Despite laws on the books to protect women, most abusers go unpunished. Now, in many countries, lawmakers are even pushing back against those weak laws.

A recent Polish declaration to withdraw from the ‘Women’s Treaty’ is generating shock amongst her EU counterparts. This news highlights a longstanding trend of using women’s rights as political weapons in gathering male political support as well as how gendered laws may be further jeopardising gender equality. 

The argument by the incumbent government is that the treaty itself has a less than desirable definition for gender and as such threatens the nuclear family. Arguments against gender as a social construct is the basis for the withdrawal, in reality, it most impacts the state by removing critical international commitments to protect women from domestic violence. 

We have seen across Europe and the world during the various coronavirus lockdowns the spike in domestic abuse – in many cases leading to murder, with no punishment. 

Last year, reports showed the Polish government ran ads encouraging increasing family sizes and offering women free education – only if they had three children. Simultaneously, there was a ban against over-the-counter emergency contraceptives.

This pattern of using female oppression as a show of political power can be seen in a number of countries today. In the United States, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was verbally harassed by Rep. Ted Yoho and called a “dangerous, crazy,” and, a “fu**ing b*tch” in front of the media to no actual repercussion. 

Trump has placed massive barriers in front of women in need of reproductive health aid. The US president himself has been accused of sexual harassment and he seeks the ‘Christian’ vote through the defunding of family clinics.

In Russia, “moderate” domestic violence was decriminalised in 2017 and led to a surge in cases of abuse against women, but this only was in a series of moves protecting abusers. In one widely publicised case, a man used an axe to chop of the hands of his wife and turned himself into police custody. 

The survivor, Margarita Gracheva, had one hand reattached and received a socially-funded prosthetic arm. The only reason she did not turn away from the publicity was to ensure the longest possible sentence, a final result of fourteen years. 

One report highlights a similar tendency in Italy, “The Italian government is promoting a law that critics say would eliminate child support, and a government spokesperson said forthcoming legislation would prosecute women who accuse their husbands of domestic violence if the husbands are not convicted.”

Protections without punishment

It seems contradictory that women have protections in place in many nations yet despite this, cases of violence against women soared internationally. It is often because crimes against women have long been justified by the rhetoric of an enraged man or the man or family’s honour has come into question. 

This logic does not only imply that the women deserved to be abused and murdered, but that it is justified and therefore presents the implication of impunity. 

The situation globally reflects that gendered laws set to protect women are used and played with by politicians but ultimately have very little tangible impact in the long-term. 

In the Arab world, two particular cases have stood out; but it is critical to note while it is easy to blame the religion or culture, femicides generally go unpunished or receive lesser sentences across the world. 

In Jordan, a video circulated of a victim of an ‘honour’ killing in the suburbs of the capital Amman last week. She ran into the street bleeding and calling out for help, after sufering blunt-force trauma to the head from a cement block at the hands of her father. He smoked a cigarette and drank tea over her dying body waiting for the police to arrive. 

Despite the pandemic a protest was organised to repeal Article 340, a remnant of French colonisation, of the penal code which enables this brutality, a law passing down lesser sentences in order to preserve personal and familial honor – much like the culture everywhere on this matter. The protestors received death threats, the law is unlikely to be discussed in parliament, and it seems the murderer is attempting to use his tribe and their power to be released.

Finally, we can see quite clearly how gendered laws put women at further risk through some very public cases in Egypt – yesterday a women received sentence of two years in prison plus a fine by the new Cybercrime unit. These women were charged with ‘threatening family values’ and also the 1960 law against prostitution for posting on their TikTok accounts. It comes in stark contrast against a movement of women speaking out against their abusers. 

There is a plethora of testimonies from women across the world of being verbally, physically, and sexually abused, more often than not by family members, and none have been charged with threatening family values – though it should be painfully apparent which does more harm to the family unit. 

If any lessons can be learnt from turning our backs on gender protection, in Russia, three years after the U-turn women faced, female prisons are flooded with women who killed their abusers in self-defense, all of whom do not get the ‘shorter sentences’ enjoyed by their male counterparts.

To clarify, this does imply that support facilities and legal avenues of protection should be erased. It should be done through a general law – applicable to the same degree between women and men. It should be a fixture in all national legislation, even within constitutions, to ensure the true protection of women against political and interpersonal predators. 

As it stands women can be temporarily protected, but if the state will just release the abuser with no punishment in a feeble attempt to secure male and religious favour – how long is she safe for in the streets or at home?

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