Gender violence in EU lowest in Poland – should we rejoice?
Poland is the country with the lowest rate of violence against women in the European Union (EU), according to aÂ reportÂ published on Wednesday.
Are women really safer in Poland compared to, say, Denmark which came last in the survey with a staggering 52 percent of its female population having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives? Â In Poland that percentage is âjustâ 19.
So is âscoringâ lowest a reason to celebrate or is it rather a wake-up call? After all 19 percent still means that almost one if five women in Poland experienced violence.
When you walk the streets of Krakow, Polandâs second largest city, you probably wouldnât see many women clearly bearing signs of physical abuse. But you probably wouldnât see them in Denmark either.
This is because violence against women is largely an âinvisibleâ crime the scale of which remains hidden until victims come forward.
Many women donât admit they were victims of violence for various reasons: the stigma that comes with it, fear or further abuse or because theyâre not aware that itâs a crime and that there are laws in place to protect them.
This is very much the case for Poland, where very few women come forward and report being abused, people working in the field say.
âI donât think that we should be happy about this figure, because in my opinion the situation in Poland is not that great and those numbers do not exactly show the real situation and we should rather worry that the awareness in Poland is lower than in Denmark and other Western European countriesâ, Urszula Nowakowska, director of Warsaw-basedÂ Centre for Womenâs RightsÂ told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
According to Nowakowska, women in Poland are still ashamed to talk about violence they experienced, even in anonymous surveys. Also oftentimes, those who are supposed to help, including the police,Â confuse women by hinting that the violence they were subject to can be reduced to a solvable âconflictâ within the family.
âThose indicators (being) so different in different countries is largely the result of womenâs awareness and what is considered violence and how you define it in different countriesâ, she said.
â(In Poland), we donât call certain behaviours âviolenceâ, but rather a âconflict in a familyâ and thatâs what really worries me. In this respect we are going backwards.â
Nowakowska said another reason why women may not want to admit that they were victims of violence is that family is being glorified in Poland to a point where problems and shortcomings reflect badly on the women in the family.
However, since 2005 the number of victims of domestic violence in Poland has fallen by 22 percent in 2012, according toÂ police statistics.
But this figure doesnât show the real scale of the problem either, Nowakowska said.
â(Statistics) show a false picture of the problem. We have many reports from women who say that (when they went to file a report) police asked them to see social services or other groups of support,â she said. âThe police didnât start criminal proceedings,â she said.
In Poland, rape by a spouse is punishable by law and there are other laws in place to protect women from violence, but Nowakowska thinks the measures adopted so far by authorities are not enough.
âIn those countries that created systems that do work, the number of registered cases (of violence against women) grows and this proves that women have the courage and want to reveal those things, but in case of Poland itâs just the oppositeâ, she said. âBased on our experience and what women tell us, I donât think that this situation is improving. I think itâs just the oppositeâ.
Itâs difficult to say to what extent all these factors played into the surveyâs results, but one thing experts agree on is that the more we talk about violence against women the bigger the chance more women will seek help.
âWe have to raise awareness among women so that they revel (cases of violence), but also to create systems that would make it easier for women to report violence, and not act as a deterrentâ, said Nowakowska.
âIf you back a few decades, it was taboo to talk about this. I think if the survey is repeated in five years what you will then see is that rates will potentially be going up,â the head of the Freedoms and Justice Department at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Joanna Goodey said.
Photo: A woman walks with child at underpass in centre of Warsaw, Poland, August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel