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RIGHTS: Spain at Forefront of Fight Against Gender Violence

Alicia Fraerman

MADRID, Nov 23 2007 (IPS) - Spain is among the most progressive countries in terms of its policies and actions against gender violence, Francisca Sauquillo, a member of the European Parliament and head of the Movement for Peace, Disarmament and Freedom (MPDL), told IPS.

On the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women, to be celebrated on Sunday, rallies will be held in Spain, and tribute will be paid to the memory of the 69 women who have been murdered in this country so far this year.

The implementation of the Law of Comprehensive Protection Measures Against Gender Violence is one of the achievements mentioned by Sauquillo, who co-founded the MPDL in the 1960s to fight the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The law was passed on Dec. 28, 2004, eight months after socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero took office.

Spain was one of the more notorious European countries with regard to sexual discrimination and violence against women, until the democratisation of the country after Franco’s death in 1975. Little by little, rights were claimed and policies developed, and much progress has been made, although some goals have not yet been met.

One major problem that has not been solved is domestic violence, which has reached the point where 69 women have been murdered by their spouses so far in 2007, while 68 women were killed in 2006.

The latest such killing, which occurred on Wednesday, illustrated one of the most common scenarios: a man received a restraining order to keep a certain distance away from his former partner, and reacted by attacking her. Such attacks tend to result in the woman’s death.

The murder took place in the northern Spanish city of Santander, when a 78-year-old man with the initials M.R.G. stabbed his wife, B.S.F., who had reported him to the authorities on Oct. 25 for threatening her, and had obtained an injunction forbidding him to come within 200 metres of her.

Another high-profile case of a separated couple happened after a television programme. Svetlana, a young Russian woman living in Madrid, was invited to private channel Antena3’s programme “Patricia’s Diary.” To her surprise, while she was live on camera, her ex-partner Ricardo, from whom she was separated, appeared on the set.

Ricardo said “I love you. There’s only one life and I want to spend it with you. Forever. I want you to marry me. You are everything to me. Everything. Everything.” Five days later he slit her throat and left her to bleed to death on her doorstep.

Montserrat Comas, the head of the Observatory on Domestic and Gender Violence, sponsored by the General Council of the judicial branch, said that the increase in the number of murders by husbands or partners “is a response to efforts by the victims of abuse to get out of the hell they live in.”

“Nowadays women won’t tolerate what they would put up with 15 or 20 years ago,” she said.

Since 2004 there have been 306,682 criminal prosecutions in the courts for violence against women, and 24,634 civil actions. Nearly 72,000 protective measures have been sought, 75 percent of which have been granted. An increasing number of foreign women have been issued restraining orders, accounting for 35 percent of the total in 2007, five percentage points more than two years ago.

In spite of the continuing abuse and murders, progress towards gender equality and respect for women has been made, in particular by the Mar. 15 entry into force of the gender equality law, which was unanimously passed by parliament.

The law includes obligatory negotiation of equality strategies in companies with more than 250 workers, including gender parity on administrative councils. For elections, 40 percent of candidates in the first five listed positions must be women, except in villages or town with less than 5,000 people.

Enriqueta Chicano Jávega, head of the Federation of Progressive Women (FMP), acknowledged that advances have been made in legislation, but told IPS that there is still much to be done, because “laws do not change people’s mentalities.”

In her view it is essential for gender equality and the rights of women and men to be priority subjects in educational curricula, from primary school on.

“This is needed not only in educational establishments, but in the media, too, because society as a whole must be involved. Media outlets bear a large share of responsibility for what they broadcast and how they do so, as well as the contents of non-news programmes which also influence society’s attitudes,” she said.

In order that the laws on equality and against gender violence do not remain a dead letter, not only the authorities but also society as a whole should be involved in enforcing compliance, she said.

Education about gender violence and rights, in the view of Marisa Soleto, the head of Fundación Mujeres, “should be included throughout a child’s schooling, from day care on, and should involve not only teaching itself, but the way schools function, and the whole educational community should actively participate.”

“The models for how girls and boys relate to one another have hardly changed at all compared to decades ago. Problems arise over sharing games and space, and there are opposing ideas over what is masculine and what is feminine,” she said.

That is why she insists that “commitment to change must include not only the work of teachers, but the entire network of relationships that develop in schools and institutes.”

Positive changes have occurred in the field of education. According to a study launched on Thursday by the BBVA Foundation, the proportion of women with higher education has risen from 0.14 percent in the 1960s to 13 percent in 2001, slightly higher than the 12.6 percent of men who had a university education.

“This is encouraging, but it’s still a long way from what we should achieve,” FMP’s Chicano said.

The greatest success has been in women’s literacy. In the early 20th century, 71.4 percent of women were illiterate, while in 2001 only 3.4 percent of women could not read or write.

Possibly another piece of evidence was added when the National Prize for Spanish Letters, regarded as the most prestigious Spanish-language literary accolade after the Cervantes Prize, was awarded to writer Ana María Matute on Wednesday.

Matute is the second woman to be honoured with the National Prize since it was first awarded in 1984. It was also won by Carmen Martín Gaite in 1994.

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