Saturday 8th March marked International Women’s Day.  In different countries the celebrations range from general celebrations of respect, appreciation and love towards women, to a celebration of women’s economic, political and social achievements.  Notably in these past weeks Chile has elected a female president, Michelle Bachelet – her second time in office.  She herself was a victim of torture.   She is the first Chilean president in over half a century to return for a second term.  We have much to celebrate in that, as particularly here in England and Wales, equality between men and women is something that we are constantly striving for.

Behind the background of this the EU have released a survey based on interviews with 42,000 women across the EU.  The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) commissioned the survey.  The findings of this survey are worrying.  The survey claims that one third of women throughout the European Union have experienced violence against them.  Twenty two percent of those surveyed said that they had experienced violence perpetrated by their partner.

Taking these issues on a national scale the figures are no better.  Although reports to police in relation to violence against women increased by 11% between 2010/2011 and 2012/2013 the percentage of successful prosecutions dropped by 14% in the same period.  Conviction rates for domestic violence were at 4.5% in London and 7% in Manchester in the last year.

In a new scheme being rolled out across every police force across England and Wales – a scheme known as Clare’s Law – women will now be able to find out if their partners have an abusive past.  This scheme was named after Clare Wood who was murdered five years ago by her former partner, who had a history of violence against women including kidnapping an ex-girlfriend at knife point.  Clare’s father, Michael Brown, said he was delighted when women had been given the right to know their partner’s history.  He said “It’s tinged with a bit of emotion and a bit of sadness but we have got what we were fighting for – to bring protection into the country for half the population”.

In looking at violence against women throughout Europe FRA called on policy makers to implement the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating domestic violence against women – also known as the Istanbul Convention.

Additionally FRA has set out that all EU member states should regard domestic violence as a matter of public concern rather than a private issue.  This includes ensuring police and other professionals receive proper training to adequately address and deal with victims of violence.

The report presents the first results of the most comprehensive survey to date both throughout the EU and indeed worldwide on women’s experience of violence.  The report concluded that the scale of violence against women is not reflected by official data as women generally do not report matters to the police or to other services that could support them.  Further significant efforts are required to help safeguard women against violence, despite these encouraging steps forward.

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