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Address by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Head of Spanish Government, at the solemn ceremony to launch the Council of Europe campaign to combat violence against women

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Address by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Head of Spanish Government, at the solemn ceremony to launch the Council of Europe campaign to combat violence against women

Senate, 27 November 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Spain,

My first words must be words of sorrow, in homage to Concepción Pérez Prieto, who died yesterday in Almansilla (Seville) at the hands of her ex-husband. In remembering her now, I should like also to honour the memory of the 61 other women who have been murdered so far this year in our country, victims of gender violence. Events like the conference that brings us here today are of the utmost importance if these women’s deaths are to serve as a permanent warning to our societies, if their ultimate sacrifice is not to have been in vain, if their deaths are to be an incentive to all public authorities in the common effort to put a stop to this intolerable violence.

For this reason I should like to thank the Council of Europe for setting the campaign to combat violence against women in motion. This campaign is the latest in a series of pioneering steps the Council of Europe has taken since the 1990s to protect women’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

In congratulating the Council of Europe, I congratulate all its European member states. By giving this campaign our support we are making the firm commitment that we will use our laws, our policies and our actions to achieve its aim.

I congratulate the men and women of Europe on their growing awareness of the serious consequences of this violence, and on the wind of change that these initiatives announce.

Let me also express our country’s gratitude – it goes without saying – at having been chosen to host the launch of this campaign. We are proud that Europe has chosen to honour Spanish society and its efforts to be fairer towards women in this way. Experience has taught us that only by organising our life together in a more equitable and egalitarian way can we be truly free, because in acknowledging an individual right we gain a right for society as a whole. Spain fully assumes the responsibility this entails.

In respect of this and other problems, our citizens have shown their determination to bring about the necessary changes to achieve a fully democratic society, in unison with the age we live in and the geopolitical place we occupy. The parity Government I lead thrives on this thirst for true democracy.

The everyday lives our women lead are a constant reminder of their resilience, their intelligence, their ability to cope and their sense of devotion. It is hardly surprising that Spain’s women are and always have been the prime movers in the struggle to win recognition for their rights and freedoms and in the promotion of gender equality.

This year Spain celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first day of October 1931, when Spanish women were granted the right to vote. Clara Campoamor, a member of parliament who never faltered in her struggle for political equality between women and men, played a unique role in this achievement and left us a message that we should remember every day: “we learn freedom by exercising it”.

Since those days life in Spain has undeniably come to accept the principle of equality between women and men. All over the world the acknowledgment of women as subjects of law has been a vital step, essential to the development of the democratic political system. We must realise, however, that while there is no doubt of this in theory, in practice we need to work hand in hand to eradicate this sad legacy of violence against women from the society we leave our children.

In the last decade of the 20th century various international organisations echoed the voices of women who spoke out against the violence perpetrated against them. In 1995 the United Nations Organisation acknowledged that violence against women was an obstacle to equality, development and peace, as well as a serious violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Since then we have come to understand more about this disgraceful phenomenon and to see it as the social scourge it is.

Eleven years have passed since then. The figures are as horrifying as ever, because every woman who dies is a life cut short and every woman harassed a reminder of how affection sometimes opens the door to repression and domination.

A society cannot consider itself just if there are women who live in fear of their own family members, or who suffer sexual harassment in the workplace. Fear and justice do not go together, for there is no freedom when fear obliges people to assume attitudes, positions or thoughts against their will, and a society that sits back while a number of its members live in fear is not a just society.

Fear, humiliation, pain and death are incompatible with a decent social project, i.e. a society that makes sure none of its members are humiliated, a society whose political action is geared to reducing pain and cruelty in the world.

We need to let women who live in fear, wherever they may be, know that society is with them, that what they are going through is not their fault, that it is not a private matter, that they have no reason to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. What is shameful is when society lives with this violence and looks the other way, brushing it off as a matter of tradition or custom, or even worse, justifying it as a form of love or desire to protect.

For society to perceive violence against women as a public rather than a private problem is a good start. The authorities must take action to prevent this violence, condemn those who perpetrate it and offer protection and recognition to the victims.

Europe must be a symbol of respect and solidarity, so that nobody feels that they do not belong, that no woman feels like a stranger in her own home, her family or her work, locked up in a space or in relationships where she feels unwelcome, or which cut her off and hurt her.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, as the Council of Europe rightly says, is one of the most serious forms of human rights violation. Gender violence is violence against women simply because they are women, exposing them to physical, sexual and psychological abuse in their families and at work.

For all these reasons we must see violence against women as a serious obstacle to freedom, for if there is no equality between women and men there can be no freedom in a democratic society. It is everybody’s duty to avert this danger that shatters the peace of some women and therefore of our societies. It is everybody’s duty. We men must be the first to reject violence as something natural in men, the first to see that masculinity is not synonymous with strength, violence, aggressiveness or scorn for women.

The effort to combat violence against women needs the active and determined support of men, and complicity between men and women to forge relations based on equality, relations which are just and dignified for all.

The social, cultural and economic complexity of gender violence calls for an approach that combines short-, medium- and long-term objectives. In the short term, policy should focus on the criminal aspects and put a stop to the murder of women by their partners or ex-partners. In the longer term, we must make sure that progress on gender equality prevents men from assuming positions of power and does away with the feelings of possession and dependence that characterise relations between some men and women.

In the case of Spain, I lead a government that has contributed significantly to bringing the problem of gender violence in our society out into the open. We have passed laws, allocated financial and human resources and set up the necessary institutional structures.

The Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence was a pioneering step in the development of legal, economic and penal instruments for the protection of women. This law, unanimously adopted, met with the approval of all the parliamentary groups because of its comprehensive nature and the clamorous pleas of a society that suffers with every woman who is threatened. Its passage through parliament, a fine example of co-operation and consensus, helped to fuel a social debate that removed the veils of social and cultural tolerance that used to conceal this problem.

The law is intended as a comprehensive response to gender violence, including prevention, treatment and repression. It accordingly contains provisions to teach certain values throughout the education process, values such as equality between women and men, equal dignity also, and dialogue as the only real means of settling disputes. It also contains standards for the media and advertising companies to observe, codes of conduct to help them avoid social stereotyping or the inappropriate portrayal of women’s image.

Other provisions seek to help and protect women victims of aggression, including specialised training for public servants (judges, police officers, doctors and other health professionals, or social workers) who come into contact with these women to offer them care, treatment or protection, so that the victims are not further humiliated by tactlessness on the part of the very people who are there to help them; measures also to protect their identity, their work, their economic resources and welfare, and to encourage them to seek justice, to report the facts bravely and with dignity, holding their heads high in front of the depraved individuals who torment them.

Needless to say, the law also contains criminal provisions which increase the penalties which await those who abuse their strength; provisions made more effective by the establishment of a network of specialised courts, tribunals and public prosecutor’s offices.

In the year and a half that has gone by since the law was enacted, its provisions have been implemented and constantly monitored to determine their efficacy, the results achieved and their social impact.

Special administrative bodies have been set up, such as the Government Delegation on Gender Violence. With the help and participation of experts and women’s associations, we have set up the State Observatory against Gender Violence. We have established forty courts to deal solely with this type of violence and another 419 have specialised in the subject, and the number of police officers working exclusively to assist victims and prosecute their aggressors has been increased by 88%, to a total of 1,395.

In this time over 35,000 protection orders have been issued and 5,000 women receive “tele-assistance”.

We have introduced the eleven-month Active Integration Benefit for women victims of aggression who have no income, which is extended for another three months if they have to move to a new place of residence.

In education the law has introduced content designed to teach our children equality, especially equality between women and men. Next month government departments active in the health sphere will be adopting a common protocol on medical treatment and health care for women victims of aggression.

Breaking an intolerable taboo, victims of gender violence have taken advantage of the new law and filed more than 150,000 complaints. One thing those of us in a position of authority must make quite clear, however, is that preventing violence and protecting women from it is not just the responsibility of the victims. We must all consider it our responsibility to report any aggression or any sign that a woman is being battered, hurt or downtrodden in her own home.

On 15 December this year the Government will approve the National Awareness and Prevention Plan on violence against women, which details new measures, new targets and new resources, all with the same unswerving aim in mind: to do away with a scourge that puts us all to shame.

We hope the day is not far away when no more women die at the hands of their partners, when no more women are threatened, when no more women feel abandoned by those around them, or unable to face up to their aggressors and report them. Until that day comes, we must continue our efforts to make equality between women and men a reality, aware of the importance of the role each and every one of us has to play. Any contribution is welcome, any initiative that contributes to respect between human beings brings the future a little closer.

Spanish society is committed to that future. We will soon be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the day in February 1937 when civil equality between women and men was officially introduced. The Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence and the Organic Law on Equality between Women and Men are part of our heritage and of what being a Spanish citizen stands for.

Spain is accordingly pleased and honoured to have been chosen to host the launch of the Council of Europe Campaign to combat violence against women. It is an acknowledgment of the effort Spanish society has made to guarantee all its members, regardless of their gender, full enjoyment of their civic rights and freedoms.

In a relatively short space of time Spain has indeed come a long way towards equal rights and respect for women. We have parity in our Government, and the most advanced laws; but gender violence continues, women continue to suffer and genuine equality is still a long way off. My final words today will therefore be a call for action. I urge the victims to report their aggressors, I entreat women to claim what is theirs and I encourage decent, law-abiding men and women together to wage and win this war – a just war if ever there was one – against gender violence.

Thank you.

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