It is estimated that up to 70 percent of women are the victims of violence at some point in their lives. It is a massive problem that governments are struggling to address, with help organisations calling for better prevention programmes and support services.
Governments are under pressure to tackle all kinds of gender-based attacks including domestic violence, but also rapes and sexual assaults and the likes of trafficking and forced marriages.
One place where the subject is high on the political agenda is Wales in the UK. The semi-autonomous government in Cardiff is vowing to take more action to help victims. A new law designed to specifically deal with violence against women is in the pipeline.
And there is no shortage of evidence that good support services are desperately needed.
Euronews was given permission to film inside a newly-built women’s refuge. The location is secret, with tight security to protect the women and families inside. There we met a woman forced to flee her family home.
“My health was deteriorating, my mental health was deteriorating, and I was at an all-time low, which lots of women are,” the woman told Right On. “Because you put up with mental cruelty, physical cruelty, being abused for such a long time that it drags you down to an all-time low. And if I hadn’t been able to come to the refuge, I don’t know, I would’ve most probably been long gone by now, because it can do terrible things with your mind and body and everything.”
This is one of a handful of shelters in Cardiff. Victims of violence are able to stay here in safety until long-term solutions are found. Refuges often provide communal living, but here there is room for up to 12 families in individual apartments.
Jane Currie, a refuge support worker, told Euronews: “When you have seven to ten families all living in one house, sharing one kitchen maybe, it can become a very volatile situation between mums and children and everything.
“And if you’re in that situation, home, which you’ve just fled, can become maybe a place to return to with your children, because you’re not sharing it with seven other families. So individual flats, purpose built, is the way forward.”
The Welsh government is currently reviewing submissions on its draft law, which is described as ground-breaking. The aim is to improve coordination across public sector services, with the appointment of an independent advisor. Services would also be strengthened and integrated, with professional training and public awareness boosted.
Charities are hoping that public bodies will have to follow rules on a minimum duty of care.
Right On’s Seamus Kearney reported: “Education is also part of the draft law. Primary schools would have to teach children about good and bad relationships. Secondary schools would go into more detail about the different kinds of violence and abuse.”
In these tough economic times, however, finding the money to help erase violence is more difficult. There is a constant battle over government priorities, and charities have a hard time keeping outside financial support. European legislation protecting victims’ rights comes into play in individual countries, and some state awareness campaigns are also co-funded by Brussels.
Help organisations can also apply for European funding, but many of them have to rely on local funding. While cutbacks in the UK start to be felt, women’s groups in Wales are hoping services there can be maintained.
Paula Hardy, the Chief Executive of Welsh Women’s Aid told Right On: “I think there’s always going to be tension between the amount of money that’s available and the services that are needed. And what we need to do is work together, to ensure that we’re looking at what the evidence is telling us, looking at where the need is and maximising those opportunities.
“And that’s about organisations coming together, working together to ensure that services are available that meet the needs of women and children that are living in Wales.”
That hope is echoed by victims who are thankful there was someone to turn to in times of crisis.
“Lots of women are abused, they’re beaten,” the anonymous resident of the refuge said. “Men sometimes do terrible things to them, and you can only take so much. And this place is a lifeline. You know, without this I would never have been able to do it, and I don’t think a lot of other women would’ve as well.”
Women campaigners are often questioned about domestic violence against men. They say it does exist, but the vast majority of victims of gender-based violence are female. This must be dealt with separately, they say, with more focus on where the need is greater.