European Women Want More Than Legislation to Combat Violence


Two seemingly unrelated stories in the New York Times about violence against women in two different European countries demonstrate that if you just listen to women, they’ll tell you what they need to fix a problem. A while the answer is usually more help from the government, women usually point to different solutions than just creating new laws to regulate offenders.

In Italy, Prime Minister Enrico Letta has proposed much tougher laws against domestic violence abusers – what he calls “femicide.” In 2012, the United Nations said that the country “must do more to protect women from violence and urgently address the underlying structural causes of gender inequality and discrimination,” calling out the usual issues, such as underreported attacks and complicated legal systems. Since then, it appears that the government has worked hard to arrest attackers and properly try them.

But women say Italy has continued to fall short on providing resources to help the victims of these attacks:

Italy does not need tougher laws, the critics say, because existing legislation is adequate, if arbitrarily applied. What is missing, they contend, is a better-organized, better-financed network of psychological, legal and financial assistance for women who decide to leave an abusive relationship.

They’d prefer more emergency housing, as well as money and resources available after they get out of whatever violent relationship they’re in. What’s standing in the way? Primarily the European recession; though it’s been labeled “over” by some, rebuilding robust economies is going to take a lot longer than any one involved would like and aid for women in low on the priority list when you’ve got an unemployment rate hovering around 12 percent in Italy.

Once you cross the Adriatic Sea and make your way into the Ukraine, similar problems emerge. The leaders of FEMEN, those women who became famous for protesting whilest topless, are asking for greater protection against violent attacks they’ve been victims of. On Saturday, Anna Hutsol, Alexandra Shevchenko and Victor Svyatski were attacked and beaten outside a building they were staying in the city of Odessa. While this attack sounds horrific enough, it’s the fifth time members of the group have been attacked in the past few weeks.

FEMEN has posted photos of the damage inflicted on their members on their website, along with this statement:

Repeated physical abuse of activists of FEMEN in Ukraine is a political pressure exercised by the Government of a dictatorial State.
FEMEN notice that the attacks are organized by Ukrainian government and done by secret services with the goal to stop the activity of the FEMEN movement in dictatorial post USSR countries.
FEMEN calls all democratic Europe for help in a fight with dictatorship till its end.

Despite their hatred of the government, FEMEN is asking for government protection from their attackers, acknowledging that that’s the only entity that truly has the power to help them – and the only one that really should.

The difference here is striking: In Italy, violence against women has managed to reach a point in which money is the clear obstacle in the way. While pervasive societal problems remain, the government is receptive and open to protecting women. But in the Ukraine, a vocal minority hasn’t managed to get to the point where their needs are being respected enough to be considered by their government. The two scenarios are, of course, not entirely comparable; FEMEN is considered a splinter group, a faction of women behaving in a way women are not supposed to. But at heart, the concerns that they and the women of Italy hold are representative of the fact that the number of women who have been victims of domestic violence in both countries is roughly equal.

Both sets of women are asking their government to listen to what they want, in whatever form they dictate it. Because they know the truth: who is better equipped to explain what will fix a problem than the people going through it?

A Call for Aid, Not Laws, to Help Women in Italy [NYT]

Feminists Ask for Protection After Attack in Ukraine [NYT]

Image via Valentina Petrova/AP

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