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Swiss taken to task over domestic violence

Switzerland has been criticised for not doing enough to combat domestic violence

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland does not do enough to protect women against domestic violence, according to the Swiss branch of Amnesty International.

The campaigning group is calling for improved coordination between cantons and the federal government to provide more beds in shelters, better help for migrant women and counselling for aggressors.

The demands - made on the eve of the United Nations-sponsored International Day Against Violence Against Women on Friday - will be repeated throughout 2006 in Switzerland, when Amnesty launches a global, year-long campaign against domestic violence.

"Switzerland is doing something about domestic violence, but it occupies the middle field compared to other countries, which is not good enough," Amnesty spokeswoman Stella Jegher told swissinfo.

"There are some regulations at a cantonal level to keep violent husbands away from the marital home and there is a national law in preparation to protect women. But other countries, such as Spain and Austria, have achieved a lot more."

One of the biggest worries in Switzerland is a severe shortage of beds in refuges for battered women. Switzerland falls some way short of the minimum 980 beds recommended by the Council of Europe, providing a mere 189.

"The financing of these shelters seem to take a low priority, but it is actually money well invested," said Jegher. "It is difficult to judge the exact cost of domestic violence, but studies have suggested that it costs Switzerland SFr400 million ($304 million) annually, mainly in policing and social-support bills."

Training programmes

Jegher has called for more trained social workers, an education programme in schools and more effort to work with people who commit the violence.

"We need to establish counselling programmes to help aggressors understand and overcome the reasons for their violence," she said.

A 1997 Council of Europe survey found that one fifth of women in member states, which includes Switzerland, suffered sexual or physical violence within a marriage or partnership.

But Jegher says it is difficult to place an exact figure on the number of victims in Switzerland as attempts to collate statistical data only began recently.

Monique Aeschbacher, head of the Federal Office for Gender Equality's Service Against Violence, said work was being done to increase protection for women.

She pointed to a new law being discussed by parliament to give courts powers to issue restraining orders.

"I agree with Amnesty that as long as we have domestic violence in Switzerland we have more work to do," she told swissinfo. "But it must be recognised that we have made progress in recent years."

An amendment to the country's Criminal Code which came into force in April 2004 allows police to prosecute cases of domestic abuse even without an official complaint from the victim.

"We now have a good legal basis in the cantons to deal with domestic violence, but we need time to evaluate how effective things are in practice," said Aeschbacher.

"We have financial problems in Switzerland which means a lot of good projects will be cut. It is unfortunate, but it is a reality."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

The International Day Against Violence Against Women starts the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, running from November 25 to December 10.
The UN-supported campaign originated from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute, sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991.
A World Health Organization study of ten countries, not including Switzerland, published on Thursday found that one in six women suffers domestic violence.

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