17th Plenary Session of the Congress

Speech by Sandra BARNES on Violence against Women

Strasbourg 14 October 2009

I would like to thank the President of Congress for allowing the debate on Violence against Women to take place.

Colleagues, you will recall that when we last met in March I was due to give my speech in the morning.  Unfortunately by the time I got to my feet it was nearly 6pm.  I thank those of you who stayed the course and were able to make some interventions.

Violence against women seems to me to be at the heart of what the Council of Europe is about.  Namely human rights; the equality of women and men.  If you think carefully about the different roles and multi-tasking that women do daily such as producing children, rearing children, cooking, cleaning, managing the budget and earning their own wages etc., etc., then there is no shadow of doubt that women deserve to be treated equally and should not be subject to the will of men.  Women should not and must not live their lives in constant fear of controlling behaviour, violence, mental and verbal abuse.  Children should not witness such behaviour on a regular basis and so assume that this is normal.

So, what role can Municipalities play in all this?  Elected members on the whole live in the areas they represent.  Therefore it is quite likely that their neighbour or someone nearby is suffering from domestic violence.  Do you see women raising these issues with you?  Are you aware of what NGO’s specialise in this area and if they are working in your Municipality?  Is your Council funding some of their activities, if not why not?  Is housing being made available to these women, are refuges or shelters available?  What educational opportunities are taken to openly discuss these issues with young people?  Bullying is a form of violence against fellow pupils which could possibly set a pattern for the future.

Domestic violence is the largest cause of morbidity worldwide in women ages 19-44, greater than war, cancer or motor vehicle accidents.  In the UK, according to estimates from the British Crime Survey (BCS), one in four women, and one in six men, will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.  The BCS data excludes sexual violence, which constitutes a major factor in intimate partner violence against women.  BCS data shows that less serious violence is broadly gender-neutral, but that the vast majority of serious and recurring violence is perpetuated by men towards women.  Home Office figures show that domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent incidents reported to and recorded by the police, and that on average around two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.  This accounts for one-third of all female homicide victims.

It is calculated that domestic violence cost the UK £25.3 billion in 2005-06 in costs to public services, losses to the economy and costs to the victim.  The true cost of domestic violence to its victims is immeasurable.

From April 2008 to March 2009 our Crown Prosecution Service dealt with 67,094 cases of domestic violence, an increase of 3,275 cases over the year before.

Domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent crimes.  It has more repeat victims than any other crime.  Repeat victimisation accounts for 66% of all incidents of domestic violence – 21% of victims have been victimised three or more times.

Domestic violence crimes are on the increase.  Can this be put down to the economic recession?  Is this a result of alcohol abuse?  Or, is society generally accepting of this behaviour, turning a blind eye by not speaking out against it.  Has society become immune to such violence because they see it portrayed in the media on a regular basis?

The Council of Europe recognises that violence against women is an important and fundamental issue and to this end an Ad Hoc Committee has been set up this year to work on a Convention on Violence against Women.  This will embrace all forms of violence, not just domestic violence, including genital mutilation.  I represent Congress on this body.

Once the Convention has been agreed I hope you will work with your MP to make sure your Government signs and then ratifies the Convention.  Once ratified this could act as a safety blanket for so many women across Europe and give them hope for a safer life.

Obviously, there will need to be a programme of awareness raising.  This could take many forms; perhaps an advertisement to be shown on television and at cinemas, using well known celebrities to endorse the message that violence against women is not right.

We in the Congress have done some useful work.  We commissioned a report and at the last session we approved recommendations and resolutions.  Pieces of paper are not enough.  The culture has to be changed.  Men need to understand that behaviour based on some form of violence will not be tolerated.  Women have to be encouraged and supported to give evidence that will ensure that men are appropriately punished and that a clear message goes out that states courts will act severely against the perpetrators of violence.

I hope that we can work towards a culture that celebrates the unique contribution that women make.  That succeeding generations will enjoy peace in Europe and in the home.   That like-minded men and women will come together to speak out about violence in all forms, but particularly violence against women.

Colleagues, I urge you all to make this topic a personal manifesto commitment to all of us and to all the women in Europe.  There is always strength in numbers.  There is always hope for change when right is on our side.  Colleagues, together we can make a difference.  It is our duty to make a difference.  I urge you all to take up this challenge – together we can overcome.

Please inform us of the rates of Domestic Violence in your country and what is being done to combat it.  Has your country got a National Domestic Violence Delivery plan?  Do you have a Domestic Violence National Helpline?  I invite you to share your experiences with us.

Sandra Barnes