Thanks to a survey commissioned by the European Parliament, we now have an overall X-ray of the levels of violence suffered by women throughout Europe. The data constitute a sharp reminder of a reality that ought to be changing more quickly. Some 33 percent of European women have at some time experienced physical and/or sexual violence, 22 percent have been beaten by their partner, and 5 percent have been raped. These facts appear in a survey carried out by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency among 42,000 women, based on 1,500 interviews in each of the 28 member countries. There is no doubt, then, as to the reliability of the data. The result indicates the long road that remains to be travelled, particularly in view of the fact that 67 percent of women mistreated by their partners never tell anyone about it.
Notable amid the abundant information produced by the survey is the existence of surprising differences that shatter certain clichés about North and South. Specifically, the northern countries are found to have a much higher rate of domestic violence than those in the south. While in Finland, for example, some 47 percent of women have suffered physical or sexual violence, in Spain the figure is 22 percent. And while in countries such as Denmark and Sweden the percentage of women who say they have been abused by their partner fluctuates around 30 percent, in the southern countries it is around 20. Among these, Spain, at 13 percent, is one of the countries with lowest rates of abuse by the partner.
The road to equality, far from being peaceful, grows more problematical
It might be thought that these differences are due to a greater sensitivity to violence on the part of women who live in more egalitarian societies; but this, it seems, is not the case. Precisely to avoid the bias deriving from differences of perception, the survey was so designed that the women did not have to use this adjective or the other to describe the aggression, but rather answered a set of concrete, detailed questions, such as had they been slapped by their partner, had someone touched their breasts or other parts of their body without their consent, had they received pornographic photos from bosses or fellow workers with sexual propositions, etc.
It is plausible that the differences are due to diverse factors. For example, that in countries where equality policies have been in effect for longer periods of time, women more often enter into confrontation with men, or that southern women’s greater resignation to maintaining unequal relations, for religious or cultural reasons, and their lower degree of professional promotion, may tend to keep them out of direct conflict with men. In any case the statistical result is there, and the present task is one of interpreting the information, which includes data as relevant as the fact that 75 percent of women at higher professional levels have suffered sexual harassment on the job. This and other aspects suggest that the road to equality, far from being peaceful, grows more problematical the further we move along it. This should lead us, not to desist from the endeavor, but to intensify specific measures of prevention, with special incidence in the field of education.