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France vows tougher action as world protests abuse against women

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France on Monday unveiled new measures to combat the abuse and killing of women by their partners or ex-partners, as protesters staged rallies worldwide to mark the UN-backed International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women.

[PARIS] France on Monday unveiled new measures to combat the abuse and killing of women by their partners or ex-partners, as protesters staged rallies worldwide to mark the UN-backed International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women.

An official commemoration opened Monday at the United Nations headquarters in New York after tens of thousands took to streets across the globe over the weekend to protest the number of women killed.

Expressing hope that the French plan would prove an "electric shock", Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the measures would seek to broaden the definition of violence, including how harassment can lead to suicide.

Growing anger over the failure of officials to make progress on ending the horrendous annual tolls has pressured governments to begin to take action, though activists warn that far more needs to be done.

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In South Africa, where statistics show one female is killed every three hours, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a campaign to curb attacks against women, urging men to change their "sexist and patriarchal attitudes" that have fostered gender-based violence.

In Afghanistan, the UN said Monday that authorities must do more to counter sexual violence and rape in a country where many women are routinely mistreated and attacked because of their gender.

Meanwhile, dozens gathered in Brussels on Monday to read the names and ages of victims of domestic violence after thousands rallied on Sunday, while tens of thousands rallied in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and other Spanish cities.

And in a rare move, global police cooperation agency Interpol launched an international appeal to find eight men suspected of murdering or committing violence against women.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, marked a minute of silence ahead of its plenary session Monday.

PSYCHOLOGICAL 'ENTRAPMENT' 

Since the start of 2019, at least 117 women have been killed by their partner or former partner in France, according to a case-by-case study by AFP based on media reports.

The figure shows no improving trend - last year, 121 women died in what are increasing termed femicides, to underscore the fact the victims were killed because they were female.

An additional 213,000 women in France are victims of physical and or sexual violence on the part of their partner or ex-partner, according to the latest official figures.

The announcements by Mr Philippe focussed on ending what he described as "absurdities" and "dysfunctional aspects" in the law to ensure that women would be better protected.

The notion of psychological "entrapment" would now be written into the law as this can also lead to violence, he told reporters in Paris.

And in a measure that has been widely called for, Mr Philippe said that the rules covering medical confidentiality would be changed to make it easier for doctors to signal to the authorities when a person is at risk of violence.

He said that the new measures would be inscribed in a bill to be presented to the French parliament in January, and would benefit from 360 million euros (S$546 million) in additional funding.

JUSTICE 'ADAPTING' 

Worldwide, some 87,000 women and girls were murdered in 2017, according to a 2018 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

While welcoming the proposed tightening of French laws, feminist advocates regretted the lack of more concrete help.

"The government has missed the target," said Caroline De Haas of #NousToutes (All of Us).

"What is needed is to bolster special measures such as offering sanctuary and then supporting the victims," said Francoise Brie, who heads the National Federation of Women's Solidarity, noting that there are also stark regional disparities within France.

Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa vowed in an interview with the Figaro newspaper that funds would be available for all the new measures, while emphasising that the "fight against marital violence is not just a question of money".

An AFP examination this month of every case of femicide in France showed up repeated trends, including the failure of the authorities to act on warning signs of the potential for violence.

But in an open letter on Monday, more than a dozen top French judges nonetheless urged women to turn to the justice system," which is improving and adapting itself to deserve your trust."

AFP