Tag Archives: Inequality

Picking the wound of Brazil’s dire prison system

BRAZILIAN PRISONS ARE an out-dated deposit for human beings, and imprisonment has more to do with persecution than crime rates. With arbitrary arrests that use the World Cup as excuse, the country re-opens the issue.

 The 7×1 by Germany is the smallest reason why Brazilians should be embarrassed. In the final weekend of the World Cup, a legal anomaly made national news: 60 preventive arrests were carried out using “possible future crimes” against protesters, family members and even guests present in their homes at the time.  By violating the constitutional principle that all are innocent until proven guilty, it was considered by some as an authoritarian measure. However, the ongoing issue dug into a larger problem: the abysmal conditions of the country’s penal system. Without going to trial and no jail to be held, those arrested were taken to Bangú Prison (Rio de Janeiro), one of the most feared penitentiary complexes in the country.

Debate about the national justice system is increasingly necessary. Easy solutions have been launched aimlessly, but mostly boil down to increasing violence against the offender, making more arrests, removing rights referred to as privileges and extending penalties. ​But being tough on crime ignores certain vulnerabilities and is based on a series of flawed assumptions.


Discussing crime often involves the claim that there are not enough prisons in the country; there are too many laws that
protect criminals; penal age should be lowered; and, occasionally, that the right to a fair trial is “kindness towards the bad guy”. ​However, statistics issued by the InfoPen database and the National Council of Justice (CNJ) point out that the lack of arrests is simply not real. Moreover, data suggests that ​the inhuman​ conditions means that, instead of resocializing, penitentiaries actually “breed” criminals.​

In 2012, InfoPen indicated a prison population of 548 thousand inmates. The number presented by Depen (National Penitentiary Department) is 563.7 thousand. Of these, 195 thousand are on temporary situation, that is, those who – like the protestors – have not yet been convicted and should not be imprisoned. There are another 22 thousand inmates which, according to CNJ, have already served their sentences and should have been released. In other words: almost 40% of Brazilian inmates should not be in prison in the first place.​


A task force led by CNJ in 2011 spelled out the problems that accompany this scenario. Between manning and excessive sentences, there is unnecessary suffering caused by the poor conditions, such as diseases and forced labour, not established by court. According to official data processed by Thiago Reis and Clara Velasco for the G1 news portal, there is a deficit of 200.2 thousand vacancies, considering the system is able to handle only 363.5 thousand people. Although claims of insufficient arrests exist, the number of prisoners in Brazil has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, from 126 thousand to nearly 564 thousand imprisoned between 1993 and 2013.

So what does this mean, in global terms? Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world, only behind US (2 million prisoners), China (1.6 million prisoners) and Russia (780 thousand). This cannot be a good indicator, as  two of these are authoritarian regimes, the remainder being a largely privatized system with the largest penal population on the planet. It is worth mentioning the US maintains life imprisonment for recidivates (recurring offenders) in many states, in addition to a privatised system that strengthens lobbying to expand the use of deprivation of freedom instead of alternative punishment. “The model is outdated”, argues Humberto Fabretti, professor of criminal law and criminology at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University, in a column in Jornal do Brasil. “No one seems aware of the paradox that you want to re-socialize somebody away from society,” he says.

Inspections performed by the National Council of Public Prosecutors (CNMP), entity responsible for investigating abuses by public bodies, revealed that prisons serve as schools for crime. Those charged with minor felonies receive the same treatment as those accused of heinous crimes. According to the agency, out of the 1.598 prisons to receive the inspection, 79% mix temporary and definitive prisoners; 67% mix people who are serving sentences in different regimes (open, semi-open, closed); and almost 78% mix first-time and repeat offenders. In 68% of the sites, there is no separation by dangerousness or according to the offense committed. In 65%, gang members are not separated.


Imprisonment, violence and socialization

The treatment of prisoners is often uneven. In the prison of Grajaú, “imprisoned employees” took over administrative routines, while in Pavuna (both in Rio de Janeiro), “internal security” has been passed on to the detainees as a measure to save investments on prison guards. In both cases, as in many other unofficial agreements between staff and prisoners, the “employees” received perks that included air-conditioning, refrigerators and televisions, while the rest of prisoners huddled in overcrowded and filthy cells.

Last May, Amnesty International released the global campaign “Stop Torture”, result from a survey of countries where torture remains as a State practice. In Brazil, about 80% of the population is afraid of being arrested and tortured. Alexandre Ciconello, chairperson for the NGO, called state governments’ discourse on the practice “hypocritical”. “Some truly embrace torture as policy, others make the speech that are against torture, but in practice do not restrain it, or, when they do, it is in a very shy way”, he stated. In response, José Eduardo Cardozo, justice minister since 2011, admitted that the prison system in the country is “on an almost medieval situation.”

As pointed out by the joint effort by CNJ, the treatment of prisoners in Brazil involves a series systematized acts of violence that often make the rehabilitation of the inmate impossible. Governmental disregard towards prisoners paved the way for prisons to become the playfield of organized crime groups One such group is the infamous Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC); dealing in drugs, prostitution and kidnappings, coordinating the action from inside jail, the PCC was responsible for a series of 250 attacks in 2006, that left 128 dead – since then, the group has been involved in multiple prisoner rebellions.

Often, newbies are required to join one of the gangs formed inside the detention facility in exchange for a minimum level of security, not offered by the state. In numbers: there were at least 218 killings last year alone. Official reports by the prison system represent the average of one death every two days. Frequent cases of violence against detainees include beatings, torture and even executions, both by prison officers and criminal factions. The intent is to intimidate the rest of the prisoners through example. Sexual abuse and rape against inmates occur, often in group.



Even granted benefits can be delivered in a twisted fashion. Although conjugal (sexual) visits are allowed, this sometimes means harassment and intimidation against partners. In feminine facilities in particular, the deprivation of medical treatment is shocking, with inmates being handcuffed in the postpartum and prolonged isolation schemes are handed out without justifiable cause. Cells designed for four people frequently harbour fifteen. They are unventilated, subjected to excessive heat and painful cold, depending on season and region. Inmates sleep crammed on the floor, often filthy, many times over the hole that serves as a toilet. All problems which, admittedly, are not restricted to Brazil.

Unsanitary hygiene conditions are standard, not the exception. So is the lack of health material. In some cases, the task force encountered wards in which medication expired more than five months before. Rats and cockroaches are regular company. Again, female prisons scare: one report says prisoners were using pieces of bread as tampons. It is also common that these cells, already inadequate for adults, also house their small children. According to a 2005 report by the University of Brasilia, there were 291 children living inside prisons – and while the CNJ didn’t supply a precise number, it’s 2013 report indicates the situation has worsened since then.

Still, population calls for a even more grotesque treatment due to a couple of factors. First, there is dehumanization of the offender. Secondly because the problem of repeated felonies – 70% for juvenile offenders (one of the largest in the world) and “mere” 50% for adults – is not usually seen as related to how he was brutalized in prison. Third, neither to how he is marginalized from society on release. And this comes from how inmates and criminals are portrayed in public imagination.

Social stigma

The argument to justify violence against the convict is very simplistic: it is deserved because of the people he harmed. But this is pretty emblematic if considered the actual felonies. There is a fixed idea that every criminal is violent, dangerous, irredeemable and, therefore, deserves abject violence. However, CNJ points that 65% of Brazilian inmates have not committed violent crimes – and, as mentioned earlier, nearly 200 thousand of them have not even been to court.

The situation is little different with female detainees: two thirds of the female prison population were arrested for drug related offenses, and according to Claúdia Priscila – director of a documentary about women in prison – these are often lesser offenses. “They generally play a secondary role in the drug trade, and do not represent a threat to society”, she explained to brazilian website PortoCultura. They often take the blame so to spare their partners from being charged. The end result of these arrests, she claims, are broken families.

Both in news media and in the entertainment industry, social factors of crime are ignored. The problem in reduced from a complex social factor to a mere question of character and personality. It is not social policies, lack of opportunities, drug addiction, discrimination or the parallel state formed in disadvantaged communities that leads young people in vulnerable situations to crime. It is “bad blood”; “lack of character”; “the easy way to get ahead”.

Low educational levels should, by law, be compensated while serving time. Education in prison is a constitutional right, and one of the cornerstones of the rehabilitation process. However, only 8.6% of prisoners are included in educational programs, and only a fifth of them work legally during the period, in apprenticeship programmes. In Brazil, every three worked days deduce one day from the total due time, and any remuneration is passed on to the detainee’s family.

Outside prison, being a former convict is synonymous with unemployment, as some employers ask for the criminal record of potential candidates. Many consider correct not hire ex-cons, because of believed security risks. The somewhat obvious result is poverty. According to the CNJ, 95% of prisoners are poor or very poor, mostly coming from favelas and illegal occupations – where government bodies are absent, except for episodes of repression. Of these, 65% have not completed primary education, which severely limits integration to the labour market and the possibility of livelihood.



What comes next

Aggravation is yet to come. Recently, Congresswoman Antônia Lúcia, from the Social Christian Party, has proposed an amendment to the constitution, which eliminates financial support granted to the families of inmates who have contributed to social security through taxes. The aid was established in 1988 in order to cover inmate’s children basic necessities. However, she argues this “promotes banditry”, suggesting it would be better to leave out in the open the family as an explicit additional punishment. Although this means another violation of the Constitution, by consciously harming innocents for crimes of others (in this case, the father or mother).

She argues that the aid would be passed on to the victim, who already receives compensation from the defendant and the State on demand. Support comes from the increasingly common phenomena: since the beginning of the year, there has been over 45 successful lynching attempts by organized civilian mobs dedicated to vigilante justice. More than 300 hundred attempted attacks have also been registered by police forces. In most cases, no evidence other than hearsay existed against the victims.

For all such instances, Fabretti urges caution. “The prisoners are entitled to fundamental rights, and sooner or later they return to society”. He also poses a reflection: “The question that arises is in which shape we want them back?”



Written By:

Pedro Leal is a freelance journalist, currently based in Wales. He wrote on human rights and social issues for Brazilian newspapers and news sites, working with minority rights and social inequality.

Scheila Silveira lives in the Brazil-Germany skybridge. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Photo Credits: Jack Two, Osvaldoeaf, Blog do Milton Jung, Tanozzo


Crossing the lines of Danish humour

Danish law students have been criticized for a controversial party poster.

Danish law students have been criticized for a controversial party poster.

The law student organisation at the University of Copenhagen has been criticised for a party poster, which was said to be crossing a line. The poster for the theme party caused so much of a stir on social media that the organisation had to remove it and give an official apology. But why did the poster provoke so much that it had to be removed? Ida Nordland takes a look at an example of the peculiar phenomenon; Danish humour.

The poster shows a picture of high-class lawyer Harvey Spector, one of the main characters of the American television series, Suits. Spread across Harvey Spector’s picture are the words “Are you the creditor?” Underneath is a picture of an actual homeless person begging in the streets of Copenhagen, accompanied by the words “…or are you the debtor?”

The guests of the theme party were then left with the choice of attending the party dressed up in suits as businessmen or as a homeless, derelict person.


The poster caused heated debate on Facebook. Among the critics is the Danish comedian Lasse Rimmer who shared the poster with a scornful comment about law students, who he called “self impressed douchebags”.

Other debaters defended the poster and pointed out the right to make politically incorrect jokes, as this is a deeply rooted part of Danish humour. Some argued that people were being overly sensitive about the poster.

The president of “Juridisk Diskussionsklub”, the organisation who made the poster, says to the Danish newspaper Metroexpress that they never intended to cause a fuss and in retrospect are aware of the offensive nature of the poster.

Why so much fuss?

Danes are known to be considerably thick-skinned when it comes to joking, so why then was this poster found to cross the invisible line of humour? Danish humour is characterised by using a considerable amount of irony. As explained by integration expert Mehmet Yüksekkaya to Danish Newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, Danes are proud to say that it is possible to make fun of everything and everyone, from politicians to the Danish Queen – you can even joke about religion.

Danish politician Naser Khader has said in lectures on Danish humour that the bluntness of Danish humor can be traced to a scepticism of everything authoritarian. The lack of respect for authorities also mean that literally nothing is “holy” in Denmark. Everyone has to tolerate jokes to a certain limit.

The most famous example of misunderstood “Danish humour” is the “Mohammed Cartoon” incident, which caused a crisis for Denmark a couple of years ago. The cartoons lead to fury in the Middle East, including protests, burnings of the Danish flag and boycotts on importing of Danish goods.

Another well-known example of Danish humour gone wrong, was when Danish movie director Lars Von Trier made a joke about Nazis, at a press conference in Cannes in 2011. It got so much negative press that Trier has given himself a restraining order against talking to the press, which means that he has refrained from giving any interview since, even in relation to his new movie “Nymphomaniac”.

Danish movie director has muzzled himself after several unfortunate misunderstandings.

Danish movie director has muzzled himself after several unfortunate misunderstandings.

 Law students with an image-problem

The critical comments on Facebook quickly reveal that largely the reason for the strong reactions to the homeless-poster is the negative perception of law students. People are provoked by the fact that the joke originates from people who are believed to be rich, greedy and snobbish.

Common prejudices about law students are that they lack empathy and only care about money and designer clothes. They are therefore in no position to make fun of homeless people. The critics feel that their negative prejudices about law students have been affirmed by the poster.

Class society as one of the major taboos

Another contributing factor might be that one of the only taboos in a relatively equal society as Denmark is making jokes about class difference.

Former minister of Social Affairs Eva Kjer Hansen got into trouble after making statements about inequality, in a much-debated interview in the  Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten in 2005.

She stated that, in her opinion, inequality in Denmark should not be feared, because it might create certain dynamics, and that it might be time for a revision of the thought that everyone should be “equal”. Her opinions on inequality caused so much fury among the opposition, that they have stuck to her reputation, even though she ended up retracting her statements. Ever since then it has been demanding to get a right wing politician to make statements about inequality, because they are simply unwilling to utter the word.

It might be the combination of addressing the Danish taboo of inequality while making fun of the less fortunate, that makes the poster offensive to many Danes. Presumably the line is drawn at “kicking someone who is already down”.

However, would the reactions have been different if a student organisation at the Police Academy had made a poster with an invitation to a party with a ‘Police and burglar’ theme? The question becomes whether Danish humour should be protected, or if Danes should simply accept that there are some groups in society you are not allowed to make fun of.

What do you think? Was the poster out of line or a harmless joke?

Words: Ida Nordland

Photo: Facebook/Screenshot, Flickr: canburak.

Stereotypes and reality on Italian national identity

A scene from the movie “Un americano a Roma” with Alberto Sordi (1954).

A scene from the movie “Un americano a Roma” with Alberto Sordi (1954).

A return to city-state Europe? Irene Dominioni assesses the causes and consequences of Venice’s hypothetical secession from Italy.

Italians are well-known abroad by their stereotypes: pizza, spaghetti, “mamma mia!”, Berlusconi, bunga-bunga and so on. As an Italian living abroad you hear them all. We count many more compared to other countries, and there is indeed something to be proud of: we distinguish ourselves, though most of the times not in a positive way. And Italians? What do they think of themselves? It is sad to acknowledge that Italians speak badly about their country in the first place. Complaints about an inefficient and corrupt political class, injustices and waste are never enough. This goes hand in hand with a substantial lack of civic sense and commitment: Italians have lost, or never had, trust in the institutions. Umberto Eco, philosopher and one of the most prominent figures in the academic Italian scenario, states: “The main Italian fault is that they don’t have the sense of the state. Historically they had an empire: Ancient Rome. Then it collapsed and for 2000 years the country was invaded and governed by foreign powers. So for Italians, in general, the state was the enemy. They were ‘the other’, not the representatives of the Italian community”.

Even after 150 years of political unity, the country still appears divided: state and society, north and south. Are there values or only stereotypes to unite Italians? Something in between, perhaps, like the so-called ‘l’arte di arrangiarsi’ for which we are well-known. This is a peculiarly Italian practice that does not have a comparison in any other culture, but that can be best translated with ‘the art of getting by’. An old Italian film bears this title and is centred on the Italian habit of obtaining what one wants with whatever means, including opportunism, arrogance and cheating. ‘The art of getting by’ has also been associated with a more positive principle of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and the capacity of Italians to adapt themselves to whatever situation. It is up to you to interpret what this means. But, indeed, “l’arte di arrangiarsi” might be what has led the Italian region of Veneto to contemplate secession.

The independent Republic of Veneto
Unrest about the way the country is being is not confined to Veneto. The state is perceived as a machine that devours richness and does not care for the people. Stoked by the resentment of transferring a high quota of taxes (Veneto is one of the most productive Italian regions) to a central administration that only erodes resources, the long-lived secessionist spirit of the population of Veneto has begun to transform into action. A separatist committee called Plebiscito 2013 organised an online referendum on 16-21 March 2014 to ask Venetians whether they favoured the creation of an independent republic to take themselves out of the Italian jurisdiction and government. According to the promoters, more than 2 million people went to vote and a striking majority expressed in favour (89 per cent).

Foreign media have dedicated great attention to the event with headlines like: “Venice votes on splitting from Rome”, “Venice votes on referendum on splitting from Italy” and rushing to conclusions a little too quickly. The reality is that the online referendum has had great success but it does not have any value in legal terms and its aim was only advisory. This means that, for now, the population of Veneto is positive about the idea of breaking away from the rest of the country, but nothing more. On the other hand, Italian media and the government have systematically left the question in the background, diverting attention to other issues. The situation has been neglected until now, but these numbers could become more serious if the local administration used them to push more decisively on legislation for a higher grade of autonomy in Veneto. Such a situation would constitute a turning point for the region and might reduce antagonism towards the state.

Two neighbors of Veneto, the regions of Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia, benefit from particular forms of autonomy in legislative, administrative and financial factors. This has influenced the struggle for independence in Veneto. Moreover, the historical presence of the extreme right-wing party of Lega Nord adds fuel to the fire with slogans that claim “The North first!”, meaning that the more advanced regions of northern Italy, that ‘constitute the economic engine of the country’, should stop ‘sustaining’ the disastrous management of the underdeveloped south. Despite the fact that the Plebiscito committee does not belong to the party, they share the same political philosophy and Lega Nord has quickly taken the lead of the attention dedicated to the referendum.

Aftermath of an hypothetical independence
What impact does Veneto’s favour for independence have on the rest of the country? And how does it relate to national identity? The consequences of a hypothetical break-away of the region are serious, most of all on the economic level. If Veneto kept the wealth it produces for itself this would take away a big part of the economic input from the national cash flow, the gap between the north and the south would increase, leading the southern regions to a even more desperate situation than now.

In a state of growing poverty, the mafia would take advantage of the weaknesses of the state in the south as well as in the north. Migration from the southern regions to the north would increase, as well as emigration to other countries. Taxes would become impossible to bear. The list of consequences is probably too long to read. The quest for independence of Veneto might appear as a selfish ambition, the pursuit of one’s own interest, regardless of the rights and duties of being Italian citizens. It might be an effective example of the ‘art of getting by’, the idea of achieving wealth while leaving others behind; or maybe not. It is certainly a sign of a lack of national solidarity which is going to add another problem to a country that already has a long list to solve. But it is important to reflect on the reasons that have led to such a stance. The theme of national identity might not be the primary issue on the agenda of the Italian government, but it is certainly a problem underlying many others. Only effective policies and a step towards more autonomy in the single regions will be able to recover Italy’s lost reputation in the eyes of its own citizens and in turn diminish secession. The alternative is that the state will continue to be seen as ‘the enemy’ and more people will start asking themselves whether it is worth having a country called Italy at all.

Equality or discrimination?

Flickr: HBarrison

The University of Copenhagen wants to attract more female applicants to research positions. A gender action plan has been set in motion, and is to be implemented by the end of 2014. Tinuke Maria Iyore investigates what Danish student media are writing about the plan.  

COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HAS presented a new action plan for gender balance. One of the proposals is that both genders have to be represented in the applicants for research positions.

The proposal has received a lot of attention in Danish media and was recently up for debate at a Copenhagen University board meeting, where several board members expressed their concern about this requirement. Certain members of the Danish Parliament have even called the proposal discriminating.

However a close look at the pile of applications shows that the university might be facing an even bigger problem. The pile is simply too small.

Gender vs. Qualifications

According to the rector of Copenhagen University’s Ralf Hemmingsen, the proposal is not gender-discriminating. “We’re testing the proposal, because we find that there are too few female professors. I don’t think it is discriminating to make sure that we have at least one female and one male applicant.

“I would like to emphasize that qualifications remain the determining factor,” he says to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

At the most recent board meeting, members agreed that the main goal of the action plan should be to attract more qualified applicants. Some board members believed emphasis should be put solely on qualifications, while others thought that the main focus should be attracting more qualified female applicants, due to the notion that this minority within academia holds a great deal of talent.

Danish Equality Laws

The minister for gender equality, Manu Sareen of the Social Liberal Party, welcomes the proposal. “I think it is important that the universities work towards a more equal gender composition. It’s about making the most of all talents”, he says to Berlingske.

He also states that it is equally important that the university stays within the Danish equality laws. The University of Copenhagen has previously obtained a waiver from this law with their 2008 action plan; ‘Diversity – more women in management’.

Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, who is Research Spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is sceptical of the proposal. He calls it  “very discriminating” and thinks it diverts attention from simply hiring the most qualified applicant.

The Bigger Problem

The lack of applicants seems to be a problem that goes beyond gender. The board of Copenhagen University is concerned that every third research position receives only one application – thus granting no certainty that the most qualified researcher is actually the one who gets the job.

This might actually pose a larger problem than the lack of female applicants. “The universities should concentrate on attracting highly skilled employees. Not by making special proposals for women, but by creating a more attractive work environment, so more qualified applicants – both men and women – apply for the university’s research positions,” says Merete Riisager, spokeswoman on gender equality for the Liberal Alliance party, to Berlingske.

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Do you think the University of Copenhagen is engaging in positive discrimination?  Is this an appropriate response to uneven employment figures?  Where should the university’s priorities lie regarding top reseach jobs?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photo credit: HBarrison [Flickr]

Based on the following articles from Universitetsavisen:





Gender issues in Europe’s latest unemployment rates

Credit: JIP

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany

Sean Gibson visualises the latest unemployment rates coming out of Europe, illustrating the gender bias for each nation’s figures and what this could mean going forward for a still-fragile European economy.

With tentative talk of economic recovery in certain corners of Europe, now is a natural break-point to consider the unemployment rates throughout the continent – specifically, how the figures line up along gender lines.  In an uncertain environment these national biases could become more pronounced if we hit any hiccups.

The worst of the financial crisis may well be behind us, as we are told, but there are several threats to a stable recovery that could cause serious pain for many millions of EU residents.

Quantitative easing – the means by which the US Federal Reserve has been promoting investment and growth through asset purchases – is being scaled back.  Simultaneously, China is curtailing its spending as it looks to reform its financial systems, and make them more dependent on world markets than the Chinese state.  That means the world’s two biggest spenders are ducking out at the same time. Who’s going to keep Europe’s recovery cycle going if nobody’s buying anything it’s got?

All the while, the European Central Bank has been struggling to get consensus throughout Europe on the legality of its own breed of quantitative easing.  The option of debt mutualisation – where member countries would pool the debts they have built up through the crisis years – has been punted well off the table.

Heat map – gender bias

With this significant gloom hanging over the ongoing ‘recovery’, here are the differences in employment rates and gender biases in terms of percentage points – see the table below for full statistics.

The more solid colour blocks show the more pronounced differences between men and women, with red shades showing lesser unemployment for women and blue shades showing lesser unemployment for men.


In line with the map up top, the table below shows the three countries that most favour men in blue, while the three countries where women have the biggest advantage are to be found in red (data from Eurostat – no Switzerland, sorry).

Unemployment rates Male (%) Female (%)
Belgium 8.8 8.2
Bulgaria 13.4 12.7
Czech Republic 5.7 8.2
Denmark 6.8 7.3
Germany 5.2 4.8
Estonia 9.8* 8.9*
Ireland 13.3 10.3
Greece 24.9* 32.2*
Spain 25 26.8
France 10.9 10.8
Croatia 20.5 16.6
Italy 12.2 13.8
Cyprus 17.4 16.1
Latvia 11.9** 11.1**
Lithuania 12.5 10.2
Luxembourg 5.4 7
Hungary 8.5** 9.2**
Malta 7.1 6.7
Netherlands 7.4 6.8
Austria 4.8 5.1
Poland 9.2 10.7
Portugal 15 15.7
Romania 7.8 6.5
Slovenia 8.8 11.8
Slovakia 13.8 13.4
Finland 8.8 7.7
Sweden 8.4 7.9
United Kingdom 7.6* 6.8*
Iceland 5.4 5.2
Norway 3.8** 3.5**
Figures for Jan 2014    
* denotes Nov 2013 figures    
** denotes Dec 2013 figures

Nineteen out of those 30 countries have unemployment rates more favourable to women – can we take a moment to congratulate ourselves on advancing gender equality?

Alas, no.  If this were some kind of sport scored by percentage points, even with their near two-thirds nation advantage (19/30) the females would still lose out to the males in a 21.5-19.6 defeat.  The figures demonstrate that where women have the advantage it is smaller, whereas the countries in which the men enjoy a smaller unemployment rate, they do so by a significant margin.  Just look  at that whopping 7.3 percentage-points difference in Greece one more time.

Even if women were faring better in terms of unemployment rates throughout Europe, these figures say nothing for the state of the inequality in wages that still prevails.  Nor do we have any knowledge from this data of the working conditions or terms of employment (sick pay, maternity leave, etc.).

This article cannot do justice to the myriad cultural and social factors at play in each country’s unique situation.  There are several factors to be explored much further but this data should arm us to go forward and find those important narratives.

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What is the gender bias like in your country’s employment figures?  Are you surprised by this data?  What do you think can be done to tackle real imbalances in the gender balance of the unemployment rate?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

All data from Eurostat.

Photo credit: JIP

Violence against Women is a hidden EU problem

European Parliament

European Parliament

A shocking report from the EU has laid out the scale of the problem of violence against women in its member countries. As Zuzana Brezinova examines, the numbers reported are only half of the story. 

“About one third of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15, which corresponds to 62 million women in total” says the latest report released by the European Union´s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on Wednesday 5 March.

The FRA report, the first of its kind at the EU level, could become a turning point in European legislation wherein legally binding directives addressing violence against women, either physical or sexual, are practically absent. The results of the survey, however striking as they are, reveal the real extent and severity of the problem within the EU-28 and overthrow the stereotypical mindsets of Europeans influenced by the media coverage of the issue who have long considered violence against women as confined to the Middle Eastern or developing societies.

“Violence against women, and specifically gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook. What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities,” explained Morten Kjaerum director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

“This report presents the first results from the most comprehensive survey to date at the level of the EU on women’s diverse experiences of violence. It is hoped that the report’s findings are taken up by those women and men who can advocate and initiate change to address violence against women,” added Kjaerum in his foreword to the survey.

From the 42,000 women aged 18-74 years interviewed in the 28 EU countries (1,500 women per member state on average) an estimated 13 million have experienced physical violence in the course of the 12 months before the survey interviews, which corresponds to 7 % of all women within the indicated age group. Approximately 2 % of EU women, which is about 3.7 million in real figures, have been victims of sexual assault. One in twenty has been raped since the age of 15 and at least 18 % of all women have experience stalking. About 21 million women reported an experience of some sort of sexual abuse or incident by an adult since the age of 15. Last, but not least, over a half of all women indicated that they avoid certain situations or places for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted compared to far fewer men according to existing surveys on crime victimisation and fear of crime.

The highest number of cases was reported in Denmark (52 %), Finland (47 %) and Sweden (46 %), followed by France and the UK. The lowest incidence of violence against women was registered in Poland (19 %), which is surprising especially in relation to the first triad of Scandinavian countries. All of them are liberal welfare states with strong social democratic parties, praised for their gender equality and emphasis on family values.

Worryingly, all the reported figures are in fact believed to be even higher. According to FRA approximately 67 % of women didn´t report the most serious incidents of domestic violence to the police or a support organisation, within the last 12 months.  Reasons for this silent suffering are varied. In some countries, as the Agency for Fundamental Rights indicates, it is culturally unacceptable to talk about experiences of violence, in others gender equality plays an important role. The abuse of women is more likely to be addressed in countries that promote gender equality, than in more patriarchal societies. Often the women are faced with a difficult choice to either hold their tongues or be expelled from the community.

Existence of legally binding directive is yet another important factor that has to be accounted for in relation to the real extent of the problem. Here the EU could be seen as at the same level as countries like Russia, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2011 when the Council of Europe proposed what would become the first legally binding document to combat violence against women. The Istanbul Convention, the document´s official title, addresses women’s abuse as a gender-based violence and classifies it as a form of structural violence, which is “even more obvious if we look at the patchy attempts of the police, courts and social services to help women victims,” says the text. The only imperfection it has, is that it has not yet been enacted as the ratification of at least ten member states is needed. Meanwhile in the EU there is a gap in laws which needs to be filled.

Salmond, Phone Hacking and The Church: UK Fast News

Sougata Ghosh

Sougata Ghosh

 Blair advised Brooks in hacking case

It emerged this week that the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks at the height of the phone hacking scandal last year.

Blair reportedly told Brooks to “tough up” as the crisis would pass and that she should launch a “Hutton style” report into the scandal. He also said he would act as an “unofficial advisor” during the scandal to Brooks and Murdoch.

The scandal erupted about 18 months ago when it emerged that the News of the World had been involved with phone-hacking. It led to the arrest of Brooks and the Prime Minister’s former head of communications Andy Coulson. It also resulted in Rupert and James Murdoch being quizzed by a parliamentary group of MPs.

Scottish Independence

The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond this week rejected claims made last week by the major UK parties that Scotland could not share a currency with the UK. The Scottish National Party (SNP), who are the governing party in the devolved Scottish parliament, have accused the rest of the UK of ‘bullying’ the Scottish people into voting to stay part of the UK.

This week the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said that Scotland could have borrowing rights. This would allow Scotland to borrow money on the international markets – while the SNP welcomed this they dismissed claims that an independent Scotland would suffer high rates when borrowing as they are a newly sovereign nation. They have also claimed a currency union would be best for the whole of the UK in the event of Scottish independence.

Religion and Inequality

In an article for King’s College London’s Roar Nik Jovčič-Sas argues that the views held by Archbishop Carey are not religious. Carey has been criticised for opposing gay marriage in the UK after he called for a “Coalition for Marriage” which he said was needed to counter a move towards gay-marriage in the UK. Carey claimed that society could be harmed by same-sex marriage. Jovčič-Sas argues that these views are not an example of Christian teaching but instead “the bigoted views of a bitter man.”



Meanwhile, in the Durham-based Palatinate Edward Stroud argues that the Church should do more to encourage the participation and influence of women in the church. He says that the recent failure to approve women bishops in the Anglican Church as well as dealing with issues of inequality in the Catholic Church. Stroud argues that this is “not just an issue which should concern only women, it is a human issue.”  

Who’s afraid of vaginas?


Gender Equality and Women’s Rights were top of the agenda last week. Aarhus, Denmark was just one of the cities on the map in the #1billionrising campaign. Pandeia curates an article from before the event, by Zoe Robertson, for Jutland Station.

On February 14th, the Women’s Museum in Aarhus, Kvindemuseet, will host its first V-Day event, part of a global initiative to end violence against women and girls. The event, coordinated by an international group of journalism students from Aarhus University, is one of many taking place internationally in an effort to fundraise and increase awareness for women’s rights and gender equality.

V-Day, a worldwide activist movement that aims to end violence against women and girls, was created by Eve Ensler, who was inspired by the reaction to her 1994 play The Vagina Monologues. The organization has steadily amassed a global following and now holds upward of 5000 events across the world annually, most organized by local grassroots leaders and college students in conjunction with their campuses. Last year, V-Day launched the One Billion Rising for Justice campaign, a call for communities to gather on Valentine’s Day to participate in events that raise awareness and challenge violence against women.

Friday’s V-Day event program features an interactive afternoon followed up by evening performances. Hosted in the Women’s Museum café area, the day will open with photography exhibits, and interactive and multimedia displays including, for the daring, a photo booth specially designed for participants to privately photograph (and instantly print) their body parts for display in the museum. The evening program will feature a documentary screening and discussion, followed by poetry and book-excerpt readings, drama, and a musical performance. All program events are centered on raising awareness and increasing dialogue about womens’ and girls’ rights.

“People kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but…there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

Ellie Sellwood, a student from the U.K., is coordinating performances for V-Day in Aarhus. It’s all centered around the idea of home and being comfortable and how violence is like a violation of your home. It doesn’t matter what sort of violence it is, it damages your property and how you feel.” Pascale Müller, another of the event organizers, from Germany, describes how, in many of the performances, “people are talking about their personal experience. We want people to engage with the topics.”

The event, backed by the V-Day organization but arranged individually by local communities, is intrinsically collaborative by nature. While most V-Day events will traditionally see at least some performance, either of The Vagina Monologues or other scripts that focus on women, community organizers are encouraged to create inclusive, interactive programs that incorporate additional forms of activism.

This collaborative spirit translates to nearly all facets of the event’s organization and production. Lotte Kamphuis, from the Netherlands, and Sofia Lotto Persio, from Italy, are also part of the team of coordinators of Friday’s event. “Everybody is doing so much,” says Kamphuis. “There’s this feeling of community, of people having the same goals and wishes,” agrees Lotto Persio.

Sellwood stresses the advantage of a multinational organizational and performance team, and the benefit it has for the event. “Actually performing this event in a different country has been really interesting, gathering perspectives from Danes and fellow international students who all have a different take on it.” Kamphuis agrees, noting the diversity of material that results from a global group. “It’s really nice that it’s such an international group. It’s content from all over the world.”

Perhaps the most fitting collaboration taking place during V-Day is that of the organization and the venue. The Women’s Museum in Aarhus, touted as one of the only of its kind, will host V-Day for the first time. Julie Rokkjær Birch, who is responsible for audience engagement at the museum, considered it an appropriate partnership. “It was very easy to say yes,” she said of being approached to host the event at the museum. “I think it’s important that this museum is always up-to-date about what is happening when you discuss gender and women.”

It is likewise appealing for the event organizers. “For me it was rather exciting to host V-Day in one of the few women’s Museums in the world,” says Müller. “I think they should step out a little bit more and be a little bit vocal about what they want to do, also towards the audience here in Aarhus, and I think V-Day is a great event to do so.” In addition to the ideological linkage, she explains that the venue is physically accommodating too. “It’s a very unique place, not only the Women’s Museum as an institution but also the place itself. It has a really intimate atmosphere, so I think it will transport the performance very well.”

The movement behind V-Day also speaks to the initiatives of the Women’s Museum. As Rokkjær Birch put it “We’re not just a museum. We are also taking responsibility for women in need. We have a guidance centre here, where women who have been abused can go talk to a counsellor. We have a bigger perspective than just being a museum.”

Promoting V-Day has already involved breaking taboos. Kamphuis and Lotto Persio, who worked together to create a video for display at the event, recorded men answering two simple questions: What do you think of when you hear the word Vagina? and What does the word vagina mean to you? While the teaser for their video is, at face value, humorous (many of their subjects cringe and shift awkwardly when put on-the-spot), there is an underlying intent, and Kamphuis emphasizes, that the video “is not there to make fun of them. It’s funny, because it’s a word that they don’t use that much, and they have to think about it there and it’s very spontaneous.” Lotto Persio describes their intention of using humour as a way to navigate or break taboos surrounding female sexuality. “I think this helps going a little bit underneath the surface of the usual sexual jokes you would have. This is much more straight-on, you’re not using euphemism, you’re not using different words, you’re going straight to the point, and I think that’s a good way.”

Ultimately, the organisers hope to create an accessible and inviting environment for participants to engage in community activism and develop awareness of the cause. “For me, it’s about raising awareness and switching something in people’s heads,” says Lotto Persio. And even for first-time participants, the event is easily appealing. Says Müller, “I feel V-Day has an easy entrance into the topic of feminism. You can do a lot of dance or poetry, things that are really accessible to the audience. So I think this is why there is a great diversity in the people who come and attend it because they feel they can do something and relate to it.”

Sellwood agrees that “it’s a great conversation starter, and it’s opening up the conversation about equality. A lot of people kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but I think actually there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

And, for those who plan to spend the day with a significant other, the organizers encourage a visit to the Women’s Museum. “I think it might be a very unique opportunity for a nice Valentine’s Day,” says Kamphuis. But, adds Lotto Persio, “It would be really nice if you just looked at this day, not really as Valentine’s Day, but just as another Friday and a Friday on which you can learn something more about female rights and gender rights and equality.” The event is designed, above all, to be fun, concludes Lotto Persio. “You can have fun with vaginas, but that, I think is something that everyone knows.”

Entry is a 20 DKK donation to Kvindemuseet. The event begins at 1pm, with the evening program and performances starting at 5pm. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/286670538152322/ or kvindemuseet.dk for more information.

An Uprising of 1 Billion – Were You With Them?

On Friday the 14th, One billion people across the world rose up against gender inequality. Svanlaug Arnadottir took a look at what went on in Europe for Pandeia.

 Vagina Monologues: London

To promote V-Day’s ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE campaign, a special one-off performance of the Vagina Monologues 107474587_d00cbdcfa5_oby its creator Eve Ensler  took place last Friday. The play hailed by critics as “funny, poignant and a theatrical tour de force” has been running on and off for more than 16 years. Ensler’s work gives much thought to the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement buried in women’s experiences, through her interviews with over 200 women.

What is seen as her liberation of one word has become a movement of empowerment for women. V-Day’s campaign was a global call for women survivors of violence and their loved ones to gather safely in in places where they are entitled to justice. They create works of art that unshackle their stories and promote tolerance and diversity. V-Day in London was, as promised, a powerful experience.

Rise, Release and Dance in Reykjavík

Last year in Reykjavík over 2100 people came together in Harpa Music Hall in Reykjavik to rise up against violence against women, demanded justice and danced in unity for a better world. This year, the Icelandic Committee of UN Women raised the bar even further and gathered over 3000 people together to dance for justice. In cooperation with Lunch Beat Reykjavík and Sonar Music Festival the event took place in Harpa Music Hall at 12 pm –  Dj Margeir  made sure you could rise, release and dance with your heart and joy against violence against women.

Martial Arts in Oslo                                            

In Oslo, Norway citizens gathered and rose together at the Norsk Taiji Senter for a session of Tai Chi and afterwards moved to the streets of Kvadraturen.








V-Day: Sounds of Silence