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IRAN Gov’t approves bill against domestic violence

Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs, dedicated the move to ‘worthy and patient Iranian women’ in a tweet.


By Maziar Motamedi


Al Jazeera (04.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/35dPcqk – The government of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has approved a longstanding bill that aims to better protect women against domestic and other forms of violence.


In a meeting on Sunday evening, cabinet ministers greenlit the draft bill, called Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence, which has been in the works since the administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


The bill must now be reviewed and approved by the parliament, after which it will be sent to the powerful constitutional vetting body called the Guardian Council, consisting of jurists and religious experts.


The most senior woman in Rouhani’s outgoing government hailed the move, which she said was the result of hundreds of hours of work by tens of legal experts, judges, executives and officials.


Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president for women and family affairs, dedicated the 58-article bill to “worthy and patient Iranian women” in a tweet.


The legislation completed its lengthy process of review by the judiciary in September 2019.


It defines violence as “any behavior inflicted on women due to sexuality, vulnerable position or type of relationship, and inflicts harm to their body, psyche, personality and dignity, or restricts or deprives them of legal rights and freedoms”.


It obligates the judiciary to create offices to support victims of violence and hold educational courses for judges and other judiciary staff.


The bill also envisages the formation of a fund by the judiciary to support victims of violence and help imprisoned women, among other things.


The state broadcaster is also directed by the legislation to produce more programmes that promote the support of women and the prevention of violence against them as family values.


Moreover, the bill sees a role for the ministry of education in holding educational courses for students, teachers and parents, and in better identifying vulnerable students.


The ministry of health, on the other hand, is tasked by the draft bill to boost its medical and psychological services to women and train experts in handling women who have fallen victim to violence.


Law enforcement and prison organisations are among other entities that will have to increase their efforts as part of the vision laid out in the legislation.


In a report published last month, rights group Human Rights Watch said the bill had several positive provisions, including those that engaged different parts of the government and other entities in women’s issues.


But the New York-based organisation said the bill “falls short of international standards” as it does not criminalise some forms of gender-based violence, including marital rape and child marriage.


The bill was finalised by the government after several high-profile incidents concerning women that took centre stage nationally during the past year.


In late May 2020, a 14-year-old girl called Romina Ashrafi was gruesomely beheaded by her father in an apparent case of “honour-killing”. The father was given a nine-year jail sentence.


In September, decades-old sexual traumas were unearthed as Iranian women launched their own version of the global #MeToo movement on social media.


The movement implicated several high-profile artists and one major company, and led to at least one arrest.

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Colombia sees surge in femicides amid uptick in violence

Femicide Observatory records 86 killings of women and girls in September, the highest monthly total since 2017.


By Megan Janetsky


Al Jazeera (20.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/34t1USc – Letica Estacio hoped the wave of gender-based violence that surged during the coronavirus lockdown in Colombia would slow after the South American country eased restrictions in early September.


But after the five-month lockdown was lifted, femicides – the killing of women due to their gender – surged across the country, data from Colombia’s Femicide Observatory shows.


An average of nearly three women a day were killed in Colombia in September, with 86 femicides recorded in the month. It is the highest monthly total researchers have documented since they began tracking the killings in 2017.


Watchdogs said the spike in violence against women is a product of compounding long-term ripple effects of the pandemic – a resurgence of armed group violence and economic fallout – that disproportionately affect women.


“Every day the conflict gets worse and worse. The narcotrafficking, the killings,” said Estacio, a 52-year-old women rights leader in the western coastal city of Tumaco. “It’s incredibly heavy, and even more so for women.”


Surge in gender-based violence


At the beginning of the pandemic, countries across the world saw rises in domestic violence as lockdowns restrictions closed women in with their abusers. Latin America, a region which recorded high rates of gender-based violence before the pandemic, felt that even more acutely.


Estacio and other leaders in Tumaco, a hub for narcotrafficking and armed conflict, were overwhelmed by an initial surge in domestic violence cases after the country entered a nationwide lockdown in March.


But as the state diverted resources from some parts of the country in order to focus on bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control, a patchwork of criminal groups – left-wing fighters, right-wing paramilitaries and narcotrafficking gangs – moved into areas vacated by the government and waged territorial war.


“Here, there’s no such thing as law,” Estacio said.


As a result, mass killings and similar bloodshed reminiscent of times before the country’s 2016 peace process have jumped country-wide.


Sexual and gender-based violence have long been used as tools of war to sow terror in communities. Now, Estefania Rivera Guzman, a researcher at the Observatory, is concerned that the strategic targeting of women could be on the uptick.


So far in 2020, the group has registered 445 cases of femicide, up from 431 cases across the same period in 2019. The numbers recorded in September were more than double levels witnessed earlier this year.


Since September, women’s rights leaders have also noted another disturbing development: As armed groups clash in rural areas and exploit vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic to increase child recruitment, there has been a spike in the number of women and girls killed by firearms.


In recent weeks, one man pleaded guilty to beating and stabbing a woman who rejected his sexual advances, throwing her into the western Cauca River where her body was found floating.


Near Tumaco, armed men reportedly stopped and shot up the car of a local women’s and Indigenous rights leader.


And in the central town of Segovia, one 14-year-old girl was reportedly killed by a hitman and, a day after being buried, her body was found unearthed and naked in the cemetery.


“It’s these acts of violence that are so extreme that they send a message,” Rivera Guzman said. “And the message isn’t just for women, but also for the men who live in the zone, and it’s: Who has the power?”


While officials in Segovia said they “reject all violent acts” against women and girls and police say they are investigating the crime, the majority of femicides in the country end in impunity.


In Tumaco, Estacio and other observers say women are often too scared to report gender-based violence because men working with armed groups camp outside government offices where women would normally report.


Economic distress


Meanwhile, the economic fallout caused by the pandemic and the lockdowns has disproportionately affected women, putting them at heightened risk.


Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Colombia had one of the highest economic gender gaps in Latin America. In recent months, female-dominated industries like tourism and the service sector have taken severe hits.


In August, the unemployment rate for women was 21.7 percent, and the unemployment rate for men was 31.4 percent, according to the most recent government data.


Estacio said women in her community who would normally support themselves by working informally and selling street food were left with no income, as work dried up amid the lockdown.


It has stripped at-risk women of “economic autonomy”, explained Carolina Mosquera, researcher at the Bogota-based think-tank, Sisma Mujer. And with it, their ability to escape from an abusive situation that could escalate to something as extreme as femicide.


In one recent case, a woman called the organisation’s domestic abuse helpline, and they worked to get her out of her home where she was being abused by her husband. Hours later, when they called back, she told aid workers she could not leave because she was surviving off her husband’s salary.


When they tried to follow up “she simply stopped answering.”


“It’s a loss of 10 years of work toward gender equality because women are returning to these patriarchal spaces,” Mosquera said. “It brings us back to this old dynamic of the man as the provider and the woman who cares for the home.”


The pandemic left more than 15,000 women in Colombia at extreme risk of femicide, according to the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Science. Similar upticks have been seen in other Latin American countries like Guatemala and Mexico.


While local and national governments attempted to respond to the violence, setting up resources like local and national domestic violence attention lines, critics have said it is not enough and that women lack effective judicial resources.


Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office, which oversees the protection of human rights, declined to comment, saying that due to lack of state presence caused by the pandemic, they haven’t been able to officially register the femicides.


“A line doesn’t guarantee access to justice, to a restitution of their rights. No, a call is just a call.” Mosquera said. “This effort by the government falls short compared to the volume of cases, killings and violence we’ve seen in the pandemic.”

Photo: Women protest against violence against women with a sign reading ‘Sexual violence as a war weapon still exists in Colombia’ in Medellin, Colombia, on June 19, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic [Photo by Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP]

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WORLD: Displaced and stateless women and girls at heightened risk of GBV in the coronavirus pandemic

UNHCR (20.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2XTxKVi – Around the world COVID-19 is taking lives and changing communities but the virus is also inducing massive protection risks for women and girls forced to flee their homes, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Gillian Triggs, warned today.


“We need to pay urgent attention to the protection of refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls at the time of this pandemic. They are among those most at-risk. Doors should not be left open for abusers and no help spared for women surviving abuse and violence,” said Triggs.


Confinement policies, lockdowns and quarantines adopted across the world as a response to the pandemic have led to restricted movement, reduced community interaction, the closure of services and worsening socio-economic conditions. These factors are significantly exacerbating the risks of intimate partner violence.


“Some may end up confined to their shelters and homes, trapped with their abusers without the opportunity to distance themselves or to seek in-person support.”


“Others, including those without documentation or those who have lost precarious livelihoods, as a result of the economic devastation that COVID-19 has inflicted, may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families. Within the household, many women are also taking on increased burdens as caregivers.”


For survivors of violence and those at-risk, the consequences of COVID-19 also mean limited access to life-saving support, such as psycho-social, health and security services. Imposed mobility restrictions and containment measures make it difficult for women to access help while some services, including safe shelters, have been temporarily suspended, re-purposed or closed.


“Globally, our network of UNHCR protection staff are on high alert. Our life-saving programs for women and girls subjected to violence are being adapted where possible. In some locations they are now being managed remotely by social workers with the support of trained community volunteer networks,” said Triggs.


Displaced women themselves remain involved at the forefront of the response, informing their communities about the risks of violence and providing information on prevention and protective health measures. They are also supporting survivors to access available, specialized support.


UNHCR is also distributing emergency cash assistance to support survivors and women-at-risk. Action is also being coordinated across the humanitarian sector to ensure the risks of sexual and gender-based violence are mitigated throughout all sectoral interventions, including but not limited to the emergency health response.


“To preserve lives and secure rights, Governments, together with humanitarian actors, must ensure that rising risks of violence for displaced and stateless women are taken into account in the design of national COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery plans,” said Triggs.


This means ensuring critical services for survivors of gender-based violence are designated as essential and are accessible to those forcibly displaced. These include health and security services for survivors, psycho-social support services and safe shelters. Access to justice for survivors must also not be diminished.


Given the deteriorating socio-economic conditions now facing many refugee host countries, support from donors will be critically needed to preserve the operations of essential gender-based violence prevention and response services, including those provided by local, women-led organizations.


“All women and girls have the right to a life free from all forms of violence. We must stand with displaced and stateless women and girls as we reiterate the Secretary General’s message and urge all governments to put all women and girls’ safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”

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FRANCE: Paris protesters march against deadly domestic violence towards women

By Angela Charlton and Thibault Camus


TIME (23.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2DhnRW8 – Several thousand protesters marched through Paris on Saturday to demand a national wake-up call and more government investment to prevent deadly domestic violence against women, a problem that President Emmanuel Macron calls “France’s shame.”


A wave of purple flags and signs snaked from the Place de la Republique through eastern Paris amid an unprecedented public campaign to decry violence against women — and honor the 130 women that activists say have been killed in France this year by a current or former partner. That’s about one every two or three days.


While France has a progressive reputation and pushes for women’s rights around the world, it has among the highest rates in Europe of domestic violence, in part because of poor police response to reports of abuse. Many of the women killed this year had previously sought help from police.


At Saturday’s march, French film and TV stars joined abuse victims and activists calling for an end to “femicide.” Many held banners reading “Sick of Rape.”


The protest came on the U.N.’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and is aimed at pressuring the French government before it unveils new measures Monday to tackle the problem.


The measures are expected to include seizing firearms from people suspected of domestic violence and prioritizing police training so they won’t brush off women’s complaints as a private affair.


Some of Saturday’s marchers want 1 billion euros in government investment, though the funding is expected to fall far short of that.


French activists have stepped up efforts this year to call attention to the problem, with an unusual campaign of gluing posters around Paris and other cities every time another woman is killed. The posters honor the women, and call for action. They also hold protests, lying down on the pavement to represent the slain women.


A 2014 EU survey of 42,000 women across all 28 member states found that 26% of French respondents said they been abused by a partner since age 15, either physically or sexually.


That’s below the global average of 30%, according to UN Women. But it’s above the EU average and the sixth highest among EU countries.


Half that number reported experiencing such abuse in Spain, which implemented a series of legal and educational measures in 2004 that slashed its domestic violence rates.


Conversations about domestic violence have also ratcheted up in neighboring Germany, where activists are demanding that the term “femicide” be used to describe such killings.


In France, lawyers and victims’ advocates say they’re encouraged by the new national conversation, which they say marks a departure from decades of denial. Women aren’t the only victims of domestic violence, but French officials say they make up the vast majority.

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New push to pass domestic-violence law angers Russia’s ‘traditional values’ conservatives

By Maria Karnaukh & Robert Coalson


RFE/RL (20.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2QVG43D – At a time when alarming cases are drawing attention to domestic violence in Russia, activists are pushing — again — for a law that would criminalize it. Conservative groups are pushing back.


Russia is the only country in the Council of Europe that has no criminal statute on domestic violence. Of the 47 member states, only Russia and Azerbaijan have failed to sign the 2011 Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence.


More than 40 times over the last decade, bills on domestic violence have been introduced in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, but none of them has passed even the first reading.


In each instance, the efforts have met staunch resistance from socially conservative organizations and self-professed advocates of so-called traditional values. That history is now repeating itself as activists and their allies in the Duma prepare yet another bill seeking to address the persistent problem.


“They have tried to foist this law on us several times already,” said Olga Letkova, an activist with the Association of Parents’ Committees and Societies (ARKS), which has organized demonstrations against the draft bill. “The last time we fought them was in 2016 – back then, experts and the public and the Russian Orthodox Church came out against it. We hope that this time we will again be able to beat back this assault.”


In 2016, a section on “domestic battery” was added to a broader article of the Russian Criminal Code – but it was removed six months later. Under amendments to the Administrative Code in 2017, a first instance of domestic battery that does not result in lasting harm is punishable by a fine of 5,000 to 30,000 rubles ($80 to $480), and a second offense within one year by a fine up to 40,000 rubles or up to three months in jail.


At the time, Amnesty International called the decriminalization “a sickening attempt to further trivialize domestic violence” in Russia.


Now, Oksana Pushkina, a Duma member from the ruling United Russia party and deputy chairwoman of the legislature’s Committee on Families, Women, and Children who is a co-author of the latest bill, has complained to law enforcement authorities that she and her co-authors have been targeted by threats on social media.


Pushkina also alleged that a “well organized and financed campaign” had been launched against the nascent proposal, which she compared to a sometimes-violent campaign conducted in 2017 against the film Matilda, which social conservatives said demeaned Crown Prince Nicholas – later, Tsar Nicholas II – by detailing his affair with a half-Polish ballerina.


‘Gender ideology’


In October, more than 180 “traditional values” organizations and their regional branches signed an open letter denouncing the proposed bill as a purported product of “gender ideology” and an “instrument for the fundamental and forcible alteration of the basic foundations of Russian society and the destruction of our traditional family and moral values.”


“In many countries where they have such a law, single-sex marriages and gay parades are allowed,” said Andrei Kormukhin, the leader of a Russian Orthodox public movement called Forty Forties (Sorok Sorokov), named after the legendary number of churches in Moscow before the 1917 revolution. “Why should our conservative-traditional country — which, according to our leader, has its own, unique civilization — adopt foreign values?”


Kormukhin, who has been advocating against the proposed bill, added that the very term “family violence” casts aspersions on the image of the family, “the safest and most peaceful space within our society.”


But the government’s own, incomplete information offers a counterpoint to Kormukhin’s characterization of the Russian family. In 2012, the state statistics agency Roskomstat and the Health Ministry issued a study that found at least 20 percent of Russian women had experienced physical violence on the part of a husband or partner during their lives. In 2008, the Interior Ministry estimated that up to 40 percent of all serious violent crimes in Russia are committed within the family.


In 2016, the Interior Ministry reported that 64,421 violent offenses were committed within the family, with 29,465 of them committed against a spouse or partner. In the vast majority of those cases, the victim was a woman.


Underreported crimes


Activists add that the actual figures on domestic violence are likely much higher because such crimes are significantly underreported — and when they are reported, police often refuse to file a complaint.


The problem of domestic violence has broken into Russian headlines in several stunning cases in recent months. In St. Petersburg, a prominent historian has confessed to killing his girlfriend – a former student of his – and dismembering her body.


In Moscow, three teenage sisters are currently facing premeditated murder charges for killing their father in July 2018 after what they say was years of domestic abuse, including sexual abuse and humiliation.

In July, a man in the Moscow suburb of Ramenskoye killed his partner, Natalya Basova, by stabbing her 20 times at a playground in front of a group of children, including her own 5-year-old daughter. The accused man reportedly committed suicide while being held in pretrial detention.


In Moscow, 27-year-old Dmitry Grachyov was sentenced to 14 years in prison in November 2018 after being convicted of abducting his wife, taking her into a forest outside the capital, and cutting off both her hands with an ax. He was also ordered to pay his now ex-wife 30,000 rubles ($480) in compensation for “moral damages.”


The Russian Orthodox opposition to the proposed law is organized around a website called CitizenGo, where more than 18,000 people have signed an online petition against the law, saying it is “based on the radical ideology of feminism.”


The website – which also features material opposing abortion, vaccinations, and rights for sexual minorities – is part of a network of similar websites across the European Union and the United States that originated in Spain. The Russian platform is financially supported by Konstantin Malofeyev, the so-called Orthodox oligarch who is also the founder of the nationalist-monarchist Internet television channel Tsargrad.


Malofeyev has also worked actively throughout the former Soviet Union with the World Congress of Families (WCF), a U.S.-based organization that campaigns internationally against same-sex marriage, pornography, and abortion. In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center added the WCF and several affiliated groups in the United States to its list of “anti-gay hate groups.”


Conservatives object to the draft bill’s inclusion of several forms of domestic violence — including physical, psychological, economic, and sexual.


“Under ‘economic’ violence, they include failure to give money or things,” Letkova said. “For example, taking away a device from a child or not allowing him to go online. Not to mention making children do household chores, which is considered ‘exploitation.'”


False claims


Supporters of the bill categorically reject such arguments, which they say are intended to frighten and mislead the public.


“[The law is written to prevent] someone from tormenting a child with hunger or taking away a pensioner’s pension,” said Alyona Popova, a lawyer and activist who is helping draft the bill. “If your child is fed and healthy and properly clothed but you refuse to buy him a toy, that is not violence.”


Lawyer Mari Davtyan added that opponents of the bill are spreading false claims that the measure includes provisions allowing the state to take children away from their families for spurious reasons. She emphasized the law does not include any changes to the current Family Code of Russia.


Letkova also claims the bill institutionalizes “free sex.”


“According to the authors of the law, married people preserve the right to have sex with anyone they want and no one has the right to interfere or criticize them,” she told Current Time. “And this includes children. If they want to start an early and reckless sex life, the parents have no right to interfere.”


Davtyan says that Letkova was misinterpreting the law, quipping that “everyone understands sexual freedom within the context of their own depravity.”


“Sexual freedom is the right of every person who has reached adulthood to independently decide whether to have sex,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if we are talking about within marriage or outside it, sexual relations must be consensual.”


Letkova also alleges that activists are pushing the law in order to make money for themselves. She said if the law is passed, NGO representatives will go “door-to-door” looking for cases of domestic violence and offering their services.


“These organizations will force rehabilitation, consulting, and other services on these families to resolve the problems that they uncover,” Letkova said. “It is obviously a type of business, a new niche that they want to create and exploit.”


On November 17 hard-line conservative and staunchly anti-Western television commentator Dmitry Kiselyov ended his weekly news round-up with an unsparing attack on those who argue that domestic violence is somehow essential to Russian culture.


“Can it be that we are so spiritually helpless that we justify violence toward those who are clearly weaker?” he said. “We ourselves choose the emotional world in which we want to live, so what is our choice?”


However, Kiselyov stopped short of endorsing the proposed law, saying the state of “the morals inside us” was “much more important” than any law. He cited the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, as saying that “external laws do not work if there are no internal laws.”


ECHR ruling


The authors of the bill say they have submitted the draft to various legal bodies within the Federation Council and the Duma and are now in the process of adopting their suggested changes. They plan to submit the measure formally by the end of the year.


“All of us – those who support the bill and those who have come out against it – want the same thing,” lawyer Valeria Dergunova, a co-author of the bill, told Current Time, a Russian-language television network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. “We want there to be no violence in the home. We want for women, children, and the elderly not to be beaten. Let’s work out a mechanism together to really make this impossible.”


Pressure on Russia to adopt a law was increased in July when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian authorities do not react adequately to allegations of domestic violence and instructed Moscow to adopt legal changes to prevent rights violations.


However, on November 19, Kommersant and other Russian media outlets reported that the Justice Ministry had responded to the ECHR by saying the scope of the domestic violence problem in Russia had been “rather exaggerated” and arguing that Russia’s Criminal and Administrative codes already “contain more than 40 criminal and at least five administrative articles dealing with acts of violence against individuals.”

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