As long as the government follows an abusive logic, violence remains standard in the society as well
What can political decision makers do to eliminate violence against women? How did the government conclude the Year of Victim Assistance? During Mérce’s roundtable discussion on Wednesday organized within the 16 Days of Activism Kata Ámon, Fanni Dés and Barbara Tonté provided possible solutions related to the topic. Among other matters, they discussed the political climate which frames this problem, the question of prevention and discrimination against disadvantaged women. The event was moderated by our colleague, Orsolya Pósfai.
While the coronavirus pandemic dominated the media, many may have forgotten that in a Facebook video in January, Minister of Justice Judit Varga announced zero tolerance against violence against women and declared 2020 the Year of Victim Assistance. Although Varga’s announcements about this topic then and the government’s statements since have not emphasized it much, it is still an obvious fact that when it comes to domestic abuse, the victims are mostly women, and the perpetrators are men. According to the invited experts, the government purposefully disregards this detail, consequently worsening the situation of the victims.
According to NANE associate Fanni Dés, in order to be able to provide help tailored to their needs, it is important to emphasize that domestic violence affects women in a disproportional measure. The current system, however, only construes women in the context of family or motherhood, which has a negative impact on victim assistance. As associate of the municipality government of the 15th District Kata Ámon states, framing is important because without it, society cannot recognize an act of violence. Even if the sufferer understands that they are victims of domestic abuse, outside observers interpret the offense simply as a conflict between two equals.
She believes that people cannot recognize all types of domestic and intimate partner violence if the fact that it happens mostly to women is disregarded. By detaching the words ‘family’ and ‘woman’ from victim assistance, the government fails to help them effectively.
Education expert Barbara Tonté raises awareness of the unique situation of Roma women. Due to harmful representation in the media, women of the minority are viewed as members of a distinct race, this way they lose the empathy of society. The dehumanization of Roma women by the media is a peculiar case of gender-based discrimination, which needs to be dealt with separately.
During the conversation, the role of municipality governments in eliminating violence against women arose. Mayor of Ferencváros Krisztina Baranyi announced in January that she aims to help the victims of intimate partner violence by turning municipality housing into safe houses, an initiative which later the mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony joined, and there were numerous other actions that municipality governments started this year.
Kata Ámon revealed that in line with 16 Days of Activism, the municipality government in Rákospalota raised awareness to violence against women and the way abused women can get help with flyers and posters. Depriving municipality governments of resources raises a serious issue here, too, since the institutions which would be able to offer help cannot do so without financial support. Lack of communication also causes a problem, since the absence of an effective connection between child protection services, the police and social services oftentimes favours the perpetrators.
According to Fanni Dés, turning municipality housing into safe houses is a step in the right direction; however, few women can get to institutions in the current support scheme, and those who do often find it impossible to get back on their own feet later.
Victims usually end up in institutions with zero financial background, where they need to start a new life somewhere across the country. That is why many do not seek protection at safe houses, and due to the total lack of financial resources, they rather return to their perpetrators.
Within municipality governments there should be branches which specifically deal with the needs of abused women and can tackle their problems competently. Safe houses rarely react to complex needs, for example, problems with substance abuse, an issue that many victims who have suffered traumas deal with.
Barbara Tonté revealed that the majority of Roma women live in small towns and villages, where the role of municipality governments is much bigger. Here, women often only have the chance to work as public employees, which practically means that even if they speak up about the abuse, they have to report to their bosses that they are victims of domestic violence.
The so-called institutional betrayal is a phenomenon which is one of the systemic problems. When a victim turns to the authorities following an abuse, instead of help, they are frequently left with victim-blaming and accusations. According to Kata Ámon, this attitude is characteristic of the whole government.
“Government measures follow an abusive logic. How they speak about women and their political opponents, how they defame everyone, how they refuse to be frightened by anything, and how they are determined to obtain power at all costs.”
Perpetrators do the same, they want to exercise power no matter what. The harmful discourse in the political sphere sends a bad message, through which dehumanizing communication becomes standard. The government could help abused women, but instead they are putting on a show by speaking about victims through Facebook videos. Real help demands resources and central organizing power. Fanni Dés believes that the problem of violence against women is not part of the social discourse.
This way people can only see the reality of individuals instead of the systemic social inequality.
According to the invited experts, sexual education and the revision of gender roles in the educational system could help to prevent domestic violence. In the current school system, instead of educating, the national curriculum instructs about family life, while the system conserves gender roles and patterns brought from home. Dés emphasizes that for young people, porn is the primary source of sexual education, which remarkably merges with violence against women. There is no platform for young people to discuss relationship problems or sexual issues. According to Kata Ámon, the hierarchy of the educational system also has a negative effect on discourse. Questions remain unanswered behind the protective, romantic ideal of a family. The municipality governments cannot step up against the system of KLIK (Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre) in the given school districts.
“I’ve always felt that although I know how to solve a quadratic equation, we have never dealt with basic physicality.”
This is how Barbara Tonté illustrates the deficiency of the educational system. According to her, sexual education should be part of the basic curriculum, but this requires training the teachers first, to ensure they have appropriate professional background.
One of the most shattering topics of the discussion was the phenomenon of obstetric violence. Women bearing children encounter discrimination and often violence in health care. Barbara Tonté elaborates that Roma women have to endure shocking discrimination in hospitals, and the infrastructure prevents underprivileged families living in the countryside from getting appropriate medical attention. Tonté mentions many contentious proceedings initiated due to financially detrimental discrimination of women and their families when giving birth, violating their dignity or in extreme cases, their physical integrity. A case which has received the biggest public attention is that of a Roma woman’s, who underwent forced sterilization in 2001; however, verbal abuse is systemic and common in health care.
Women face obstetric violence in their most vulnerable state, and the victims regardless of their social background report verbal abuse or unnecessary medical procedures, which sometimes endanger their health. If the government’s goal truly is to raise the number of children, it should introduce welfare measures which favour everyone.
Plenty of articles which wanted to raise attention to the severity and the different types of violence against women appeared on Mérce during the 16 Days of Activism. The invited guests did not only talk about extreme cases, but also discussed systemic issues. As we approach the end of the Year of Victim Assistance, we have to realize that instead of actually helping the women in trouble, the government, for the sake of its own political strifes, rather introduces more and more measures which aggravate the life of victims.
(Translated by Gabriella Furik)