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Germany

Fighting Violence Against Women

A day after the World Health Organization published a report revealing that domestic violence is a global problem, the world marks White Ribbon Day, or the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

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One in three women are victims of gender-based violence

Thursday saw the publication of a report by the World Health Organization based on surveys of 24,000 women in 10 countries showing one in six women have suffered from domestic violence.

The first-ever global study on gender violence was conducted by the World Health Organization in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Path, a global health organization.

Former United Nations commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson hailed it as a seminal document.

"We don't actually know, unless we have studies like this, how serious and pervasive violence by intimate partners really is," she said. "For the first time, this study has used consistent means to measure violence across countries, so that we can now reasonably compare."

The unforgettable butterflies

Zwangsheirat - gebundene Hände

Violence against women can take many forms

Its publication tied in with International Day of Violence Against Women, a date that commemorates the lives of the three Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic, who became known as the Inolvidables Mariposas (unforgettable butterflies). In 1960, during the Trujillo dictatorship, they were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government.

Their story was claimed by feminists and catapulted into the public consciousness in the early 1980s. Then, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Prostituierte in Budapest

The WHO report reveals that many women are used to violent treatment

Since then, Nov. 25 has become a day of a global recognition of gender-based violence and the victimization of women, from domestic battery, rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners.

A global issue

According to estimates, one in five women in Germany suffer physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner.

Domestic violence happens at all levels of society, and takes a number of forms, pointed out Claudia Schrimpf, president of the association "Women Helping Women" and director of the Autonomous Women's Refuge in Cologne.

"The definition of 'violence' can be very broad," she said. "Women who come to us are not necessarily just being beaten, they're being isolated, refused money, kept at home. Intimidation can be psychological as well as physical."

Most of Germany's women's refuges are funded by churches and private associations. They serve as a safe haven for battered women who often have no money and no network of support. And they're all fleeing violent partners.

Anonymity guararanteed

"Whatever religion women are, wherever they come from, we'll take in all women seeking help," said Sylvia Arndt, who is in charge of a women's refuge that takes in mainly immigrant women. "They have to be over 18, and they have to be homeless."

Prostituierte wartet auf der Straße

Refuges offer women a safe haven

The refuges tend to be completely cut off from the outside world.

"The women have to get in touch with us," explained Schrimpf. "We advertise our phone number, but not our address."We arrange a meeting place with the women, which will usually be close by. We don't reveal the address until the last minute to minimize the risk of their partners locating us. The women telephones us from their arranged meeting place and we send one of our staff out to pick her up."

As well as providing protected accommodation, the refuge helps put women in touch with lawyers. And according to the Autonomous Women's Refuge, 80 percent of the women who arrive as victims of domestic violence succeed in building a new life for themselves.

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