IN the last few weeks the Spanish media has been full of the miraculous tale of a five-year-old daughter who saved her mother’s life with a hug.
It came after the girl’s mother was attacked by her husband with a knife in the family home near Valencia.
Having witnessed the row, the child, Trini hugged her mother round the neck to stop the attack which by chance also stemmed the bleeding of a neck wound that later needed 27 stitches.
Trini had inadvertently saved her mother’s life and the aggressor has thankfully now been arrested and faces a long prison sentence. However it was not the first time that her husband had attacked his wife.
It emerged she had tried several times to leave him, but always went back.
She has no job, cannot pay the rent, and has six children in her charge.
Sadly, her story is not all that uncommon.
Every week at least one woman dies at the hands of her partner in Spain.
Last year, 840,000 Spanish children witnessed violence against their mothers.
Most shockingly, only a quarter of the women who end up being murdered by their partners ever report their attacker for abusive behaviour.
There are often a number of reasons behind this but the silence that surrounds this abuse is one of the things that makes it harder to combat.
In a speech made in 2001, a representative from the Spanish Women’s Institute insisted: “The women who report this violence will have gone through an extremely anxious process.
“There is a terrible conflict between staying quiet, so as not to lose their livelihood and social status, and speaking out, which will mean starting afresh, where their dependence on the attacker will be replaced by a heavy dependence on social welfare.”
Every year thousands of women stay in abusive relationships in Spain, many because they believe they simply have nowhere else to go.
Fortunately, in recent years there has been a marked increase in awareness of the problem leading to more public concern.
But it has not stemmed the tide, and flies in the face of government efforts to tackle the ugly blight.
Around 400,000 women in Spain are estimated to be suffering abuse from their partners, and 1.5 million have been victims of domestic violence at some time in their lives.
Part of the problem is the image of women in Spanish society in general.
Spain is the country that coined the word ‘machismo’ — male chauvinism — and has long held a reputation as an ultraconservative and male-dominated society.
When other parts of Europe and the United States were witnessing the height of the sexual revolution, Spain was just emerging from a 40-year-long dictatorship and a legal system that did not recognise rights for women.
Older generations of Spaniards can still recall life under General Franco, when woman were not allowed to open a bank account, apply for a passport or even sign a contract without a husband’s permission.
During this time domestic violence was dismissed as a ‘crime of passion’ and the standard response was to turn the other cheek.
It was not until the 1980s that Spanish women actually gained rights and even then society was slow to catch on.
It took something drastic for gender violence to really burst into the public’s awareness.
It came in 1997 when a 60-year-old woman named Ana Orantes appeared on television and spoke candidly of decades of brutal beatings she had suffered at the hands of her husband.
She had tried in vain to get a restraining order despite dozens of complaints to the police and eventually decided to go public.
But just days after the show was aired Orantes was killed by her husband who doused her with petrol and set her alight.
The incident quite rightly shocked the nation into doing something.
And six years later, the new socialist government made tackling violence against women a priority.
Upon taking office in 2004, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero launched a crusade against domestic violence stating that it was Spain’s ‘worst shame’ and an ‘unacceptable evil.’
He appointed equal numbers of men and women to his cabinet, rules restricting divorce and abortion were loosened and crucially Spain overhauled its laws to make it easier for victims of gender violence to seek legal redress.
Yet, despite these advances the problem of gender violence is not going away.
Since the country began compiling statistics in 2003 it has recorded 605 deaths from domestic violence.
In what has since become known as ‘Black Tuesday,’ four women were actually killed by their partners on the same day in 2008.
Figures reveal 60 women died at the hands of their partners in Spain in 2011.
This marks a slight drop from 2010 when 73 women died — roughly one every five days.
This year, the figure is expected to be around the same, which is thankfully lower than back in the UK where it is estimated around two women die every week from domestic violence.
Meanwhile, countless more are continuing to live with violence. “Fatalities are sadly only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much violence actually takes place, and never even gets denounced,” explains Teresa Cavanna, a lawyer specialising in domestic violence and family issues.
“Changing laws does not solve the problem of malfunctioning courts,” she adds, “nor does it change overnight attitudes in a society where the macho ideology is still firmly anchored and in which many judges have not come to accept how serious a problem domestic violence is.”
In fact a survey carried out last year revealed that 80 per cent of young people in Spain agree that it is reasonable to expect a woman to satisfy a man’s desires.
And 1.4 per cent of Spaniards still believe domestic violence is justified in certain situations.
Moreover the problem is not limited to Spain.
According to a report published by the Council of Europe in March 2010, domestic violence is on the rise in all levels of society in the developed world.
It is a problem that will not go away over night.
But according to Inmaculada Montalban from the Gender Violence Observatory: ‘education is the vaccine against violence.’
If enough light is shone on the issue people will begin to take note and attitudes will change.
One thing is for sure, as stated by Ban Ki- Moon, UN Secretary-General: “There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”
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