Almost one in every two women in Europe (about 45%) will, during their lifetime, be subjected to some form of violence.

Between one fifth and one quarter are subjected to physical violence at least once in their lives. More than a tenth of all women have experienced sexual violence that includes force. This has been made clear in a report by the European Union published on 27 November, 2006, as part of an EU campaign meant to stop violence against women.

In spite of the fact that violence against women has recently attracted attention and condemnation in several reports and in the press as well as in various campaigns, it is still commonplace in all European countries.

Unlike the physical violence that is directed against men, the majority of the violence directed against women comes from men in their immediate social environment, most of the time from their present or ex-partners. The study also shows that society can only to a very small extent protect women in violent relationships or after finishing such a relationship.

In many European countries it is possible to issue a prohibition on a man visiting the woman, but it is often both expensive and difficult to get such an order. In Britain, for instance, it costs over 2,000 euros if you need assistance from a lawyer. In Germany and Austria, studies show that the police become less willing to issue a prohibition after having been called a second time to the same household – even though that actually indicates a greater level of violence. In many countries there is no police procedure to make sure that the issued prohibition is observed.

The violence experienced by women at the hands of men means much more serious and long-term problems for them than “just” the immediate physical wounds. Common health problems include psychosomatic disorders like chronic pains, eating problems, post-traumatic stress, phobias, depression and anxiety. Women who experience violence run a bigger risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol and psychopharmacological drugs. They need physiological help four or five times more often than normal. They are five times more likely than others to try to take their own lives. These are just some examples of a long list of consequences.

Violence against women has costs too, both in human suffering and economic costs to society. In several countries different attempts have been made to estimate the costs based on the expenses for the police, the judiciary, health service, social services and other costs. The figures vary between 2.4 billion euros in Spain and 34 billion euros in Britain.

The report stresses that violence against women is a problem for society. It is a step forward compared to earlier assumptions that violence within the family or partnership is a private matter. The strength of the study is that it shows how widespread men’s violence against women is - that it is very common and of the same character in all European countries.

The campaign in the European Union that will continue until 2008, will first and foremost seek better legislation. We can also hope that the campaign contributes to (once again) publicising men’s violence against women. The weakness is that there is no explanation as to why there is violence and how to fight it.

We can find the reason for violence in the idea of the social superiority of man compared with woman in class-divided society. We can see it in pay differences, the fact that women on average do a greater part of the unpaid work at home, that men play a bigger role in public life and in the power structure of society. The violence from men is connected with the idea of the role of the man being to take and keep control and dominance over the woman and her life.

The oppression of women is a part of the oppression inherent in class society. It helps maintain a system where a small minority take control of the labour of the great majority, men and women alike. A struggle against women’s double oppression is needed in order to abolish the violence. It is because of this that the struggle for higher pay and the building of a bigger and more effective public sector is connected with the struggle against the violence against women. A completely different society is needed, a society that is not based on impoverishment and oppression – a socialist society.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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