Opinion | Women’s Rights Sell-Out

The Austrian government has cut essential funding for feminist organizations and initiatives – a move that says a lot about its image of women

This did not come as a surprise. Right-wing politicians have long wanted women to get off the streets and back into the delivery room and the kitchen. The message: Women should make babies and casseroles, not revolution. In 2018, this may seem a little anachronistic, but actually, this kind of thinking is exactly what is being said, at least in so many words, right now in Austria and elsewhere in Europe where leaders are increasingly leaning to the right.

While it has been three decades since marital rape was ranked a crime in Austria, now Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his army of old white men – and a few anti-feminist women – have put hard-won gender equality at stake once again. They don’t seem eager to change any laws – at least  not yet. For the time being, they like their social regression subtle, so the so-called “middle” doesn’t get thrown off the train on its way back into the 1950s.

So what did they do?

The government has pulled essential funding – the metaphorical rug – out from under the feet of organizations that have been vital to women’s rights, representation, autonomy and safety in Austria. Some are cultural institutions, like magazines and festivals, some are educational and legal initiatives, meeting places and hubs, that may be forced to close. The changes leave the clear impression that the government wants to see women struggle when looking for help. If this sounds sadistic, that’s because it is.

Violent Cuts
Here are some examples: For seven years, police and domestic violence organizations have worked closely together on specific cases of severe violence against women, holding monthly MARAC conferences to discuss prevention strategies to protect women living in abusive relationships. All involved have described them as constructive and important.

In the fall of 2017, the Interior Ministry suddenly decided to exclude the police from the conferences because of an alleged lack of results, a decision it only announced this spring. Ironically, the police simultaneously unveiled plans for similar gatherings, but only twice a year rather than monthly. Domestic violence organizations would still be included but would no longer have any control. Meanwhile, 16 women have died as a result of domestic violence in Austria so far this year, many of whom had reported explicit threats and stalking. Some might ha ve been avoided if those reports had been taken seriously.

In another program, awareness-building seminars for police students by social workers from the women’s shelters have been “restructured” by the Interior Ministry. The lecture fees, previously financed by the government, have been off-loaded onto the organizations themselves, which means that if they want to keep teaching police students about domestic violence they will have to do it at their own expense.

The most bizarre thing about all this is that the Women’s Ministry, led by Juliane Bogner-Strauß, made the cause of protecting women against violence a particular focus. They went on to claim this as a justification for the massive funding cuts. This is an outrage.

There is no focus on the prevention of violence against women. And there is no support for any organization supporting women and their rights. As of this writing, the government has cut some €200,000 of funding and there will be more cuts to come.

The current government couldn’t care less about women. It’s on the record.

The changes leave the clear impression that the government wants to see women struggle when looking for help.

Nicole Schoendorfer
Nicole Schöndorfer is a freelance journalist and activist in Vienna. She writes about women's rights, feminism and politics. Her articles appeared in VICE, the Austrian weekly Falter and other publication.

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