence against women is not a concern for the state”.
Just the fact that more than a quarter of the female population of Hungary is affected by it should be enough to understand domestic violence as a social problem overall. A petition started by “Patent” and “Nane”, another Hungarian women’s rights NGO, was signed by more than 100.000 people making it mandatory for Parliament to discuss a whether domestic violence should be a distinct criminal offense in the Penal Code or not. At first, Hungarian Parliament – one of the most gender imbalanced parliaments in the world with 92 % male MPs – rejected the proposal. István Varga, an MP from the ruling Fidesz party, became famous on Facebook, Youtube and other social media for his extreme remarks during that debate. Varga mixed up demographic change with domestic violence and suggested that “women should focus on having at least three four or five kids rather than only two” and that this would automatically “help us to honor each other more, so domestic violence would not be an issue”. After Varga’s comments went viral, Fidesz decided that it would incorporate a special clause in the Penal Code after all.
This step is bitterly needed in a country where women are blamed for the crime they suffered. Amnesty International maintains that “there are still strong prejudices against women who face violence” in Hungary. Of 1200 people surveyed in a poll cited by the human rights organization, one in three believed that women were responsible for being raped, and 62% didn’t know that martial rape was a crime in their country. “In one of our cases, the judge let the victim know continuously the the “family conflict” should be solved at home”, Dr. Spronz writes in her publication “Caught up in law”. She says that “prejudice and personal moral beliefs are the bias in the whole system”, as the perpetrator’s sexism is not subject to the investigation. “As long as the state fails to take a firm stand”, the lawyer continues, the officials applying the law will repeatedly “make the mistake of victim blaming, fall prey to their biases and will become party of the maintenance of abuse”.
A senior member of “Nane”, the NGO operating a hotline for battered women and children since 1994, said that since their service started “we had five women who sought asylum in Canada because our own country failed to protect them from violence”. “Nane” works closely with Hungarian police. A six hour workshop on family violence has been part of the curriculum for victim support officers since 2008. “And still just this week we got half a dozen phone calls from women complaining that the police didn’t show up after they had called them as victims of domestic violence”, the “Nane” expert said. In a pilot project with the police and in cooperation with a British foundation, GPS devices have been distributed in two of Budapest’s districts. “We handed out these devices, that I don’t show to the media for safety reasons, to 21 women.” As soon as these devices are activated, the police is supposed to appear immediately. “Nane” then gives the officers access to data concerning the victim. The project, which is currently being evaluated, seems to be efficient. “All activations worked well. The police “trusts” this system. Since they have access to data, they know that it is a serious case. The project is a baby step, but it is working”, concludes the women’s rights activist.
Even though the subject seems to be on the public agenda right now, only about 80 people participated in the “Silent Witness March” in Budapest on November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. That is fairly little for a city with 1.7. million inhabitants.
For more pictures click here.
Author: Josephine Landertinger Forero