Feminist European Gathering Istanbul – June 30th, 2010

Workshop – Violence Against Women

Violence against Women is the skin, the muscles, the flesh and blood of the patriarchal and capitalist systems.

Gender Violence is a structural, transversal problem which is not limited to certain persons or regions. It occurs in the private sphere (domestic violence) and in the public sphere in many different ways (sexual harassment in the work place, women’s bodies as merchandise, trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriages, slavery, female genital mutilation, etc).

The tolerance and the persistence of this phenomenon of violence against women result from silence, discrimination, impunity and inequality in gender relations.

The patriarchal system demands submissive, resigned and passive women; patriarchy does not tolerate independent, fighter women, women freely living their sexualities or not fitting the roles society and tradition want to impose on them as good mothers, good wives, carers.

Extreme phenomena of violence in relationship, of violence in young university students’ relationships confirm the patriarchal root of sexist domination which is in the origin of gender violence and is independent of age or social status of aggressors and victims.

On the other hand, in a period of serious crisis of capitalism, women are the first to feel and live the pressure of the crisis, with all the sacrifices being put on their shoulders as if they were the first to give up or abdicate their rights in a process of a civilisation backlash at the work relations level, so that capitalist and patriarchal domination can survive in the middle of a torment created by the capitalism itself The attack to public services, their privatisation and the destruction of social services is everywhere and this generates a social environment that reinforces inequality and unbalance in gender relations. The actual situation of global crisis deepens gender inequalities and therefore, increases the features that are in the origin of gender violence.

The reinforcement of the mechanisms of war and occupation, camouflaged with a discourse of “defence of freedom and democracy” has brought hideous crimes of massive rapes of women and girls in regions and territories at war. The media reported real genocides in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ciudad Juarez (Mexico) and in so many other places in our planet; however impunity persists despite the innumerable existing mechanisms and instruments, which are predominantly only written in paper or appear in written documents as good intentioned measures.

While and if the patriarchal paradigm is not put at stake, no real fight against gender violence will be possible. Women do not want to be labelled as victims; they want to be free citizens. We refuse the fact that women who are victims of violence have to run away from their homes, while the aggressors remain living in the house where they have committed the crime of violence without suffering any type of punishment. With this the State gives a sign of collusion with the aggressors while the women and their children have to restart their lives, as if they had to pay for a crime they didn’t commit.

The State and the governments play contradictory roles; they make laws of protection, laws against violence, laws for equality, but as they are the representatives of patriarchy and capitalism they put themselves in contradiction to the laws and principles they claim to have created.

The role of women, through their individual resistance, or involved in associations, which defend women’s rights, or even involved in other social movements, is vital to change the situation.

We have to demand the States and the governments to admit their responsibility; demand public policies for the victims of violence, for trafficked girls and women, for minority groups of women, for rural women, for migrant women, for lesbians.

We are aware, as women and feminist collectives, this is a slow, persistent and long job, but it’s the only way to do it.

  1. To prevent violence since childhood in schools with non-sexist materials, activities, language and attitudes.
  2. Denounce and intervene in the media dismantling the sexist myths and stereotypes that the economic power and neoliberal order want to convey. Whenever possible we have to propose another not stereotyped vision of the world.
  3. To be attentive and not allow cuts to urgent services, follow up services, counselling and shelters for women and children victims of violence. The cuts in the budgets due to a financial crisis that is not our responsibility will cause less money and support to those social services, as it is happening with the public services.
  4. Demand those who have violent behaviours to be punished, regardless of being aggressors in the public or in the private sphere.
  5. Break silences, the weapon always used by patriarchy and capitalism to perpetuate gender violence.
  6. Give visibility to the victories, fights and resistance forms of the feminist movement, helping the empowerment of women, the link and solidarities with other social movements.
  7. Build alliances with other social movements, networking with groups of women and feminist associations therefore creating the platforms of work and mobilization to generate non-violence, anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal culture.


Resist, denounce, condemn, mobilize, prevent! These are the weapons that women use in order to break the existent paradigm of domination and sexist violence.

We recall the appeal of the Global Charter of Women for Humanity addressed to women, men, social movements, to individually and collectively, proclaim their power to change the world and make a complete change on the way they relate with each other, in order to build new relations based on Equality, Freedom, Peace, Solidarity and Justice.

And now, as a member of the Portuguese Coordinating Body of the World March of Women and as a member of UMAR, a Portuguese feminist association with 34 years of activism and reflection on several areas of the rights of women, namely on gender violence, please let me tell you in a few words some of our experience and situation.

As you certainly know, the 25th April 1974 was a historical date for the Portuguese people, since it put an end to 48 years of a fascist dictatorship and enormous social backwardness. The first years after the revolution brought big changes and advances on social rights. It’s important for you to know that before April 1974 the Portuguese women had to ask for their husbands’ permission to leave the country; or that their husbands were entitled to open their mail or agree with the women’s boss to break their work contract. Those real aberrations disappeared as the revolutionary process evolved, however and as an example, only in 1978 the figure of the “head of the family” (paterfamilias) disappeared. In Portugal, due to the weakness of women’s organizations, the issues of specific women’s rights started to have public visibility and enter the political agenda only in the middle of the 80s.

The first seminar on “Violence against Women” occurred in 1987 (IDM). The first law that guarantees protection of women victims of violence appeared in 1991, though it was never regulated. The first national study on violence was made in 1995 and the first National Plan against Domestic Violence is dated 1999. The first public shelter for women victims of violence appears in 2001 and is given to UMAR. It has been a very important and a precious source of experience and knowledge for our organization on gender violence activism and reflection. Today, there are 36 shelters at a national level.

Domestic violence becomes public crime in the beginning of the new century and in 2007 the crime of domestic violence is considered an autonomous crime. The second study on violence is also dated 2007 and includes women and men; the results of this study bring the discourse that men are also victims of domestic violence.

The 3rd. National Plan against Domestic Violence is running and the integral law that establishes the measures to prevent domestic violence, protection and aid to the victims was published in September 2009.

As you can see, the issue of violence and gender violence emerged, reached visibility and evolved in the Portuguese society in a very short period of time. The work of the women’s organizations and the activism of other social movements must be stressed. Without them and without their mobilization it would not have been possible to solve the problem of women being criminalized for having aborted (February 2007) or the recent law that allows marriage of homosexuals (May 2010).

In what concerns gender violence we think that the Portuguese State gave priority to creating and opening shelters instead of first line receiving centres, in other words it “hid” women instead of investing in prevention which allows the creation of conditions to prevent discrimination.

The governmental support to NGOs to create projects in this area was the consequence of EU directives and this is positive as it endorsed prevention actions at national level, but it has limitations i.e. the timings and financing.

In addition the work with the aggressors is still missing, when the separation measure is not applied. The State persists in not repressing the aggressor.

We have had laws and the government waves with “changes” whenever there is a new law, though those “novelties” were generally already foreseen in previous laws, but not applied! We can say there is a lack of coherence in the whole process.

This issue has been studied a lot at the universities in the last decade. Apart from the observatories, such as the Observatory of Murdered Women from UMAR, studies made on the receiving centres, assessments and statistics, we can say that our experience is based on a joint work of intervention and investigation. UMAR’s model of intervention is based on assistance centres, accompanying and monitoring.

Coming to a conclusion, we can say that the organizations have made an important learning process though the political measures to fight domestic violence are very recent in Portugal.

We end this presentation saying that in this area, as well as in many others, building a society that does not tolerate violence requires an articulation with the ones who have the technical skills, the activists and the social movements, namely the feminist movement. The World March of Women has a fundamental role in this as a feminist network, as it makes a joint work with other networks and activists, together with the production of critical reflection and the perspective of marching towards a fair and free of discriminations society.

Istanbul, June 30th, 2010

Almerinda Bento

Portuguese Coordination of the World March of Women