Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

We need to tackle sexual violence in south-east Europe

  • Over 80 percent of women said that they did not report violence by their partner, and over 50 per cent did not report non-partner violence to the authorities (Photo: European Parliament)

Women and girls in south-eastern and eastern Europe live in danger.

This is what a new survey published by the OSCE on Wednesday (6 March) ahead of International Women's Day tells us.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • OSCE secretary general Thomas Greminger (Photo: OSCE)

The survey is based on interviews with more than 15,000 women living in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Seven in 10 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of violence since they had turned 15.

For three out of every 10, this took the form of direct physical or sexual violence. And almost half of them reported having been subjected to some form of sexual harassment.

These figures are shocking.

Violence against women and girls is a persistent human rights violation that has a lasting impact on their health and well-being as well as that of their children, communities and society at large.

While women's rights have gained prominence on the global agenda, particularly as a result of the #metoo campaign, a worrying number of women and girls in these parts of Europe, which have all witnessed conflict in the not so distant past, have been and continue to be abused, mistreated, and hurt.

But violence against women is not only a phenomenon of south-eastern and eastern Europe.

A similar survey conducted by the European Union in 2012 revealed figures that were not that different from those found in 2018.

Mind-sets are changing, the consideration of sexual violence as a purely private matter is, thankfully, being denounced as unacceptable and more and more countries are committing to policies to ensure the safety of women.

Too slow, too uneven

But it is happening too slowly and too unevenly across our continent.

The survey we conducted is key to providing the data needed to fulfil these commitments.

Face-to-face interviews with 15,179 women reveal that beliefs in female subservience and marital obedience continue to persist in south-eastern and eastern Europe.

Women who hold these beliefs are more likely to experience violence themselves.

And there are other factors that make it more likely for women to be subjected to violence: being part of a minority, being poor or economically dependent, or having children, for example.

Unsurprisingly, women with partners who often drink, are unemployed or were involved in armed conflict are also more likely to experience violence.

A troubling observation revealed by the survey is the silence that accompanies these acts of violence.

The vast majority of incidents are not reported to the police or other victim support organisations.

Over 80 per cent of women said that they did not report violence by their partner, and over 50 per cent did not report non-partner violence to the authorities.

Attitudes silencing women and protecting abusers, a culture of shaming, as well as the lack of trust by women in the authorities that have the duty to protect them, are all to blame.

This year's International Women's Day will again be an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe.

The 2019 theme is #BalanceForBetter, meaning the better the gender balance, the better the world will be.

However, our survey shows that gender imbalance, and the direct impact it is having on our societies, still requires our urgent attention.

Preventing and combating violence against women is at the nexus of human rights and human security.

It is therefore an important area of work for the OSCE.

Not only because of the personal trauma violence against women causes, but also because it prevents half of a country's population to be full, equal and effective participants in political, economic and public life.

Change cannot happen in a secretive atmosphere.

Action is based on knowledge and awareness, which requires creating an environment where women and girls feel safe to discuss their traumatic experiences of violence, and where the perpetrators will be held to account.

That is why this survey is such an important step forward.

It shows the women affected that they are not alone and it helps them, their families and communities and the whole of society to recognise the scale of the problem.

The authorities in the regions surveyed must now use the survey to effectively update and implement legislation to cover all forms of violence against women and girls, and to put into place preventative measures and efficient frameworks to better protect victims.

And we, the international community, must make sure that we give women and girls living in these regions the attention and support they deserve.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

German, French MEPs tried to block #MeToo measure

A majority of MEPs accepted signing a declaration on appropriate behaviour - but some voted against. The opposition came mostly from centre-right German and far-right French MEPs.

Exclusive

Women shun EU-funded site for female entrepreneurs

Wegate.eu, which received €1.2m in EU money since its launch almost two years ago, has less than a thousand registered users - from a possible target audience of at least 10 million.

Cohesion funds alone won't fix EU 'brain drain'

Internal movement will cause a radical reshuffling of the EU population by 2060 unless trends moderate. Under current conditions, dramatic population reductions await Romania (-30 percent), Croatia (-30 percent), and Lithuania (-38 percent) among others.

Why EU subsidy schemes don't work - the evidence

Counter to popular beliefs among policymakers, the positive effects of support schemes are found to be very limited. In order to revitalise Europe, the newly appointed EU Commission needs to reconsider government's role in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Can the Green Deal – and Europe – succeed?

We have invested €200bn in research and innovation since 1984, but have we achieved any leadership in quantum, semiconductors, storage, artificial intelligence? The simple answer is no.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Column

Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us