France unveils plan to halt violence against women

Paris (AFP) –


France unveiled Monday new measures to combat violence against women by their partners or ex-partners, seeking to toughen up the law as concerns mount over the number of women killed in the country.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe made the announcements on the UN-backed International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women, two days after tens of thousands of people took to the streets across France in a show of solidarity.

Growing anger over the failures in Europe and globally to make progress ending the horrendous annual toll has pressured governments to begin to take action, though activists warned that far more needs to be done.

Expressing hope that the plan would prove an "electric shock", Philippe said the measures would seek to broaden the definition of violence, including how harassment can lead to suicide.

Since the start of 2019, at least 117 women have been killed by their partner or former partner in France, according to a case-by-case study by AFP based on media reports.

- 'Psychological entrapment' -

The figure shows no improving trend -- last year, 121 women died in what are increasing termed femicides, to underscore the fact the victims were killed because they were female.

An additional 213,000 women in France are victims of physical and or sexual violence on the part of their partner or ex-partner, according to the latest official figures.

The announcements by Philippe focussed on ending what he described as "absurdities" and "dysfunctional aspects" in the law to ensure that women would be better protected.

The notion of psychological "entrapment" would now be written into the law as this can also lead to violence, he told reporters in Paris.

And in a measure that has been widely called for, Philippe said that the rules covering medical confidentiality would be changed to make it easier for doctors to signal to the authorities when a person is at risk of violence.

He said that the new measures would be inscribed in a bill to be presented to the French parliament in January, and that the plans would benefit from 360 million euros ($400 million) of annual funding.

- 'Missed the target' -

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in France on Saturday in actions organised by the feminist group #NousToutes (All of Us) to demand an end to violence against women.

But while welcoming the proposed tightening of laws, feminist advocates regretted the lack of more concrete help.

"The government has missed the target," said Caroline De Haas of #NousToutes.

The head of the Foundation of Women, Anne-Cecile Mailfert, said the government was not offering more help to the associations which are increasingly being approached by victims of domestic violence.

"What is necessary is to bolster special measures such as offering sanctuary and then supporting the victims," said Francoise Brie, who heads the National Federation of Women's Solidarity, noting that there are also stark regional disparities within France.

Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa vowed in an interview with the Figaro newspaper that funds would be available for all the new measures, while emphasising that the "fight against marital violence is not just a question of money".

An AFP examination this month of every case of femicide in France showed up repeated trends, including the failure of the authorities to act on warning signs of the potential for violence.

Indicating the scale of the problem across Europe, the German government said Monday that 122 women were killed in femicide crimes in 2018, down from 147 the previous year.

But the number of women who reported being victims of violence in Germany increased to 114,393 last year from 113,965.

And in a rare move, global police cooperation organisation Interpol launched an international appeal on Monday to find eight men suspected of murdering or committing violence against women.

In 2017, some 87,000 women and girls were murdered worldwide, according to a 2018 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).