In cities, the tide is rising against gender violence

29 November 2023

Earlier this month, the disappearance and murder of a young Italian woman prompted a collective awakening about an issue that had for long been confined to a dark subterranean corner of the national psyche.

The public outcry – and occasional mea culpa – that followed the killing of 22-year-old Giulia Cecchettin at the hands of her ex-boyfriend shed new light on gender-based violence in the country, sparking a long-overdue public reckoning.

All of a sudden, the reports on violence against women that regularly appear on Italian media could no longer be shrugged off as unfortunate incidents that happened to someone else. For some reason, it was as if the killing of Cecchettin – a biomedical engineering student a few weeks away from her degree – had happened to the entire nation.

A symbolic picture against gender-based violence
Photo: Adrian Swancar

In the aftermath of Cecchettin’s death, countless initiatives have sprang up to tackle gender-based crimes in Italy, where at least 106 women met a violent death since January 2023. According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, 55 women lost their lives to a partner or former partner; 87 of those killings took place within a family context since the beginning of the year.

Data from the European Commission paint an equally somber picture across the continent: every year, some 3,000 women are killed in Europe “by partners or family members, and countless more are harmed and harassed”, the EU says. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened women’s predicament, with lockdown and domestic isolation fuelling a spike in physical and emotional abuse.

16 Days of Activism

A bold and multidisciplinary approach is necessary to confront the issue head-on, including close cooperation between governments and civil society.

A recent Eurocities statement calls for gender equality to hold a significant position on the European political agenda and urges the EU institutions to increase funding and collaboration with local governments. Released on 15 November, the statement on action to end gender-based violence coincided with the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence United Nations campaign.

An EU poster against gender-based violence.
An EU poster against gender-based violence. Source: European Commission

The global campaign sees European cities promote transformative actions to confront violence against women by proposing different solutions, from running awareness-raising and prevention campaigns, to setting up shelters, crisis centres, support groups, to taking symbolic actions.

Here is a first look at the initiatives by Eurocities members during the 16 Days of Activism campaign that runs until 10 December.


For years, the Austrian capital has been at the forefront of women’s rights. In recent months, Vienna and Marina Hanke, a member of the city council, have led the Eurocities’ task force on women’s rights, whose efforts resulted in the statement on action to end gender-based violence.

At the local level, Vienna boasts a diverse range of projects “to create a city where all women and girls feel safe and respected,”, Kathrin Gaal, Vienna’s Deputy-Mayor explains in a video statement.

“We have a network of shelters, counseling centers and hotlines that provide victims with the support they need to recover from violence and rebuild their lives. They have launched awareness campaigns to educate the public about signs of violence, how to prevent it, and how to get. We are also working with men and boys to be part of the solution,” adds Gaal, who’s also in charge of women’s issues in the city.

Vienna’s offer includes a 24-hour Emergency Helpline for women and girls who have experienced sexual, physical, and psychological violence. A team of psychologists, social workers and female lawyers is on hand, no matter how long ago the violent episodes occurred.

Emergency Helpline team members offer additional crisis support and may accompany victims to the police station, to counselling services, to court or to a hospital, whenever the need arises.

The service is free, strictly confidential and available not just in German, but in the languages spoken by other communities in the city, including Farsi, Polish and Spanish. Vienna’s Helpline also offers training to the police forces, health and social staff.

As part of this year’s campaign, the city’s offer includes an exhibition on combatting violence against women and a free lecture at Vienna’s main public library.


The 25 Nov 2023 demonstration against gender-based violence in Florence.
The 25 Nov 2023 demonstration against gender-based violence in Florence. Photo: City of Florence.

On 25 November, over 2,000 people raised the sound level with drums, whistles and keys, in a symbolic act to lift the veil of silence that continues to protect perpetrators of violence against women. The demonstrators heeded Florence’s call to gather in the central Piazza della Signoria square to make their voice heard during the ‘A minute of noise’ event.

At the landmark location, demonstrators unravelled a long red drape and laid red shoes on the square’s pavement to call attention to victims of abuse. The municipality is taking swift action: in the spring of 2024, Florence will set up a confidential help desk in elementary, middle and high schools to assist and support victims of violence. In addition, Mayor Dario Nardella said that the municipality will work to strengthen women’s legal protection and offer ad hoc training to local police forces.


The international 'Help Me' sign in against gender-based violence, featuring a hand closing in a fist
The international ‘Help Me’ sign in Warsaw’s campaign.

In the Polish capital, tackling violence is more than just a duty; it’s a skill. The ‘Art of Responding to Violence’ is an awareness-raising campaign launched by the Polish capital on 1 September to stop turning a blind eye to domestic violence.

Warsaw’s initiative on social media, tv and public spaces calls on people standing near a victim to get involved whenever someone flags the international ‘Help Me’ sign featuring a hand closing in a fist. The gesture is intended to be used by victims who can seek help from passers-by in public spaces and alert them about a violent or potentially violent situation.

The campaign is directed, in particular, to children, people with disabilities and senior citizens who strongly depend on others and, as such, are more vulnerable to harassment.

Warsaw’s campaign features Youtube videos portraying domestic abuse against children and older adults; these violent situations suddenly take a positive turn when an individual takes a public stand and speaks up for the victims.

Violence is on the rise in Warsaw. The number of people experiencing domestic abuse increased by 4.37% in 2022 compared to the previous year, data from the municipality shows. A total of 6,467 cases of domestic violence were reported in Warsaw in 2022, including 2,939 involving children and 2,916 perpetrated against women.


Thinking outside the box can lead to new tools to contrast violence against women.

In addition to a more conventional method, the city of Vantaa embraces eradicating the problem at its root by offering perpetrators the chance to embrace a new non-violent life.

The municipality supports the work of Miessakit, a Finnish NGO and leading actor in this field. The association fosters men’s mental, psychological and social recovery, helping them to grow out of an aggressive and brutal past. Miessakit works in tandem with authorities, including municipalities.

Tallying the gender-based violence’s financial toll can also boost city decision-makers efforts, Vantaa officials say. A new Finnish government research raised the alarm, showing that domestic violence increased the cost of healthcare services by €1,024 per person a year. “Over a period of five years, the direct additional healthcare costs caused by physical intimate partner violence (IPV) experienced by women totalled €150 million per year (146,000 women),” researchers say.

This article belongs to a series showcasing urban actions against gender-violence. If you would like to know more about this subject and Eurocities’ work, you can click on the links below:
“My name is not doll”: cities against gender-violence
Eurocities’ call to end gender-based violence – Eurocities

Eurocities’ call to action to eliminate violence against women



Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer