November 25th is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This date was decided upon in the United Nations to remember the assassination of the Mirabal sisters by the Trujillo regime, in the Dominican Republic, November 25, 1960.
This day is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape and domestic violence and other forms of violence. The secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon declared: “Millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights. […] We must fundamentally challenge the culture of discrimination that allows violence to continue. On this International Day, I call on all governments to make good on their pledges to end all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, and I urge all people to support this important goal.”
Should the European Union support this important goal and challenge the culture of discrimination within its behavior as an institution, as crimes against women are committed in member states? The death of Savita Halappanavar for denied therapeutic abortion in Ireland is only one of numerous cases of women being killed or injured because some States still have laws denying reproductive care to women. Those laws have remained the same sometimes since the 19th century. For instance in Ireland, doctors or nurses who help women who seek an abortion are punishable under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 that prescribes a minimum sentence of two years hard labor and can result in a life sentence.
The nomination of Tonio Borg (overtly against women and LGBT’s rights) as the new commissioner for Health will accentuate the impossibility for the European commission to stop state-legitimized violence against women in Member States with anti abortion, restrictive reproduction laws, such as Ireland, Poland, and Malta. These laws are generalized in many countries from Africa to the Americas, including the United States.
Restrictions for women are economic as well. Where contraceptives are expensive or simply difficult to obtain, abortion services are generally illegal or restricted. Meanwhile, women are in the main still economically dependent.
Having a weak health commission in the Europe Union is no surprise. It results from lobbying from member states that don’t want to see the European convention on human rights and parliamentary resolutions applied to health care and in particular to women’s reproductive health. If women’s reproductive health were seen as a human right, those members who are inconsistent with EU conventions would finally be held accountable.
Violence against women has many faces. Often the violence stems from state denial of services or state practices of humiliated access to important services. In Baltimore, Maryland, for example, as in much of the United States, incarcerated pregnant women travel shackled to medical appointments. These women are seen in regular hospitals walking among other patients with their guards and shackles. Their treatment and humiliation is shaped by federal, state or local policies, which even force them to deliver their babies in chains, putting their lives at risk exactly as Savita Halappanavar lost hers.