Murder by the book

  •  August 24, 2017

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

 Three months ago we were several women sitting on a lovely porch in the mountain, celebrating the last evening of a training we had attended together in the few past days. We had become good acquaintances, so the conversation was running smooth and our friendly laughter was echoing in the surroundings. To this day I cannot recall who opened up the box of confessions, but there was not a single woman on that tablewithout a personal record of being victim of abuse, crime or attempt for such by a (known to her) man: from groping in a club to rape attempt; from mental harassment to discrimination at the work place. Each of us knew personally at least one offender. And we had not yet heard of Vencislav, who killed his ex-wife nor of Stefan, who murdered his ex-girlfriend. Yes, Elena and Viola, as well as many unknown women, were still alive.

Many women around the world take part in such evening conversations. Millions of women share to each other not just stories they had heard by someone, but their own personal trauma. And million men in the world are criminals – perpetrators, rapists, mental abusers who threaten their wives, girlfriends and exes. The World Health Organization estimated last November that globally, 35 per cent of all women have been through physical and/or sexual abuse by their partner or sexual abuse by another man they know, different from their partner. Also, more than 40 per cent of all murders of women are executed by their intimate male partner.

Similar data was published by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in their 2014 annual report – 35 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their current or ex intimate partner.

Statistic on how many women in our country are victims of domestic violence (each fourth according to data collected by NGOs) and how many men are perpetrators (the Bulgarian state does NOT collect such data, but we can easily assume that it is each fourth) are extremely disturbing. Horrifying. In combination with the recent events, we should be panicking, should be feeling uncomfortable, should be ashamed and scared of the size and depth of the problem. We should be thinking that there is almost no woman, who hasn’t been a victim of some crime, simply because she’s a woman. But they should not blur our judgement. Because Vencislav, Stefan, “the mosquito” and the four men, who attacked their ex wives and girlfriends during the past January, are not just some “losers” or “wackos” (as the numerous reactions online labelled them). They’re criminals who’ve been raised and nurtured for many years by the criminally indifferent institutions (governed by other men). All of them have a record of domestic violence, complaints and signals against them, of witnesses of scandals and threats. They’re all products of the surrounding patriarchic system. As abstract as it may sound to some, it’s in fact something very particular, very sizable and obvious, intruding us in all possible ways. The patriarchic culture is the sexist ads where women do the laundry and men “know why”; it’s the lack of 50% parliamentary representation of women in the Parliament; it’s the absence of a female president and female prime minister of the country. The patriarchic culture is the phrases “don’t cry, you’re not a girl”, “don’t be a sissy”, “tomboy” or “act like a lady” … The patriarchic culture is the stereotypes that the “real” man is a beefy macho, that women are not good drivers, that there are male and female jobs. The patriarch culture is the statement that Elena and Viola “were looking for it”.

While Vencislav and Stefan and the children of the patriarch culture, Elena and Viola are its victims. The committed murders have a very particular term: femicide. Not a mere murder but a crime on a woman because she is a woman. Vencislav and Stefan probably believed truly that “their women” had to obey, to behave and dress in a certain way that is acceptable to them, to belong to them. This is why they offended them, they raised their hands, they threatened, followed and terrorized them. Because they are (real) men.

Those who govern our country are mostly men. And they were the ones who ignored Elena’s four complaints. Men govern the court, the prosecution, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, other ministries, working groups and the entire system that raised Vencislav become a murderer. There are legendary phrases often quoted in the NGO circles such as: “one should be afraid to ask for it”, “is a slap really violence”, murmured cynically by men in high positions during discussions of the Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence (LPADV) and the Istanbul Convention. To them, terms such as “hate crime” and “femicide” don’t exist and aren’t part of the Penal Code. Hence the decades-long battles to adopt the LPADV (10 years), Law on Equality between Women and Men (more than 20 years); who knows when the Istanbul Convention will be ratified. Hence the numerous gaps in the Bulgarian legislation, which should, in paper, protect the victims of violence. All these people have participated in Vencislav’s crime.

Yet again it’s crucial for us to understand that the institutional inaction is not just a by-product of the national mentality, but a result of the patriarchic culture, within which the violence against women is a women’s problem, not men’s. It’s the one that raises men murdering women, but doesn’t encourage the other millions of men – who’re not only innocent, but also might hate violence in their guts, to stand against it.

Despite all that and thanks to a handful of people from the nongovernmental sector, things in our country are slowly improving. Painfully slow, but the change is happening. Now, however, is the time to understand that the responsibility to corner the institutions to do their job is a shared responsibility. Now is the time for civic protests, petitions, and opposition by those, who’ve had enough of reading on murdered women. It is a responsibility of the “normal” people to silence statements such as “she got what she deserved”, “what about crime against men?” (because crime against women does not depreciate crime against men, but such responses degrade the crimes against women). To react when we see a man on the street to hit or yell at a woman, to call 112 when we hear screams next door. It is our duty as responsible citizens to make the greatest change which is yet to take place – in the way of thinking. Meanwhile, there will be murders of women, that’s for certain. It is also certain that inaction makes us into partisans.

 

Nadejda Dermendjieva

 

The text does not necessarily represent the position of the Bulgarian Fund for Women and the organization is not responsible for its content nor in the case of abuse and plagiarism.

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