The Hidden Figures of Gender-Based Violence in Spain

The restrictive definition of gender-based violence in Spanish legislation distorts the reality of feminicide and makes policy implementation impossible. 

The current political and social scenario demonstrates that inequality and violence against women is a structural problem that affects every society in the world, including Spain. With the global rise of the economic and political power of the conservative right, the situation has undoubtedly worsened. Faced by this, feminist and women’s movements have reconsidered their strategies with the aim of combining into one campaign all the disparate struggles: against racism; for the rights of migrants; for the protection of sexual and reproductive rights; for access to health services, for the rights of LGBTQI; for a dignified life free from violence; and for a diverse, intercultural and feminist future. This vision would make possible an intersectoral project that, unfragmented, would raise awareness about the violations of the human rights of women and girls, showing governments that global civil society will not tolerate violence and is ready to defend equality and non-discrimination. 

The need to recognise the full scale of gender violence (GV) has been a key demand of the Spanish feminist movement for some time. During the International Women’s “Walkout” (PIM) which took place on 8 March 2017 in various Spanish cities, hundreds of women, platforms [1] and various Spanish feminist organizations called for the State to comply with its obligation to protect against “old and new” types of GV [2].

What is not seen in Spain

Since 2004, Spain has the Organic Law 1/2004 that seeks to prevent and sanction GV, and protect its victims [3]. However, the law’s definition of what constitutes GV is limited and inadequate, reducing it to violence perpetrated on women by partners or ex-partners, or those with emotional ties to the victim even without correlation. Meaning that other forms of GV, such as trafficking of women, female genital mutilation, non-intimate feminicides or sexual violence are not recognized by law. They are therefore invisible in official data.

The same law created the State Observatory on Violence against Women [4], an inter-ministry body that works with the Government Office for Gender Violence. This Office is responsible for analysis, institutional cooperation and the drawing up of reports and studies, as well as the creation of action plans for GV. One of the main objectives of the Observatory was the creation of an official database that collates all information provided by the relevant public institutions with a focus on GV, with the aim of “analysing the scale of the phenomenon and its development”. 

The official information and sources are very diverse. The legal data on the number of crimes reported for GV, the number of protection orders issued and information on how legal cases were resolved is provided by the General Council of the Judiciary. The information on the monitoring and follow-up of cases, and data on prisoners carrying out sentences for GV are provided by the Ministry of the Interior.  The Employment and Social Security Ministry (ESSM) supplies data on the employment situation of women who have survived attacks. Information about phone calls for support service and legal advice, as well as protection services for women who have survived assaults are provided by the Government Office, which also keeps count of the number of feminicides as well as the murders of children of the victims [5].  

In spite of all the information produced by the State, there are various limitations when it comes to interpreting the data. The main drawback is the definition of GV laid down in the Law 1/2004, with the result that only data on intimate feminicides are gathered and not on all cases of feminicide. According to official sources, by July 2017 there had been 32 feminicides, while for civil organisations that collect wider data on feminicides the number doubles

In consequence of the fact that official data and the Law’s definition of GV do not include other types of feminicide and other forms of violence they remain invisible [6]. The errors of definition have a knock-on effect in the creation and implementation of measures against GV by the State, making them neither sufficient nor effective for the prevention, investigation and subsequent sanction of gender-based violence. With such serious limitations and with such incomplete official data it is not possible to comply with the objectives of the UN-Special Rapporteur who called for the creation of an Observatory for Feminicides. Furthermore, the available data is not broken down into categories such as the sex of perpetrator or victim, or the relationship, if any, between them. 

On the other hand, regarding the types of violence that are included in the Law, merely reading the official statistics is sufficient to be concerned about the relation between the obstacles women face in receiving fair and equal treatment from the justice system and the number of feminicides. Obstacles like the lack of credibility of survivors of GV in the courts, the continuing designation of mitigating circumstances in crimes of feminicides, the use of gender stereotypes in court rulings, or the filing of criminal cases. The result is that many women who report GV to authorities are unable to enjoy the benefits of full protection measures, such as the issuing of protection orders, and continue to suffer GV and, down the line, can even be murdered. This reveals the tolerance shown by the Spanish State towards violence and impunity for offenders.

In light of the foregoing, for Spain to comply with international and European treaties on violence against women it will be necessary to change Law 1/2004 to make it all-encompassing [7]. The Law should include all types of GV so that official information and statistical data are accurate and complete, and serve effectively as the basis for the creation of policies and special measures for each type of violence. Furthermore, such measures must guarantee the right to reparation and full protection for victims and survivors. Official statistics and data should also include the experiences of women and girl survivors of feminicide. Lastly, special training must be given to all legal and other personnel who deal with victims of GV or feminicide in a professional capacity.


[1] Such as the CEDAW Sombra Espana (Spanish Shadow) and 7N Platforms.

[2] Demands for end to impunity for feminicides and sexual assaults, for a fair and just wage, for the protection of children from abusive fathers, for the protection from street and web harassment, for a dignified abortion, for the secularism of the Spanish State, for equality in public office, for an education on equality, for a justice system free from stereotypes, for sufficient public funding for combating GV.

[3] Organic Law 1/2004, of 28 December: Measures for the Integral Protection against Gender Violence.  

[4] Article 30. See also: Real Decree 253/2006, of 3 March.

[5] The data was collected after the Spanish State was found guilty in the case of Angela Gonzalez Carreño by the CEDAW Committee in 2014.  

[6] The Spanish Congress is in the process of a full debate for the approval of the Pacto de Estado (Government Pact) on gender violence. The Pact responds to the urgent situation regarding murders of women and to the need for State institutions to dedicate all resources to combating GV. However, due to lack of political will, State treatment of GV is still insufficient. Among other drawbacks, the Pact lacks enforceability and sufficient funding.  

[7] Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), chapter II.Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), chapter II.