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Some Thoughts on March 8

© Reuters/Hannibal

© Reuters/Hannibal

Anyone who wants to say something on International Women’s Day this year has to say something about what happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany. The massive sexual assaults on women in front of Cologne central station – and also in other German and European cities – were reported in various international media. And it is abominable! In Germany this topic is now almost only discussed in the context of “foreigners and women” or “Islam males and their image of women” and “what this means for Germany.” These are of course very important and worthy of debate in the light of the gigantic wave of refugees currently arriving in Germany.

What annoys many women in Germany is the way the discussion was narrowed down to focus on refugees. Sexual assaults and rape also happen too often in Germany year in, year out. Why is it that it only became a widely-discussed topic, when “Islamic men” were accused of harrassing German women? Where were men’s loud protests against the latent violence against women and girls in this country in the past years, for example on March 8?

Demonstration against sexism in commercial and media (2013, Berlin) © picture alliance/dpa/F. Schuh

Demonstration against sexism in commercial and media (2013, Berlin) © picture alliance/dpa/F. Schuh

Likewise, where was men’s outrage, when sexual assaults by refugees and guards against women and girls in refugee camps were reported? Was it not such a serious problem if it happened to women refugees? By the way, 2015 was declared the year against violence against women by UN-Women. In Germany there were campaigns as well. But those campaigns remained almost unnoticed and did not have any effect on the majority of the people and media. Were any outraged male voices to be heard? No!

It is a fact that in Germany violence against women happens everywhere. If you see the statistics at least one of every three women becomes a victim once in her life, if you put all the cases of mental and physical violence, rape and sexual harassment together. Verbal insults against girls and women can be heard everywhere. Even in schools you hear words like “slut,” “whore” and worse used for female classmates. Women and girls are degraded with sexualized expletives no matter from which cultural or religious background they come. Is it normal? Who gets upset? In the internet it is almost taken for granted that women who express their opinions openly are insulted – mostly sexually – and not criticized because of their opinion.

Sexual violence against women in a wide variety of forms is omnipotent and usually has only something to do with religion at a superficial level. And not only with one religion. In the US, for example, representatives of Christian churches publicly demand that women should be subject to their husband’s wishes. How long did it take until “domestic abuse” was declared a crime in Germany? Till 1997, i.e. only 19 years ago! And today, in 2016, politically active women are calling on all women to sign a petition to the justice minister to change the law. Because till now a woman still has to prove that she has fought against a rapist (and maybe endangered her life) before the “rape” is considered as crime. A clear NO from a woman to a man does not count. The law has not been changed in this regard till today. And that a “NO means NO” is not envisaged in new draft legislation.

©  picture-alliance/dpa

© picture-alliance/dpa

In Germany – also in the future – the European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse, the so called Istanbul Convention, will not going to be ratified. And women can be sure that this topic will not show up in the media, and that their cause will not be supported widely. There have not been many changes since 2002, when the ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder labelled women’s matters as odds and ends.

If you see the situation of women and girls in many parts of the world, for example kidnapping through IS, female genital mutilation, child marriage and many more horrible assaults, you might think that the situation of German women is good. Nevertheless there are many things in relations between men and women in Germany and Europe which are still terribly wrong. Just to make it clear: almost every one in three women in Germany has experience sexually motivated violence or sexual harassment. All is not well in German society.

Author: Bettina Burkart

Editor: Marjory Linardy / Grahame Lucas



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08.03.2016 | 8:57