5 February 2020
EDELGARD – Patron Saint for Women and Girls
How the City of Cologne informs, mobilises and protects against sexual violence.
“New Year's Eve” and “Cologne” – even though more than four years have passed, these terms still evoke memories of events that caused an outcry not only in Germany. On New Year's Eve 2015/16, well over a thousand crimes were committed near Cologne's main railway station in a crowd consisting mainly of young men. More than 600 women were victims of sexual offence at that time, feeling helplessly exposed and left alone. Although standing symbolically for these incidents, Cologne was not the only crime scene that night: similar attacks were reported from other German and European cities.
Network of eleven institutions
After coming to terms with the shocking events, the City of Cologne committed to not letting anything like this happen again. In addition to the legal prosecution of the crimes and various measures to increase security in public spaces, the EDELGARD initiative was created, which is specifically aimed at women and girls.
A total of eleven institutions and facilities of the city are involved. Their representatives meet regularly to plan and develop EDELGARD. By the way, the name – an old (and in a charming way old-fashioned) German first name – was not chosen by chance: 'gard' comes from the Germanic language and means 'protection'.
“The dignity of women and girls is inviolable”
“EDELGARD stands for the protection against sexualised violence in public spaces and is a prevention campaign of the ‘Cologne Initiative against Sexualised Violence’,” says Kerstin Höfer, who is responsible for the EDELGARD project under the umbrella of the Office for Equality between Women and Men of the City of Cologne. “Behind this is the claim: The dignity of women and girls is inviolable. In Cologne and everywhere.”
A larger-scale social problem
Cologne's New Year's Eve may have given the impulse for the initiative – but it addresses a much bigger problem for society as a whole. Attacks on women take place every day and in public. They range from derogatory comments on the street to staring and groping to pushy harassment. According to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, 40 per cent of women in Germany have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 16. Almost half of them have not spoken about it with anyone*.
Awareness and support
EDELGARD is intended to provide women and girls with a point of contact and increase their subjective feeling of security. This is ensured by several services to combine awareness and support in the best possible way:
“We decide together on how to proceed”
Since New Year's Eve 2017, the camper van 'EDELGARD mobil' has been used at major events in Cologne, such as carnival or Halloween. There are always two consultants on board supporting women and girls who have been harassed, coerced or raped. “Those affected are safe with us in the vehicle for the time being. They will find experienced contact persons who are specially trained for these situations,” explains Gesine Qualitz, who works for the Cologne Women’s Counselling Centre and is part of the EDELGARD mobil team of advisors. “Depending on what has happened, we decide together on how to proceed. In some cases, we look after the women and girls until they are picked up by a family member or someone they trust. If necessary, we also accompany them to the police or hospital.”
Together with Cologne companies and institutions, the initiative creates 'protected places' throughout the entire Cologne city area. They give women and girls simple support at all times of the day, evening and night if they feel harassed or threatened. “We have already been able to win over almost 140 partners for this,” says Kerstin Höfer. These include restaurants and cafés, shops, pharmacies, municipal buildings, bank offices, bars and cinemas. They can be recognised by the EDELGARD logo attached to the building. “The network continues to grow. Willingness to cooperate in Cologne is pleasingly high.”
In order to become an 'EDELGARD protects' location, employees have to attend an information event that prepares them for their future task. They receive a manual and an 'emergency bag'. However, Kerstin Höfer emphasizes that no professional or psychological advice is expected from the partners. “It is rather a matter of offering a safe contact point.”
“A network of this quality and size is probably unique in Germany to date”
The initiative provides information about advisory services in Cologne through flyers and on the website. Together with its presence in social networks, the discussions during the 'EDELGARD mobil' missions, and media coverage, EDELGARD helps to raise public awareness of the fight against sexualised violence.
A large-scale campaign, which started with a press conference on 5 February 2020, will also contribute to this. It comes exactly at the right time, says Kerstin Höfer: “On the one hand, this year's carnival season is about to begin. On the other hand, our initial focus was to do the groundwork first by creating a dense network of EDELGARD protects locations. This was achieved successfully: a network of this quality and size is probably unique in Germany to date.” Now it is time to address the target group of women and girls more intensively and inform the public about the help offered.
EDELGARD map completes the range
During the press conference, an additional service was presented: the EDELGARD map – an app with map function. With just a few clicks, the nearest open EDELGARD protects location is displayed, including a picture and directions.
“Society must learn not to accept sexual violence and offer concrete help”
“The app perfectly completes our range of services, making EDELGARD a real help for women and girls on the go,” says Gesine Qualitz and adds: “The decisive factor in all our activities is that the central message of EDELGARD is conveyed: It is not the women who have to adapt to be safe. Society must learn not to accept sexual violence and offer concrete help.”
*Federal Association of Women's Counselling Centres and Women's Emergency Hotlines Women against Violence e.V.
We need to talk about sexual violence against women
The team behind EDELGARD
Contact point for women and girls: the “EDELGARD mobil”
EDELGARD in action
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