Archive for July 18th, 2008

The State services have failed to protect a victim of domestic violence, citing gaps in the law preventing them from helping non-Cypriot spouses who suffer abuse.

A 30-year-old woman from Eastern Europe has been seeking refuge from her abusive husband for the last two weeks but has been left to fend for herself after being repeatedly told by state services that they cannot help a non-Cypriot.

Her appeals for money and refuge failed, giving the woman no choice but to stay in the family home where she was allegedly beaten on two occasions this week.

According to the woman, relations with her Greek national husband deteriorated after the birth of their 14-month-old baby. Last winter, the husband allegedly beat her twice.

Two weeks ago she reported the incident to police and asked the Larnaca Welfare Services to help her find refuge after the husband threatened to kick her out the house and take their child away.

The mother said she could not leave the house as she has no money, job or friends. According to the woman, she is illegally here since her husband has refused to sign the necessary papers to renew her residence permit which expired in 2006.

Given her predicament, the police called her husband and asked him to allow her to stay in the house.

Meanwhile, the Larnaca Welfare Service contacted the Association for the Protection and Handling of Violence in the Family which runs a shelter for victims of family violence. The association said there was no space at the shelter. They noted that even if there was, they were unable to help since the woman was no longer a legal resident.

The welfare officer examining the case looked into providing financial assistance for her to move out with her baby. When the mother finally received a reply from the welfare services last Wednesday, she was told that as a non-Cypriot, she did not have access to benefits.

That same day, the woman’s husband kicked her out without her child. The woman called the police who spoke to the husband again, this time asking him to leave the house. He obliged, until night time when he returned, and allegedly beat her in front of the baby on her legs and stomach. She did not call the police.

The following morning, yesterday, he beat her again. This time she called the police. For the police to arrest the man, the abused must state she is willing to press charges.

“He does what he wants. I was sleeping with the child when he came home from work and started shouting at me, saying he would kill me and cut me up into pieces,” said the woman.

Asked if she would return to the house last night, she said she had no choice as she had nowhere else to go.

Andriana Kossiva, a counsellor from migrant support group KISA, told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that there were huge shortcomings in the protection of victims of family violence in Cyprus.

“There are only two officials in the welfare service dealing with violence in the family. They are based in Nicosia and are both away at seminars right now. No one else at the department can deal with this issue,” she said.

Regarding the issue of benefits, Kossiva noted that in September 2007 the head of the welfare department ordered that state benefits could only be given to Cypriot single mothers. The decision received a barrage of criticism and was withdrawn a few months later.

“It seems the news hasn’t reached Larnaca yet,” said the counsellor.

On the lack of shelter for non-legals, she said: “We have had more serious cases where a woman was broken from head to toe with two infants to look after and still was refused. There was room in the shelter but they couldn’t take her in because she was an illegal immigrant.”

See (from UK) Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds: End Violence Against Women!

The UN refugee agency’s efforts to protect women and children refugees from violence throughout Central Europe came a step closer recently when Slovenia agreed to include refugees and asylum seekers in prevention and response mechanisms for those at risk.

At a ceremony in Ljubljana on World Refugee Day, the Slovenian government adopted UNHCR’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for responding to and preventing cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against refugees and asylum seekers who were not covered by national legislation.

Slovenia became the fifth Central European country to introduce such SOPs within the past year, following Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. Hungary is expected to sign on soon. The efforts in the region are part of a worldwide UNHCR campaign to establish institutional protection mechanisms in all locations where refugees and asylum seekers are accommodated.

At the signing ceremony on June 20, Slovenia’s ministries of justice and interior as well as UNHCR and several non-governmental organizations pledged cooperation in fighting sexual and gender-based violence.

“The governments [in Central Europe] already have systems in place to deal with such cases,” Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR’s regional representative, noted after the ceremony. “Our task was to make sure that refugees and asylum seekers are covered by them as well.”

It took months to negotiate and draft a set of mechanisms for the prevention, monitoring and evaluation of cases of violence against women and children refugees in Slovenia and to enshrine these in the SOPs.

“We have reached a common understanding on the roles and responsibilities. The next step is to make sure that each resident of each refugee facility in the region and every [UNHCR] staff member knows what to do if someone becomes the victim of sexual or gender-based violence or [if] there are reasons to suspect such a problem exists in the community,” Dakin noted.

UNHCR is also helping to spread awareness among refugees and asylum seekers about the new SOPs in Central European countries. It is developing posters and leaflets that are easy for everyone to understand, including those with weak literacy levels.

There are 125 registered refugees and 115 asylum seekers in Slovenia, with most coming from Serbia and Montenegro, followed by refugees from Iran, Russia and Africa.

Refugees, particularly women and girls, are vulnerable to sexual, physical or psychological violence in host countries. SGBV includes domestic violence as well as rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, intimidation at work and school, human trafficking and forced prostitution.

Spain’s governing socialists, meeting at a congress in Madrid, said they wanted the law on abortion to be relaxed in the predominantly Catholic country.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the socialists wanted to draw on the “most innovative European laws governing circumstances and time limits.”

Late last year Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was re-elected in March 2008, ruled out any reform of the country’s abortion laws although he said his administration was “open to reflection” on the issue.

Abortion has been de-criminalised in Spain, since 1985, in only three specific sets of circumstances: for rape victims (within 12 weeks); where there are foetal deformities (22 weeks); and when “the mother’s physical or psychological health is in danger” (with no time limitation).

The vast majority of 91,000 abortions reported in 2005 were attributed to “psychological” health risk, sometimes performed after six, seven or eight months’ pregnancy.

Meanwhile, the socialists also made it clear they were committed to strengthening secularism.

The party publicised its support for the “gradual disappearance of religious symbols and liturgies in public spaces and in official state proceedings,” in a text broadcast on Saturday.

The move, aimed at amending a religious freedom law, risks a return to the confrontation between Church and government that marked Zapatero’s first term.

One consequence of the party’s proposals, if implemented, would be removal of crucifixes from public buildings, the daily El Pais said.

The text does not demand a revision of agreements between the Church and State but does ask for a rebalancing in favour of minority religions.

According to El Pais, the Spanish State indirectly subsidises the Roman Catholic Church and other Catholic organisations to the tune of more than four billion euros (6.3 billion dollars) a year.

Other religions, in particular Islam with some three million followers, barely receive three million euros a year.

Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Zapatero’s government remain strained following liberal social reforms including gay marriage and easier divorce.

The socialist government argues the promotion of secular values is key to the modernisation of Spain, which has become more multicultural and undergone a liberal transformation in the three decades since the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco.

The Church which was close to Franco’s regime backed several large protests in defence of the family and just before March’s general election Spain’s bishops issued a note of “moral guidance” advising against voting for the socialists.

The Catholic Church remains influential in Spain, a country which is officially 80 percent Catholic but where only about 40 percent practise the religion.

Each year 80,000 abortions are performed in Australia, with one in three women having a termination at some stage in their lives.

Even though it is one of the most commonly performed medical procedures, and one of the safest according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every day a staggering 219 women die worldwide from a botched abortion. Decriminalising abortion is essential in our struggle to stop these preventable deaths.

Over the last two decades, opinion in favour of a woman’s right to choose abortion has steadily increased.

A 2003 poll by the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AusSSA) found that more than 80% of people, and 84% of GPs, support choice. An Australian Election Study found that, in 2004, 54% believed “Women should to be able to obtain an abortion readily, when they want one”, up from 38% in 1987.

Interestingly too, AusSSA found that 77% of religious respondents supported a woman’s right to choose, and out of 1000 Catholics interviewed, 72% were pro-choice.

According to ProChoice Victoria, the Melbourne Anglican Church sent a submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission this year supporting the “provision of safe and affordable abortions with appropriate safeguards for women who, for whatever reasons, request them”.

Less than 5% of the population opposes abortion, but this tiny minority enjoys a sympathetic ear from politicians and is over-represented in state and federal parliaments.

Anti-abortion crusaders are also influencing the increasingly socially conservative ALP. A recent example is the support the Health Services Union gave to the anti-choice Labor candidate, Marlene Kairouz, in the recent Kororoit by-election.

This year the Victorian parliament will vote to decriminalise abortion, and three models are being advanced by the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

Abortion is still legally a crime, but is lawful under the 1969 Menhenitt ruling if a doctor decides that continuing a pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or health. While abortion remains a crime, doctors are unable to provide the most appropriate medical care for fear of possible prosecution.

Out of the three proposals, only “Model C” gives women the decision-making power throughout her entire pregnancy. It recognises a woman’s authority over her body.

The Socialist Alliance rejects the argument being peddled by the anti-abortion lobby that Model C will encourage more women to have terminations because it implies that women don’t take responsibility for the choices they make.

There is also no evidence to suggest liberal abortion laws lead to higher termination rates. Sedgh, Henshaw, Singh, Ahman and Shah, in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in 2007, found that “unrestrictive abortions laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence”.

While it is critical to remove abortion from the criminal code, it is equally important not to put the “crime” of abortion back into the Health Act, by imposing complex restrictions on access to services based on age or gestation.

Regulating abortion differently to other medical procedures perpetuates the sexist assumption that politicians and the legal fraternity are better placed then women themselves to decide when or if to have children.

The Socialist Alliance supports Model C and agrees with 54% of Australians who believe in removing all impediments for women to access abortion services.

We believe that abortion should be part of a comprehensively funded reproductive health program, which includes extensive sex education and freely available contraception.

Victorian Premier John Brumby is ignoring the only option that offers real choice for women, believing the debate in the ALP should be between Models A and B.

This is not good enough. In 2006, the state ALP conference overwhelmingly voted in favour of a woman’s right to choose. But this vote is undermined by the ALP MPs’ right to exercise a “conscience vote” on this subject.

We urge people to pressure MPs to vote in favour of Model C and women’s reproductive rights. Let’s not let a tiny reactionary minority impose their repressive agenda upon us all.

[Helen Laxton is a member of the Victorian Socialist Alliance.]