Loud and United: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

“All the forms of violence that we’ll be discussing today have one goal: to silence women,” said Edith Schratzberger-Vécsei, President of the European Women’s Lobby. “By denouncing male violence against women we disrupt a power structure that has been in place for centuries.”

#stopviolenceagainstwomenandgirls #loudunited @europeanwomen @gloriasteinem

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The setting was one of the rooms at the Brussels City Hall, the context a conference organized by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Observatory on violence against women and girls. The event took place on June 8th and it marked the 20th anniversary of the of the establishment of the EWL Observatory. The EWL Observatory is a structure that brings together more than 30 experts, professionals, women’s rights defenders, and NGO’s activists from all over Europe. For 20 years the EWL Observatory has played key role advising the EWL on violence against women in the EU and resourcing EWL’s advocacy messages and demands.

“Women’s rights organizations are being attacked,” said Dovile Masalskiene, EWL Observatory expert from Lithuania. “They are being attacked by right-wing parties, masculinity groups, anti-feminist and Catholic conservative groups, all of them trying to limit women’s reproductive rights.”

One of the EWL’s goal is to see the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention by all EU member states. The Istanbul Convention or Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is a Council of Europe convention against violence toward women and domestic violence, which was opened for signature on 11 May 2011, in Istanbul, Turkey. Despite its importance, the Istanbul Convention has not been fully implemented across the EU and is facing challenges in some member states. Poland, for instance, was at some point close to withdrawing from the Convention.

“It’s one of the challenges we face in Europe these days,” said Corazza Bildt, Swedish MEP, member of the FEMM Committee. “There are ongoing debates between what the Istanbul Convention stands for, and some of the catholic values in western societies. And perceptions of violence are different. In Russia a law states that domestic violence may only be brought to light if there are broken bones. Children can also be beaten up if deemed necessary. That’s not what we want to see.”

Mrs. Bildt talked about other forms of violence, such as revenge pornography, where damaging pictures or videos of victims are posted online by ex-boyfriends or former lovers.

“These are often men who are left behind, who are frustrated,” said Mrs. Bildt. “We want to make this kind of behavior a crime.”

Several cases of Online Grooming happen putting children and young girls at risk. Online Grooming is the term used to describe when someone builds an emotional connection with a child online to later exploit or sexually abuse them.

“I was shy and reserved, and when I met him online I thought he really cared for me,” said Alisha Watts. “When he threatened to post an intimate picture of me if I didn’t send him more, I knew he had not been honest all along.”

Afterwards, feminist icon Gloria Steinem came to the podium and addressed the audience.

“It’s so difficult to stand here and say everything I want to say in ten minutes,” she said. She paused for a moment, gazed at the room around her, the beautiful shapes carved in fine, elegant wood. “I look at this room and it’s hard not to think of slavery, of the genocides that were perpetuated by Europeans in other parts of the world centuries past.”

She mentioned that in some ancient cultures there was no use of pronouns for he and she, the organization and structures of society not necessarily being a hierarchical one.

“It hasn’t always been like this” she said. “Because let us remember one thing, what did Columbus call primitive? Equal women.”

In Mrs. Steinem view, there’s a strong connection between racism and other forms of oppression. She referred to the murder of Trayvon Martin in the US, where the perpetrator had a history of violence against women.

“Racist and gender-related crimes are of the same kind. They are supremacy crimes. All this happens when a group that’s been in power gets challenged. And what happens next? They react in these violent ways.”

She also named some research findings that point to violence against women being one of the strongest predictor of other kinds of violence, even an indicator of which countries would be more likely to be involved in military interventions. Global warming could also be related, she said, citing a book where a researcher proposed a link between global warming and the forcing of women to marry too early, and to have more children than they were willing to have.

Today we marched with women all around Europe to say #NO to #VAW #loudunited @europeanwomenslobby

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“It is important to know that this clinging to the patriarchal or androcentrical model, whatever you want to call it, is being carried out by both men and women,” she said. “Look at all the women who voted for Trump.”

For Mrs. Steinem, the problem stems from the male desire to control human reproduction, which in turn becomes controlling women, which then morphs into violence.

“We are the ones who have wombs,” she said. “That’s what has always been at the core of this issue.”

She thanked the audience, stressed her support for a more feminist and humanist world, before joining women and men in a march through Brussels to stop the violence. The demonstration was organized with Belgian women’s organizations (Conseil des Femmes Francophones de Belgique, Vrouwenraad and La Marche Mondiale des Femmes).