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Spain Hits Back at Abuse Culture

New laws designed to curb domestic violence are currently passing through the Spanish parliament.   The BBC World Service's Everywoman programme examines why the government is tackling the issue now. 

 In Spain, the fight against domestic violence has become one of the new government's key priorities, with policies designed to tackle abusers head on.  

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has made fighting domestic violence his main priority after terrorism.  

Soledad Murillo, Spain's Secretary of State for Women's Affairs, told Everywoman the laws had been fashioned in response to what victims had said they needed.  

"Women's groups were instrumental in deciding this new law, which makes the judicial process more effective," she said.  

"It gives police and social services more power to stop the suspected aggressor; it gives more power to those who come into contact with the victims of violence, so that they feel less alone.  

"This is a law designed by women, for women." 

Property of men 

Although statistics for domestic violence are not worse in Spain than anywhere else in Europe, it is only recently that Spaniards have started talking about the abuse.  

During the Franco dictatorship, a woman was considered the legal property of a man, and domestic violence was not considered a criminal offence.  One traditional Spanish saying is: "I hit her because she is mine". 

 Although modern Spain is more liberal, violence remains a problem - and it is this that has caused the Spanish government to act.  

"If I woke him in the morning, he beat me; if he woke me while I was sleeping, he raped me," Fidella Ramiron (not her real name) - told Everywoman.  

"I preferred to wake him." 

Ms Ramiron has been in hiding from her abusive husband for 20 years.  

She described her injuries, saying she was usually covered in bruises, especially around her eyes.  

"He was always hitting me," she added.  "I never knew what for.  It didn't matter."

And she added that she felt she had been failed by the Spanish system.  

"I can never use my real name," she added.  

"I can't go back to where my daughter was born, in case he can find me.  That's what I don't understand.  I'm the one being punished, having to remain hidden from him forever.  I just want him to go to prison for what he's done.  That's all I want." 

But others feel that simply toughening the law is not enough.  

Dr Marian diSadi, a doctor at an emergency ward in a Madrid hospital, stressed that it was also important that attitudes were changed.  

"We doctors feel very frustrated," she said.  "We can't help the victims of domestic violence who often don't want to report their partners.  

"We can treat them physically, but it's very hard to separate the victim from her man.  It's hard, and a painful journey." 

Changing attitudes 

Much of Mr Zapatero's early legislation has focused on making equality an emblem of his period in office.  Among the new laws has been the introduction of equality classes into all state schools.  He has also selected as many women in his government as men.  

Meanwhile, the success of the award-winning Spanish film Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes) - which has domestic violence as its central subject - has indicated that the attitude towards women is now changing fast, especially among the young.  

"We have realised we have this problem now," says the film's director Iciar Bollain.  

"I guess we are late with many things relative to Europe.  There was a long period during Franco when this was private business, and nobody could interfere.  

"There was the heavy weight of the church, saying 'women, stay with your man and keep going, whatever happens'." 

But Luis Tosar, the film's male star, added that it would take a long time before the attitude of some Spanish men would be completely changed.  

"We have traditions that go back centuries," he said.  

"Spain has always been that way.  The concept of the man being macho, head of the family, is still very much the way it is here.  I think we are in a process of change that will take quite some time." 

Ms Bollain said that she agreed.  "It's in our saints, it's in our songs, it's in our jokes - if a man kills a woman, you still hear comments that she must have done something to him.  

"Justification for violence against women is so deep in our culture

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