Violence against women and girls: policymakers speak out

violence against women and girls
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Policymakers across Europe have used the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019 to draw attention to violence against women and girls.

Liliane Maury Pasquier, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), delivered a speech calling for stronger action to combat violence against women and girls, highlighting that much of this violence occurs as a consequence of ongoing systemic gender inequality. She emphasised the significance of making legal recourse available to help female survivors of violence and called on those Member States which had not yet signed the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women – Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia – to do so. Ireland is set to ratify the convention today.

President Pasquier said: “To truly eradicate the roots of violence against women, we need women and men everywhere to take a strong stand, greater numbers of women in politics, and stronger legal tools. Violence against women is omnipresent; it affects all areas, undermining the very foundations of our democratic societies…Sexism and violence against women lie on a continuum, and I see a direct line between the under-representation of women in politics, discrimination in public life and harmful stereotypes, on the one hand, and gender-based violence on the other.”

UK Labour MP Jess Phillips marked yesterday’s House of Commons debate on International Women’s Day by reading out a list of women who were killed by men in the UK in the last year, recorded by Karen Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women project. This marks the fourth year Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, has read such a list: the 2018-19 list comprised 130 women killed since last year’s International Women’s Day; and took Phillips more than four minutes to read aloud. In the introduction to her speech, Phillips said: “The reason that these women are no longer with us is that they are hard to see, they are hard to hear; and they are hard to believe.”

In a video released by the UK’s Conservative party, female Conservative MPs read misogynistic and violent abuse they had received online. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd, immigration minister Caroline Nokes, social care minister Caroline Dinenage and Scottish MP Kirstene Hair quoted abusive messages they had received and discussed their professional achievements in the face of institutionalised sexism. The video comes in the wake of a Guardian report detailing the uptick in online abuse and threats faced by British MPs, particularly women, since the 2016 Brexit referendum. The report said at least one female MP received daily death threats; while many representatives had had panic buttons fitted in their homes and offices in response to threats to their safety.

A statement released yesterday by the European Commission to mark International Women’s Day said: “Particularly worrisome is the trivialisation of sexist hate speech, especially online, but also in the public discourse. Words matter and can lead to actions. They can be a first step towards unequal treatment or even physical violence. We call on all EU Member States to show zero-tolerance towards hate speech and all forms of violence and discrimination against women.”

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