A woman walks past a mural commemorating the 107 women killed by men in Italy in 2012. Photo: Getty.
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A third of women in the EU have faced sexual or physical violence

Denmark, Sweden and Finland had the highest rates of violence against women, despite the countries' reputation for promoting gender equality. Why?

The world’s largest ever survey on violence against women makes for grim reading. A third of women in the European Union have experienced sexual or physical violence since the age of 15, a survey of 42,000 women conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has revealed. One fifth of women have experienced sexual or physical violence from a partner, and 5 per cent of women have been raped.

Women are also likely to experience sexual or physical violence at a young age: a third have experiences of childhood physical or sexual abuse, with half of those who have faced sexual violence having been abused by a stranger.  

These high rates of gender based violence are in no way unique to the EU: according to the World Health Organisation around 35 per cent of women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, and a 2013 WHO report concluded that Europe had lower rates of violence against women than any other region. In countries with a recent history of conflict or severe restrictions of women’s rights, rates of violence against women are even higher. According to the UN, for instance, 87 per cent of women in Afghanistan have suffered sexual, psychological or physical violence in their lifetime.

But it is still shocking to consider that while most EU countries pride themselves on being global leaders in women's empowerment and gender equality, so many women face violence. One strange statistic is that the Scandinavian countries, widely considered among the most equal, posted some of the highest rates of violence. 52 per cent of women in Denmark report having experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15, compared to 47 per cent in Finland and 46 per cent in Sweden. In the UK, the figure is 44 per cent, which means we have the fifth highest rate of violence against women. In contrast, in Poland 19 per cent of women reported sexual or physical violence.

There are a number of explanations for the higher rates of violence against women in Scandinavian countries (and I don’t think Scandi noir is one of them). It could be that women in these countries felt more able to answer the survey truthfully: perhaps in European countries where the stigma on sexual violence is higher, women were less likely to report violence against them or to recognise their experiences as a form of abuse. It’s also possible, although it’s a sad thought, that the more women socialise and work outside of home, the more likely they are to experience violence from a stranger, friend or colleague.

It would be very misleading to draw to a strong link between women’s empowerment and a rise in gender based violence from the report, however. We know that some of the best protection society can offer women is to make them aware of their rights, to enact and enforce strong laws protecting them from discrimination and violence and to ensure that women are able to report crimes safely, confident that their case will be dealt with sensitively and that they will receive justice.

Which brings me to another shocking statistic from today’s report: only 14 per cent of women reported their most serious incident of partner violence to the police, and 13 per cent reported their most incident of non-partner violence to the police. If Europe wants to hold itself up as an example to others, we have a lot of work to do. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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