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Spain Targets Male Attitudes in Fight Against Gender Violence

Gender violence continues to run rampant in Spain as more women demand protection, acknowledgment, and advocacy from their government.

On a Sunday in August in Galicia, northern Spain, a 41-year-old man named José Enrique Abuín, also known as “El Chicle” or “Chikilín,” told his wife that he was going out to steal some diesel. At around 2am, he forced 18-year-old Diana Quer into his car and murdered her.

The investigation into this case, which is still underway, has sparked a debate on the country’s long-standing problem of machismo, forcing Spain to rethink what gender violence means.

Spain saw 49 women killed in 2017 at the hands of their partners without taking into account several cases which are still under investigation – an increase of two deaths compared with the previous year. An additional 40,000 women were victims of gender violence.

While Ms. Quer’s case until recently wasn’t considered gender violence under the Spanish law because the murderer wasn’t her partner, that has changed under Spain’s historic 1 billion euro landmark deal, a five-year program. It includes 200 measures, such as early detection protocols and education programs at schools. One of the most important parts of the document is article 1, which includes a definition of what gender violence constitutes.

Women protesting domestic gender violence
Women gather to protest as domestic violence runs rampant in Spain as the country grapples with the problem and tries to ensure greater protections for victims. Photo: AFP

“It is important to include [Diana Quer’s] case as constituting gender violence because it reflects how important it is for the government to dispose of the right tools to eradicate this kind of violence,” Angeles Carmona, President of the Observatory against Gender Violence, told The Globe Post.

Ms. Carmona, who contributed to the deal, pointed out that Spain’s legislation against gender violence has fortunately gone a long way, but highlighted that more work needs to be done to eradicate deep-rooted machismo in Spanish society.

It has been over a decade that Spain introduced gender violence courts. The country has implemented a comprehensive strategy, coordinating different private and public institutions. A year ago, Spain elected a Parliament with a record-breaking number of women, 139 of 350 lawmakers. The center-right government of Mariano Rajoy, which came into power in December 2011, has been trying to shed Spain’s reputation as a traditional and male-dominated society.

“But part of the problem is trying to solve a problem when it no longer can be solved,” Miguel Lorente, a former government representative on gender violence, pointed out. “There should be a pact against machismo, not against gender violence, just like we have made a pact against terrorism, not against violence caused by terrorism.”

Spanish courts passed 47,175 sentences against male aggressors in 2016 – of which 31,232 were deemed guilty and 15,943 were aquitted – and over 28,000 women received protection.

Spain gender violence machismo protest
Activists accuse rampant machismo to be the driving force behind the large number of murders and domestic assaults taking place in Spain. Photo: ÁLVARO GARCÍA

Over 15,000 women abandoned legal proceedings before the final ruling and only 36.6 percent of women killed had previously denounced their attacker. Efforts to protect women who have denounced their attackers has fallen below expectations. For example, 20-year old Andrea Carballo who was killed in the hands of her 29-year old ex-partner Víctor Llorens in Benicássim, had denounced him 10 days before the murder. But the case was deemed of “medium” risk for the victim.

While acknowledging that gender inequality between men and women perpetuates gender violence, Mr. Lorento also said violence could be increasing because women’s economic empowerment is making males feel threatened, and highlights that targeting changing attitudes among men is key.

Spain’s Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality  did not respond to requests for comment.

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