Violence against women
As the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women tirelessly reminds us, fighting for women’s dignity and integrity remains a constant battle. A month ago, France withdrew its remaining reservations on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This is an important development because it makes us speak with a louder voice on the international stage when we call for women’s rights to stop being flouted throughout the world.
For all those who care about upholding women’s rights, the results of the poll carried out by the Reuters Foundation, with 366 experts surveyed, on adherence to this Convention in 22 states, are heartbreaking. In a majority of the countries, rape is not recognized as a crime by law if it is committed within marriage. In others, a rapist can escape justice if he marries his victim against her will. In still others, there is no minimum age for getting married. All in all, UNICEF estimates that there are 400 million women in the world who married when they were children.
How can we remain indifferent to these unbearable facts? Every marriage under duress violates fundamental rights. When the dignity and integrity of girls and women are at stake, borders are no excuse for doing nothing. Forced marriages are also a reality in our country, even though our law prohibits them. An intolerable reality.
Information is still lacking. We have met many victims. Their courage commands respect. But for every few dozen victims daring to resist, there are hundreds of girls and women who remain exposed to the risk of being dispossessed of their identity, prevented from having access to education, being independent and living freely.
Of course, our law does not allow forced marriages. The freedom to marry has constitutional value, and in pursuance of Article 146 of the Civil Code, “there is no marriage where there is no consent”. Denying a woman her inalienable right to own and control her body constitutes an act of violence, which could well lead to all the others.
Forced marriages are often contracted abroad. So what can be done?
The key is to coordinate the efforts being carried out in France with those being conducted outside our territory. Although each individual story is different, the pattern is often the same: young girls are sent to their ascendants’ or [future] husband’s country of origin to be married there against their will. Frequently locked up, victims, after managing to escape, make themselves known to consulates or embassies. This is how our diplomats have helped save 15 women since the beginning of the year.
We are pledging to go further. We have put together a typology of countries at risk and produced new information tools for consular officials. This awareness-raising is coupled with statutes and regulations which finally afford victims greater protection. We have improved the training of those involved and communication aimed at the general public, particularly in consulates and schools, in France and abroad.
Above all, we have strengthened our battery of legislation and are continuing to do so. The act of 5 August 2013 now punishes parents taking their children abroad for forced marriages with three years’ imprisonment and a €45,000 fine. The act on equality between women and men provides for speeding up the issuing of protection orders, which allows judges to ban potential victims of non-consensual marriage from leaving the territory.
In order for these new rights to become a reality in the lives of the women concerned, we have to rely on the active efforts of voluntary organizations such as Voix de femmes, Femmes solidaires, GAMS [a group campaigning for the abolition of female genital mutilation] and Planning familial, which play a vital watchdog role. Often in the front line in emergency situations, they take in victims, supporting and protecting them. Thanks to them, the authorities’ response is even faster. Thanks to them, women regain hope.
Our role is to support these voluntary organizations, coordinate them and support them at grass roots level; we’re doing so: the telephone hotline to combat violence against women, which can be contacted seven days a week on 3919, will also provide a listening ear and follow-up as from 1 January 2014.
We will neglect nothing. The time has come to remove taboos, encourage people to speak out and let young women know that they have rights and France protects them. With forced marriages, as with all other forms of maltreatment, silence and indifference compound the violence against the victims. The fight for women’s rights knows no borders and does not put up with this silence./.