Banner showing number of wives murdered in Spain due to domestic violence © Andreas Drouve (KNA)
Domestic violence remains a major ie in Spain. Many women are still killed by partners and ex-partners. But society, politics and the church are sensitized and want to combat the phenomenon more strongly.
It is an oppressive duty that Fernando Gutierrez, head of the Provincial Council of Leon, must fulfill day after day. On the website of Spain's Ministry of Social Affairs, it reviews the latest count of female fatalities from domestic violence in the country.
The saddest balcony in Spain
Then, if necessary, he updates the number on a banner and hangs it back in its place: a balcony of the Renaissance Guzmanes Palace, seat of the provincial parliament in the middle of Leon. This makes the balcony the saddest in Spain – but it is important, as a signal, as a reminder.
In a country long dominated by machismo, where until a few decades ago women had to ask their husbands for permission to open a bank account, some men can't cope with the advance of the opposite sex.
Throughout the country and across all social strata, abuse by former or current partners – including homicide – occurs again and again. As of November, there have already been 43 female fatalities this year, a total of 971 since 2003.
Society and politics are reacting to this in an increasingly sensitized and offensive manner. Platforms and women's organizations have formed against machismo, demonstrations occasionally occur, a banner on the subject is emblazoned between the market halls of Santiago de Compostela.
At entrances to provincial capitals such as Vitoria (Basque Country) and Pamplona (Navarre), but also in smaller towns, signs point to a zero-tolerance attitude toward domestic violence; in the same vein, sculptures of red hands at popular festivals in Navarre symbolize the abhorrence of macho excesses. For potential perpetrators, the message should be unmistakable: even minor aggression is not a trivial offense. The emergency number 016, set up specifically for victims of gender-based violence, is available around the clock.
Regional help centers of the church
Spain's church does not have a united campaign against domestic violence, says Maria Carmen Ramirez of the press department of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, but there are regional help centers and programs for women: a total of 102 throughout the country. According to the latest statistics, there have been around 22.300 women assistance, reception, accompaniment, psychological and legal support. Women are not only affected by beatings, but also by social exclusion, sexual and other exploitation.
A look at the regions is revealing. Andalusia, where southern machismo has traditionally been particularly pronounced, has the highest number of people seeking advice and help (6.023). And sparsely populated regions such as Galicia (3.414) and Aragon (2.375) outnumber – in relation to population density – the million-strong Madrid metropolitan area (2.512) by lengths. Which leads to the conclusion that Spain still has an extreme machismo problem, especially in rural areas.
The Castilla-La Mancha region launched a pioneering law in Spain in October that focuses on other victims of domestic violence who have often been overlooked: the children of women who have been killed. They will now receive until 18. The church also provides a state subsidy of 4.000 euros per year.
At the same time, secondary schools in the region have been given a two-year deadline to introduce a new compulsory school subject with content on equality, women's lib and the prevention of domestic violence. If Spain tackles the root of the problem and educates the public, it is to be hoped that the numbers on the billboard at Guzmanes Palace in Leon will eventually reach "0". There is still a long way to go.