Family Violence and Gender-Based Violence As Political, Legal and Strategic Concepts in Europe

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Carol HAGEMANN-WHITE, University of Osnabrueck, Germany
Thomas MEYSEN, German Institute for Youth Human Services and Family Law, Germany
Since 2002, when the Council of Europe issued comprehensive recommendations on “The protection of women against violence” for the 47 member states, the diverse approaches to implementation have been monitored and the data analysed. About half the member states use the concept “family violence” in policy and laws dealing with violence against women. The 2011 European Convention “on protecting and combating violence against women and domestic violence” ambivalently juggles the concepts of gender and family/household.

From 2009 until 2016, our in-depth comparative research has explored how the understandings of violence against women, of domestic violence and of child abuse and neglect shape not only policy in the legal frameworks, but also the practices of intervention and their cultural premises. Drawing on insights from these studies, the presentation will discuss differing historically rooted intervention cultures within Europe and the part that concepts of family, gender and violence play. A theoretical approach to understanding why certain concepts have become dominant will be sketched.

Rising awareness of the impact of witnessing violence on children has been conflated with intergenerational transmission of risk factors as if violence were a disease (see the widespread use of the term “epidemic”). In consequence, women-and-children are often bracketed together, so that intervention can itself become a form of coercive control. Among practitioners however, such tendencies coexist with strong feminist convictions that gender-based violence can only be overcome by empowerment, supporting and restoring women’s agency. As these tensions remain unresolved, policies can proclaim a norm of non-violence for the family (demonstrably the site where both women and children suffer the most violence) without addressing issues of power or hierarchy. It is proposed that a failure to bridge the gap between the discourse on violence against women and that on child protection created space for intellectual confusion.