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Violence against Women

French groups say money is the key to eliminating violence against women

Women attend a gathering to protest femicides and violence against women at Saint-Michel fountain in central Paris to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2020.
Women attend a gathering to protest femicides and violence against women at Saint-Michel fountain in central Paris to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2020. REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES

To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, advocacy groups in France have held rallies and online campaigns. The French government says half of the measures promised in November 2019 have come into effect, but women’s groups say more money is needed to make meaningful long-term improvements.

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Women’s groups gathered at in central Paris on Wednesday to express their support for women and children who are victims of violence, a situation which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

In March-April, France saw a 42 percent increase in the number of police interventions, as well as a sharp rise in the number of calls registered by the help hotline 3919, and the online government platform, a trend which was repeated in countries around the world.

President Emmanuel Macron posted a message to women from his Twitter account on Wednesday, calling for them "not to stay alone" if they were victims of violence. He reminded them of the emergency numbers and websites put in place by the government and the ministry for equality.

In November last year, Macron’s government launched a major consultation with women’s groups, government bodies and local community organisations, in an effort to establish a strategy to eliminate violence against women, in line with key campaign promises.

Of 46 measures put forward, 23 have come into effect, 20 are in the process of being put in place, while three have not yet been activated, according to the Equality Minister Elisabeth Moreno.

Moreno says the government has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the budget allocated to dealing with domestic violence, including spending on the creation of 1,000 new places in emergency housing this year and more to come in 2021. But this is where women’s groups disagree.

"It’s true that most of the budget is going to emergency housing, but it’s still not enough. In reality, we’re still short 2,000 places, and even more if we wanted to respect our engagement made at the international Istanbul Convention," Anne-Cécile Mailfert from the Fondation des femmes told French media at the rally on Wednesday.

Mailfert does concede that there was a massive increase in public awareness and solidarity during the first lockdown period, and her organisation managed to collect more than 3 million euros in donations. But this is the momentum that they need to maintain.

Statistics show that there have been fewer deaths linked to domestic violence since the beginning of this year in France compared to 2019.

According to a tally established by the AFP news agency, there have been 70 confirmed femicides since the beginning of 2020, although the final figure could be higher as some cases are still under investigation.

This represents two times fewer femicides than in 2019, when official figures from the interior ministry reported 146 deaths, a 20 percent increase from 2018.

To explain this, Malifert says "for the first time in history, violence against women became a real priority for the police, for the justice system and for the budget".

She says the government prevention campaigns, the emergency procedures in courts, and an increase in police intervention has "saved lives, despite the rise in violence".

But, she believes that government priorities have shifted since the end of the first lockdown, taking away the sense of urgency, which she says could represent life or death for some women.

Hotline in jeopardy

One of the measures keenly defended by women’s groups is access to the 3919 hotline, which the government has proposed to extend to a 24/7 service and make it accessible to handicapped victims.

However, the government has also proposed opening up the hotline to competition through a public tender by July 2021.

This has provoked an angry reaction from women’s groups such as the National Federation of Women’s Solidarity (Fédération nationale Solidarité femmes) which has been managing the hotline since 1992.

Françoise Brié, director of the FNSF, says around 7,000 women were given counselling via this service each week over the lockdown period, a number which is around 350-400 per day at present.

Serious consequences

She is concerned the quality of the response to calls will not be the same and that the service will become a commercial enterprise rather than a human one.

"We’re happy that the line could be extended, especially in France’s overseas territories," she told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

"Taking it out of state control into the private sector means no longer having renewable annual contracts with objectives and a budget, which would normally be increased.

"Behind this number is a network of highly qualified people, which constitutes a basic premise for women’s rights. They are in touch with 73 organisations trained to help women. They are all motivated by the same goals. If you take this away, there will be serious consequences," she says.

 

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