Violence against Women
Spain is making progress in the fight against violence against women

Gewalt gegen Frauen

Demonstranten versammelten sich, um gegen geschlechtsspezifische Gewalt gegen Frauen und gegen die Schuldzuweisung an die Opfer zu protestieren

© picture alliance / | Sachelle Babbar

Women's rights and violence against women have gained a lot of attention in Spain for years. With each new case of gender-based violence that comes to light, an outcry goes up across society in Spain, driving thousands to protest in the streets chanting the phrase "Ni Una Más" - "not one more". “Violencia de Genero" - gender-based violence and gender justice is given a lot of space and airtime in the media and on TV in Spain. It is a topic on the evening news as well as on the Spanish Netflix hit "Alba".

Violence against women is a sad daily reality in Germany as well. But in contrast to Spain, the topic hardly receives any social attention. Talk shows discuss gender, but violence against women is interpreted as a private tragedy and not perceived as a structural problem. Yet the figures are alarmingly high: every third woman in Germany has experienced violence at least once in her life. This has hardly changed in recent years. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) registered 146,655 cases of domestic violence in 2020, 5 % more than in the previous year. Although men are also affected by domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of victims are female - over 80 %, according to the latest BKA report. Gender-based violence in virtual spaces is also becoming an increasing problem, especially against women who are public figures. The so-called femicides, i.e. murders of women because of their gender, amounted to 139 in 2020 according to the last "Situation Report on Partnership Violence" of the BKA. In relation to the total population, this is significantly more than in the supposedly "macho country" Spain, where the "Office for Gender-based Violence", established in 2006, documents "only" 43 fatalities in its last survey of 2021. Already since 2003, the Spanish government has published an annual evaluation of statistical data on femicides by (ex)partners and recently expanded the definition of gender-based violence. Since January 2022, all forms of femicides have been recorded. This includes misogynistic murders by family members, in the social environment or in connection with prostitution and exploitation.

Staggering levels of misogynist violence in Germany

Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP) advocates naming gender-specific violence as such so that it can be punished accordingly. "Those who attack women based on male possessiveness act in a particularly blatant way against our value system," he stated while calling the extent of misogynist violence in Germany "shocking". Buschmann is therefore planning an amendment to the penal code that would give special consideration to gender-specific offences and offences directed toward one’s sexual orientation during sentencing. In addition, women's rights in the digital space are to be better protected, preventative measures and women's shelters to be expanded and a nationwide monitoring system for sexual and domestic violence to be introduced. It is particularly important to raise awareness and to have uniform standards in the training of police and judiciary. A woman should not depend on a single police officer’s help.

Spain is one step ahead. Grassroot mobilisation and support by the masses have led the Spanish Congress to pass a series of landmark measures to protect women. In addition to the law against gender-based violence, the fight against domestic violence is a "state mandate". For Inés Arrimadas, leader of the Spanish liberal party "Ciudadanos", the protection of women in a democracy must be "a state task and consensus across all party differences". A pact against gender-based violence was concluded between all parties represented in parliament and the municipalities, usually not seen in Spain's polarised party landscape. Among other things, the pact provides for the promotion of victim protection, research, awareness-raising for the problem as well as further training of professionals. In Spain, victims who do not press charges because they are afraid of the perpetrators for example, also receive state assistance. The topic has been put on the curriculum in schools and counselling centres have been set up in town halls and health centres. With "VioGén", Spain now has a national prevention programme that is supposed to facilitate a consistent approach to violence against women with the help of uniform action measures. This also includes cooperation with counselling centres, regular checks and clear consequences for perpetrators. A helpline for "violence against women", which offers anonymous and free counselling, has existed in Spain for almost ten years longer than in Germany and is available in three times as many languages.

Law for the Guarantee of Sexual Freedom

More recently, the "Law for the Guarantee of Sexual Freedom" was introduced, punishing sexualised violence more severely and clearly defining what constitutes rape: namely, whenever a person does not say "yes". Victims also don’t have to show proof of resistance because, in instances of shock, many people react with resignation. In short, no means no in Spain. And the measures are having an effect: more and more women dare to report their tormentors. “Catcalling", i.e. when people (mainly women) have to listen to lewd comments about their bodies or sexuality from strangers, is also prohibited.

The current Spanish government under Socialist Pedro Sanchez sees itself as avant-garde in terms of women's rights. But this has sometimes brought questionable measures to light, such as the "menstruation leave", where women can take days off if they suffer from particularly severe menstrual pain. This measure could lead to discrimination by employers who might be less inclined to hire women than men because of such arrangements.

The strong commitment to women's rights probably also has historical reasons. The memory of restrictions is too fresh, and women do not want to be deprived of their hard-won equality under any circumstances. For a long time, the position of women in Spain lagged behind in European comparison. Until the late democratisation of Spain, women were only allowed the role of housewife and mother. Even among the republicans, there were hardly any women among the combatants in the Spanish Civil War. This attitude is best reflected in a popular saying during the Spanish Civil War which said "de la cintura para arriba" or progressive thinking is only present "above the belt". The victory of the nationalists catapulted Spain light years back in terms of women's rights: under Franco, women had hardly any rights. They were not allowed to do paid work, get a passport or open their own bank account without their husband's permission. The "Sección Feminina" of the Falange, the women's organisation within the fascist movement, propagated a traditional image of the family and rejected equality between men and women. It was not until the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975 that women's rights and equality were gradually strengthened. With the first democratic constitution of 1978, women became equal to men under the law; in the 1980s, the possibility of divorcing one’s partner was introduced. Nevertheless, until 1988 women were not allowed to be elected to parliament. In 1983, the Spanish Women's Institute was founded on the recommendation of the United Nations. Since then, Spain has been catching up and is now a pioneer in terms of equality. In the Spanish Parliament, for example, 166 MPs are female, representing 47.4% of the seats. This means that the Spanish parliament is taking the lead in the EU in terms of gender parity and ranks fifth in the world, according to UN Women. The pay gap between women and men is also larger in Germany, at 18 %, than in Spain, at around 15 %.

Invisibility as particularly painful for victims of violence

The example of Spain shows that modern legislation is an important part of the fight for women's rights. With regard to gender-based violence, what is needed above all is a change in society's perception. Invisibility is particularly painful for victims of violence when society dismisses the problem as something intimate and familiar. The broad majority in Spain understands violence against women as a societal failure and thus follows an approach whereby combating gender-based violence is about societal power dynamics and not about personal relationships.

Women are still far too often victims of violence - in Spain, in Germany, and everywhere in the world. But we should not forget that women's rights are human rights. No one has the right to determine the life of another, and everyone should have the freedom to decide about their own life, regardless of their gender. In the year 2022, this should be self-evident - and yet violence against women is much more widespread in Germany than one might think at first glance. It is therefore high time to step up the pace in the fight against gender-based violence.