CYPRUS: Violence against women is being tolerated

3 mins read

Concerned over the high number of women murdered by their partners and domestic violence cases, Cyprus MPs have launched a campaign over the need to stop this worrying trend and for the authorities to act.

A major concern is that not much is being done by the authorities to protect women from harassment, abuse and even murder.

Prompted by the murders of 5 foreign women and two of their children at the hands of a convicted serial killer, AKEL MPs Skevi Koukouma, Evanthia Savva and Eirini Charalambidou tabled the issue for discussion in parliament.

A total of 37 women have been murdered since 2000, the majority were killed at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

Talking to the Financial Mirror, AKEL MP Koukouma said that while figures are disappointing not much has been done to make combating gender violence a priority, either through legislation, proper management protocols or raising awareness within the society.

“Meanwhile in Europe, 50 women each week are being murdered by their current or former life companion” she added. “Worldwide, 137 women are killed on average by a former or current spouse or companion,” she added.

Koukouma said that as a society, Cyprus hardly taken any steps to prevent violence against women, noting that the matter was put on the government agenda after the recent serial killings.

“We have been discussing the matter in parliament for years now, and we have seen that there is not the political will on behalf of the state,” said Koukouma.

She said that although the government has signed a treaty put forward by the Council of Europe in 2017 on measures to prevent violence against women, little has been done.

Koukouma said the government has since filed for exemptions on a number of items in the treaty.

“Officials were then arguing that instead of spending EUR 8 mln as estimated to fulfil the country’s obligations, the state had spent only 800,000”.

She argues that one of the tools authorities should have at their disposal in combating domestic violence is a central register which keeps track of all reports of violent incidents against women.

“We do not have a clear picture of the frequency of domestic violence.”

“We have also identified that police officers do not follow a code of conduct when it comes to dealing with reports from abused women. We have women tell us that they were sent home reassured that their partner loves them… or that they should file for a divorce… but no action was taken to protect them.”

“As MPs, we are asking the police what does it need for officers to take action? Does a woman have to appear dead for them to do anything?”

Society needs to change

Koukouma argued that a lot has to be done at a societal level, like the way women are treated stems from the values of a patriarchal society.

She said the media has a role to play like the way it covers stories when a woman has been murdered is far from appropriate.

“Media headlines following the recent murder of a young woman by her ex, who then shot himself, were disgraceful, to say the least. We saw headlines such as “Love put the gun in his hand” and read stories of a love which ended tragically. No, it was a woman murdered.”

Chair of the House Human Rights Committee DISY MP Stella Kyriakidou said that Cyprus police do not have a protocol in dealing with reports of domestic violence, with which the risk is assessed, and action needed is decided.

A Police representative confirmed before parliament that the force does not have a special task force trained in dealing with cases of violence against women.

The DISY MP said that a bill regarding violence against women has been prepared and will be tabled soon.

A Ministry of Justice official told the House that a Women’s safe house will be up and running by the end of the year.

During the debate, Professor Andreas Kapardis, a law professor at the University of Cyprus, presented a study conducted by the university on the causes of femicide and suggested measures to be taken to prevent such phenomena.

The survey found that most killings could be avoided with the timely and effective protection of women-victims and children, as in most cases police were informed of violent incidents before the killings.

Kapardis suggested that a special Intervention taskforce be set up to protect victims of domestic violence.

The Association for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (SPAVO) said that domestic violence incidents are increasing at a worrying pace.

SPAVO director Andri Andronikou told the Financial Mirror that the association in 2017 handled a total of 1,680 cases, an increase of 45% compared to 2016.

Also, throughout 2018 their hotline 1440 received 12,833 calls either from the victims of domestic violence themselves or from family or neighbours.

“Of all the cases, however, 548 were new cases, while 215 cases sought refuge,” said Andronikou.

Some 85% of victims of domestic violence are women. The abuse comes in many forms such as psychological, economic, physical or sexual.

“The most dangerous form of violence against women is femicide. And we insist on using this term. Femicide is motivated by sexist motives. The term “femicide” is found in international bibliography and has been adopted by both the UN and EU. It is a deeply political term and in essence, the same term stimulates a cultural change.

The common element between women who are murdered is that, in one way or another, they have broken the patriarchal boundaries and conditions they were ‘supposed’ to serve”.

Andronikou stressed that it is paramount that femicides be distinguished from other murders, while the state will need to work towards cultivating a society free from sexist stereotypes and exhibit zero tolerance towards abuse of women.

The discussion in parliament is to be continued in September, after the House recess, with the Human Rights Committee seeking to support related legislation as soon as possible.