Text: Anna Hedman
Photography: Anna Hedman and Caroline Hargreaves
Portraits of Ina Curic and Corina Simon courtesy of International Peace and Conflict/Youth Spirit
The 8th of March, The International Women’s Day, is a major day for global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women with a political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations. This year there are 539 official events planned, in 48 countries, among them the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
A Gender for Peace
The first IWD was celebrated in 1911. We are approaching a hundred-year-old, still struggling and fighting, grand lady. During the last century, the situation for women has of course improved enormously, there is no questioning that. We have gone from a world where practically no country allowed women to vote, inherit, or attend higher education to one where women are presidents of nations, CEO of multimillion global companies, and sometimes even the one going to work while the man stays at home with the children.
Maybe not in honour of, but still in relation to the official theme of the IWD for 2009 “Women and Men United to end Violence against Women and Girls”, French MPs recently voted to make “psychological violence” within a couple an offence that might lead to three years imprisonment, as a way of improving protection for victims of domestic abuse. Three women accordingly die every week in France due to domestic violence.
In other places, change is not as prominent.
In Romania, where I recently spent four months doing radio on human rights violations, the 8th of March is also Mother’s Day, an event that is regarded as more important than the International Women’s Day, and much more popular. It was impossible to find some feminist action on the streets of Cluj; flower shopping and drinks with the mates have replaced demonstrations and festive celebrations. This is not one of the 48 countries where there are any IWD events planned, instead, this is a day for honouring mothers and to give them gifts. There is, of course ,nothing wrong with the celebration of mothers, but the political relevance is lost.
Corina Simon, who works with women’s rights for the peace and development organisation PATRIR, confirms that the International Women’s Day in Romania is a family event, not a day for political action. However gender equality is far from achieved. Domestic violence, unequal pay for equal work, deepening of social inequality, and trafficking are still current.
There are no legal restrictions to women’s participation in politics in Romania, but general attitudes in society are significant barriers. Female participation in the political institutions remains very low; last year counted 38 women in the 334-seat parliament, and 8 senators of a total of 137.
Domestic violence is a major menace, according to the latest statistics 177 women died due to abuse during the first six months of 2008. This means almost seven women per week, in a country where the population is 21 million, less than a third than in France. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows police intervention, but it is difficult to apply because this law contradicts the criminal procedure code where the family is mentioned as the most important unit in society. This implies that women’s right to protection is of less value.
Ina Curic is considered one of the initiators of critical gender thinking in Romania, although she left the country a few years ago to work with bridging gender and peace building in Iraq, The Dominican Republic, Burundi and South Sudan. According to her it is important to look at gender relations, not only at women as victims, but to have a critical gender perspective when discussing domestic violence.
In Romania people really don’t understand what it’s all about, according to Ina, how gender relations are linked with power. The approach many organisations are using today, women and violence, is a bit outdated in her eyes. “We need to reach other people, but diversity in strategies is really rare,” she says, “we need to approach people with a message that really strikes a cord.”
Corina Simon believes people and authorities have to start treating domestic violence as a social problem, not a personal one. “As long as people see it as a family issue of private matter there is no debate and no solution,” she argues. This is the goal of The 16 Days Campaign in December every year, a national event trying to create a platform for debate about domestic violence.
“The police feel quite powerless,” says Corina, “there is not much they can do to protect the women who are being abused.” It is hard to get permission to intervene in a domestic fight, and if and when the police finally get to intervene, they don’t have the right to hold the abuser, and due to the lack of shelter they can rarely bring the woman to a safe place. Corina believes that the police are honest and sincere and that they would like to do more.
Regarding the police feeling helpless, Ina Curic is not impressed: “Well, then we should focus on getting better police officers. If they cannot deal with situations like this, I don’t know what we have them for.” She understands that while the law still lacks mechanisms of implementation, as with many laws in Romania that are adopted more or less formally, the law is nevertheless there and the police do have grounds to intervene. “The reason they do not is grounded in old-times prejudices and misunderstandings” she argues.
One strategy to come to terms with domestic violence and the wider gender relations is to focus on the smaller picture, Ina concludes, a place where people can agree faster than in debates about policy and injustice. Personal transformation can make it possible to understand why it is not ok to beat up your wife. Women’s movements have asked for formal changes, but what Ina is really looking forward to is for people to change their vision about the world and about right and wrong.
Anna Hedman is from Sweden and currently lives in Paris. She has studied as a graduate in various fields such as Human Rights Violations in Eastern Europe, Political Science, Philosophy, French Literature and Project Management. She has hosted her own radio show in Cluj, Romania where she also worked as a reporter and editor.