IWD: What is being done to combat violence against women?

28 February 2017

One of my favourite placards during the Women’s March was “I can’t believe I still have to protest this ****”.  It is 2017, and I cannot believe that the levels of violence against women remain so high.

Violence against women encompasses all “acts of gender‐based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life[1].

[1] Article 3 of the Istanbul Convention

The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In England and Wales:

  • 2 women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner;
  • 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence during their lifetime;
  • 1 in 5 women between 16 – 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence;
  • 85% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed in a public place and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching[1];
  • An estimated 137,000 women and girls are affected by Female Genital Mutilation[2];
  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped every year.

These statistics are staggering. Take a look around your office, the train, your home and think about what these statistics actually mean – how many of your friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances have been or are likely to be affected by sexual and domestic violence?

And yet tackling this systemic and endemic violation of women’s human rights has not been a priority. During the 2015 election do you recall any of the party manifestos specifically addressing violence against women as a key pledge? Was this a widely debated topic during party debates? Where is the funding to prevent violence against women and support those affected?

Women’s Aid has highlighted that since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England and Wales have closed due to a lack of funding. This means that a third of all people approaching refuges to escape domestic violence are turned away: on a typical day 155 women and 103 children are turned away for refuges as there is no funding.

The numbers speak for themselves – hundreds of women who have overcome the emotional, psychological and situational obstacles to leaving a violent partner, are told there is nowhere for them to go and there is no funding to support them.

Many denounced Russia’s recent move to decriminalise certain types of domestic violence (Russia’s Parliament voted by 380 to 3 in favour of the bill). The far right are also keen to capitalise on the abuse of women in other countries in order to promote their divisive and fear mongering rhetoric on immigration.

Yet there does not appear to be the same level of uproar or scrutiny when it comes to looking at the systems that we have in place in the UK to combat sexual and domestic violence. So how is it that in 2017 the levels of violence against women in the UK remain so high?

Is it because violence against women is so common that it is considered normal or ‘not that bad’?

For years women have been met with disbelief when they highlight the violence, sexual harassment and assault that they regularly experience: ‘I’m sure they did not mean it like that’, ‘does that really happen regularly?’.

Blogs such as Everyday Sexism have helped in highlighting the day to day occurrences of violence. Being harassed on the street or sexually assaulted are not isolated incidents – women the world over have shared their experiences.

It can no longer be denied that violence against women is deemed acceptable by some. This is the year that a man who boasted about sexually assaulting women was elected as President of the US (with 53% of white women supporting him). Politicians in the UK have sought to minimise Trumps’ behaviour - “which one of us has not made some ridiculous sexual comment at some point in his past?(Edward Leigh, Conservative MP during a debate about Trump’s visit).

Comments like these illustrate the damaging attitudes towards violence against women – ‘it is just men being men’ rather than ‘this relentless attack on women is wholly unacceptable and should be addressed’.

Is it because women are partly blamed for being subjected to violence?

In 2013/2014 a survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 27% of people consider the victim to be partly responsible for sexual assault or rape if they were flirting beforehand[3].

The fact that 1 in 4 people hold this view may seem shocking, but the attitude is pervasive. This month a widely read newspaper published an article about how women who deprive their husbands of sex are wrecking society: sexually starved men are more likely molest other women. That’s right. Its 2017 and these types of articles continue to be drafted, approved by an editor, published and read.

Is it because this is seen as a women’s problem and Parliament therefore do not prioritise it as an issue?

The way in which we discuss violence against women is to take perpetrator out of the equation. This woman was beaten; that women was sexually assaulted. The perpetrator who undertakes these acts is not the subject of these sentences.

Violence against women is not a woman’s problem. It is a public health and civil society crisis that must be addressed.  What efforts are being made to prevent the perpetrators from carrying out the violent acts?

It is evident that we have a long way to go in fighting violence against women. There have been some more encouraging developments recently as a result of the persistent campaigning of a number of organisations and individuals:

  • On 17 February 2017 the Prime Minister announced plans to bring forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act which will look at what can be done to improve support for women affected by violence.
  • On 23 February 2017 the Ministry of Justice announced that it intends to reform legal aid rules affecting survivors of domestic violence.
  • On 24 February 2017 a bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The Convention sets out minimum standards for Governments to meet to tackle violence against women. The UK signed the Convention in June 2012 but it is yet to be ratified. During the period that ratification has been delayed 616 women have died.

It remains to be seen whether the above measures will be effective in tackling violence against women. Whilst changes to the law are important, funding is also critical. What is certain is that there cannot be any further delay in addressing these issues. For every week of inaction that passes, 2 further women are killed and hundreds are being turned away from refuges.

Kingsley Napley are proud to support the #BeBoldForChange campaign and are publishing a series of blogs to promote discussion around gender and the continued relevance of International Women’s Day.

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