More women than men were murdered in Austria last year, a rare occurrence in European Union member states as the country grapples with its femicide problem.
Thirty-one women were murdered in the small Alpine country of 8.9 million people, a number inscribed in blood red on a makeshift memorial listing femicides committed in 2021.
Figures fluctuate over the years, but between 2010 and 2020, 319 women were killed, mostly by their spouses or ex-spouses, according to a government-commissioned study. This is one of the highest rates in the EU, according to Eurostat data.
Far from the demonstrations against this scourge organized in France or Mexico, the subject is barely addressed in Austria. It only came to the fore in public debate after some particularly sordid crimes.
On March 5, 2021, a 35-year-old woman identified as Nadine W. was strangled to death with a cable at her tobacconist by her ex-partner and then burned alive. He died a month later in hospital from his injuries.
Then in April, a brewery owner was arrested for killing his ex-partner, a mother of two. The 43-year-old, who has since been sentenced to life in prison for these crimes, was already known to the public after an elected environmentalist posted obscene messages she had allegedly sent him on Facebook in 2018.
Since then, an awareness campaign has been launched and the Government has intensified its efforts, allocating a new budget of almost 25 million euros in 2022 to combat violence against women.
So that the deceased are not forgotten, Ana Badhofer has begun to list the names of the victims on a wall in the capital.
“Few are outraged” by these crimes “of unprecedented brutality,” deplored the activist.
She cites the example of a young woman left dying at the foot of an administration building in November after being beaten to death with a baseball bat.
Karin Pfolz, who herself went through hell during the ten years of their marriage, still remembers her extreme loneliness.
“You have no one to talk to. Many of us keep quiet out of shame, out of fear of society’s reaction,” said Pfolz, who now visits schools to share his experience.
From the outside, the violence was invisible, the welts hidden. “The black eye is a cliché,” he said.
Proportionally, women die much less than in Russia or Brazil, the most dangerous countries, but in such a prosperous and calm country, where there are laws and a support network, the “situation is incomprehensible”, Maria Rösselhumer, head of AÖF, main association that manages the shelters, he said.
There is little explanation for this: many mothers stay at home or work part-time in this Catholic country, and women often cannot afford to leave an abusive partner.
They earn 20% less than men, a wage gap unmatched in the EU except in Estonia and Lithuania.
‘disdain for women’
In these conditions, few dare to take the step because “when you leave you find yourself in the street with a plastic bag in one hand and your child in the other,” explains Pfolz.
When she fled, she felt “like a refugee in her own country”.
The AOF’s Rösselhumer also mentioned “a real lack of respect and disdain for women” in the political landscape, a machismo that has increased under the coalition that united the conservatives and the extreme right between 2017 and 2019.
And although he welcomes the awakening of the authorities, he considers them still “negligent” behind the promises.
Austria was also criticized in December by Council of Europe human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic, who called for “sufficient resources” and an “ambitious and comprehensive approach”.
“It is true that there is a lot of talk about it at the moment,” Pfolz commented. But even now, “hardly anyone” is concerned about the abuse of women, he said. “Until there is a murder.”
The year 2022 had barely begun when the scourge claimed another victim: a 42-year-old woman shot in the head by her husband at the table.