Spain seeks EU-wide lifeline for battered women
Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, aims to extend its system of emergency phones for abused women across the 27-nation bloc to curb domestic violence.Maria was beaten by her husband for years. Today, she has an emergency telephone just in case her ex gets too close.
"The last time I lived with that person, I didn't eat, I was locked in the dark, I couldn't get up from the sofa...
"I think it was then that I saw a light and I said to myself: 'I must get out of here.'"
She was speaking at a centre for battered women near the Spanish capital Madrid, where victims learn how to recover their self-confidence and their place in society.
Her ex-husband is barred from approaching her.
But Maria, aged around 50 and who spent 18 months at the centre with her daughter, still keeps the emergency phone beside her at all times "because if something happens, and you have the time to call, you get help almost immediately."
The system of emergency phones, with a special number for the abused women to call, is just one of a raft of innovative measures taken by the Socialist government in its fight to curb domestic violence.
Spain, which took over the rotating European Union presidency on 1 January, now hopes to extend that strategy and experience across the 27-nation bloc.
It introduced a law that came into force in 2005, the first of its kind in Europe, establishing special courts and treatment centres for female victims of domestic violence.
Three years later it passed a measure mandating that all men served with a restraining order by their former partners must be fitted with electronic tags that record their whereabouts.
It also set up a special phone number for men "to channel their aggression" by enabling them to speak to a counsellor.
The campaign has seen the number of women killed in Spain by their partner or former partner fall from 78 in 2008 to 55 last year, the lowest level since 2002 in a country known for its machismo culture and which had previously lagged behind its European partners on gender equality.
A 2006 study found that as many as 1.5 million Spanish women had been victims of domestic violence at least once in their lives.
In January, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a self-proclaimed "feminist", pledged before the European Parliament to advance gender equality in the EU and "eliminate the scourge of violence against women".
Specifically, Equality Minister Bibiana Aido has said the government plans to promote "the creation of a European observatory on domestic violence to gather information, create common tools and be able to make a global diagnostic of the situation."
She will present the initiative at a meeting of social affairs ministers in Brussels on 8-9 March.
Spain also hopes to establish a European system to protect the victims, so that protection measures continue to be applied when an abused person crosses European borders.
Another measure calls for the setting up of a single European telephone number that victims can call. Spain needs the formal support of five countries to launch that scheme.
So far, Spain has obtained the formal support of only three countries -- Portugal, Finland and Austria -- for the idea, a spokeswoman for the equality ministry told AFP. However, she added others were interested.
AFP / Virginie Grognou / Expatica