Righting the wrong that is violence against women
The findings in a survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights are jaw-dropping
From left: Cindy McCain, Trudy Styler, Ban Soon-Taek, Kim Cattrall, Naomi Campbell, Muna Rihani Al Nasser and Nassir Al-Nasser attend the “March in March” to end violence against women, at The United Nations last week on International Women’s Day. Photograph: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
At the Beyoncé concert in the O2 arena in Dublin on Saturday night, lyrics from the song Flawless , which samples Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, flashed across a giant screen. The biggest cheer went up when the word “feminist” came on the screen.
If anything captures the mainstreaming of a new wave of feminism, then hearing thousands of women cheering on the word at a pop concert on International Women’s Day is up there. Statistically, a quarter of those women cheering have been physically or sexually assaulted. Something is wrong.
The report published last week by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights gathered the experiences of 42,000 women in Europe, and the results are damning. Across Europe, one in three women have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse. In Ireland it’s 26 per cent.
On the front lines, many great people and organisations are working to help women when they are beaten or raped. But it feels as though our sense of the big picture is just a badly drawn sketch. Gender equality, women’s rights and feminism are talked about all the time, yet at the most basic everyday level we aren’t protecting women at all.
The comparative data in the report is fascinating, not least because it challenges perceptions about which countries are “good” or “bad” to be a woman in. In Denmark, a nation whose name, along with that of Norway and Sweden, is practically shorthand for ‘they do everything better’, the rate of violence is double that of Ireland. Sweden’s rate of rape is 47 in every 100,000, while in Croatia, Portugal and Slovakia it’s a mere three in 100,000.
What can you take from those numbers? Is it that Scandinavia is so enlightened that it’s more likely for rape and physical attacks to be reported, therefore representing the situation more truthfully? Does it mean that violence could actually also be a consequence of emancipation? Does it mean that women’s own definitions of what abuse is shrinks and expands from country to country?
Sweden is one of the most gender-egalitarian countries in the world. Parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Some 45 per cent of seats in the Swedish parliament are taken by women. Thirteen of their 24 ministers are women. This is a nation that on paper is doing everything right. Perhaps it is indeed that, as well as being socially progressive, they’re also ahead of the pack on reporting rape. As we pursue gender equality, are we ready for the truths such emancipation will reveal about our society? And how can we build social structures that are protective and kind to women as those truths are increasingly told?