World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001


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RIGHTS: Breaking the Silence about Violence Against Women

By Alicia Fraerman

VALENCIA, Spain, Nov 24 (IPS) - It is essential to break the silence surrounding violence against women, said Filipina senator Leticia Ramos told the World Forum Against Violence, Friday, in this city on Spain's Mediterranean coast.
Ramos, former United Nations undersecretary-general for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, gave the closing address in the two-day meeting that included 1,300 women from 110 countries, organised by the Queen Sofia Centre for Research on Violence.

The forum was held in preparation for the World Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, Saturday, Nov 25.

Ramos stressed at the international forum that it is necessary to raise public awareness about violence against women, and to develop measures to eliminate problems such as family violence, genital mutilation and the impacts of war on women.

''Aggression in the home must be considered a public crime,'' added the Filipina senator.

José Sanmartín, director of the Queen Sofia Centre, said he believes the aggressors in family violence should be forced to leave the home and that the abused women must be provided with protection.

Most women murdered by husbands or boyfriends have filed claims for separation or police protection, he pointed out.

Liz Kelly, a sociologist at the University of North London, in Great Britain, supported Sanmartín's position, saying it does not make sense that women have to leave their homes in order to be safe, leaving behind their belongings, their friends and neighbours.

Kelly cited the case of Austria as a positive example. There, the police can force a man to leave the household if there are suspicions he has abused his wife or girlfriend. No judicial order is required for the police to take action.

Abused women in Austria have access to protection and the aggressors must take part in rehabilitation programmes. Similar legislation is soon to take effect in Germany and Switzerland, said the British expert.

The forum participants studied the situation of women in general and denounced the abuses that occur around the world, emphasising that violence against women perpetrated in the developing South tends to be more brutal and more frequent.

In Spain, an estimated 30 to 35 women die each year as a result of family violence, said Alicia de Miguel, spokeswoman for the autonomous government of Valencia, one of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. She stressed that it is not a problem of statistics, but rather one of education and culture.

De Miguel added that it is crucial to establish values of democratic coexistence in the home, ''beginning in the family core, with appropriate education that reveals violence in all its manifestations as a social scourge.''

An extreme case of the marginalisation of women can be found in Afghanistan.

Huma Saeed, 22, an Afghani woman exiled to Pakistan, told the forum it is common in her home country for the police and military to arbitrarily beat women. The officials might charge that a woman's shoes are too colourful, or that her heels make too much noise as she walks, she said.

The Valencia meeting included the participation of renowned activists who fight violence against women, with a broad range of countries represented, as well as delegates from United Nations agencies. (END/IPS/tra-so/td/dm/ld/00)



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