by Nick Papandreou

recent outbreak of men killing their wives or girlfriends in Greece has brought to the fore the issue of violence against women.

Although the press is generally accurate in its presentation of the facts, in some cases major news outlets seem to perpetuate the very stereotypes we are supposed to fight. Just see the chauvinistic nature of cultural terms used to describe the murders.

About the most recent killing in late July of a young girl by her boyfriend on the island of Folegandros, TV commentators pointed out that “she was such a good girl, she loved everybody, she was so nice!”

As if because of her niceness, his actions are even more inexplicable. As if there is any excuse for killing a woman, especially not nice ones!

Apparently, Greek society still needs to undergo huge cultural changes to upbring men who treat women as equals, who do not expect them to be their servants and mothers, who do not exploit their physical superiority to dominate, abuse or ultimately kill their partners.

The Folegandros-off-the-high-cliff killing, coming hard on the heels of the pilot who suffocated his wife “because she was thinking of leaving me,” has of course generated an outpouring of despair and anger from citizens, the social media space, most politicians and progressive groups.

President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou wrote that it will take time and a great deal of effort to break down stereotypes that stem from gender inequality, ones that create some sort of collective tolerance for morally and criminally heinous acts.

“We must not allow a culture of violence to prevail, nor can we allow inequality, abuse and fear to prevail in family and personal relationships.” Fofi Gennimata, the leader of the socialist party KINAL said that fear now lurked Femicide: a pandemic in our very homes and added that perhaps one effect of the pandemic (lockdown, unemployment, closed spaces) has been the rise in violence against women and a reversal of recent gender equality gains.

Violence against women by men is not a Greek phenomenon in any way fashion or form. It is estimated that in 2017, 87,000 women were intentionally murdered worldwide.

Femicide, as it is now called, a sex-based hate crime term, broadly defined as “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female”, though definitions vary depending on its cultural context.

The pressure to desire male children for their dominant advantages over female children is a major cause of femicide in many nations.

In societies such as China and India, girls are seen as undesirable, due to their inability to help support their families financially. The expense of dowries makes female infanticide a viable option for families seeking a more lucrative future.

In Central America femicide has been criminalized, and prosecutors have been trained to take cases to trial. In Pakistan, sweeping new legislation has been passed to prevent the use of acid on attacks on women.

Meanwhile, in Palestine, the first national strategy to combat violence against women in the Middle East was adopted, with survivors of violence taking part in the legislation’s drafting.

These are important steps toward legal recourse and representation in instances of femicide and violence against women. Europe adopted the Istanbul Convention in 2011, which specifies several forms of gender-based violence against women that are to be criminalised. It sets out the obligation to ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or socalled “honour” are not regarded as justification for any of the acts of violence covered by its scope.

The Istanbul Convention also covers domestic violence, including all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners.

Ironically, Turkey, one of the original signatories of the Istanbul convention, announced just this June that it intends to pull out of the agreement. Apparently, Erdogan wants to secure the vote of “real men” and to show that part of his voters that rules to protect women from men are not something he is interested in.

One hopes that the women in that country will punish him in the voting booth, especially progressive Muslims. Greece has recently (2019) incorporated all necessary European directives and laws concerning violence against women.

In this effort, the secretariat for gender equality, created by the socialist government in the 1980s has set up a 24-hour multilingual hotline, with special emphasis on refugee women. Recent surveys show that 80% of calls to the hotline were about husband’s abuse of his wife and 10% inter-family. It is not clear what can be done to reverse the tide.

The #metoo movement has put great attention on sexual harassment and male privilege. A similar movement of such scope and range is clearly required to put even a small dent to this long-standing pandemic.

In Greece, tackling this problem requires a major shift in cultural attitudes and constant vigilance over the media (men mainly), who casually say things like “How could he have killed such a nice girl?” or “How come she was dressed like that?”

The article of Nick Papandreou is published in the July/ August 2021 issue of Greek Business File available here.