Yesterday I took part in a debate in parliament brought by the government on violence against women. Men’s violence kills or incapacitates more women each year than cancer, malaria, road traffic accidents and war combined. Read on to see what I said in the debate.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is right to insist that we “take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves.”
Violence against women affects us here in Scotland and affects women across the globe. We see it at its most extreme in countries where femicide occurs, and the resulting imbalance in the gender ratio is threatening women’s lives in sinister ways and making it ever harder to attain the equality that is required if such practices are to be addressed.
When she was 14, Tarcila Rivera Zea was told that, as an Indian servant, she was not considered worthy of further education. Nearly 50 years later, she is the director of Chirapaq, which is a leading agency that campaigns for the rights of indigenous women in South America, and she has spoken out against women’s inability to access education or achieve economic autonomy. She recognises that women are often unaware of their rights, and she says:
“We believe that this situation of complete vulnerability, in which we find ourselves submerged, is a form of violence.”
Her powerful words are worthy of much consideration.
Scottish Women’s Aid, in its briefing for today’s debate, said that 92 per cent of its services are working with a reduced or standstill budget, which represents a budget reduction, given inflation and increased energy costs—and that is at a time when almost 70 per cent of women’s aid groups report greater demand for their services. We are told that the bedroom tax has resulted in women remaining longer in refuge and that fewer women are able to access refuge when they are at crisis point.
Our justice system appears to be unable to cope. Domestic abuse courts are under strain. In Glasgow, women need to wait longer for a domestic abuse case to be heard than they would wait for a generic case to be heard, even though the domestic abuse court is supposed to be much faster. As Malcolm Chisholm said, there is currently a 23-week waiting list, and access to courts is a postcode lottery, particularly in Edinburgh. The lack of dedicated resources must be addressed.
As Jackie Baillie and other members said, violence against women is rooted in persistent gender inequality. We must engage with all the issues that make it a shameful and persistent feature of national and global life. We need to intervene, to monitor and to demand change.
Last week I was made aware of a chain letter that is circulating among a group of 11 and 12-year-old girls. It is entitled, “Did U Know?” and it informs its young readers, “It’s true. Guys DO insult you if they like you.” That is not harmless and we must intervene. We need to ensure that our young boys and girls understand that abuse takes many forms and is never acceptable.
As Margaret Mitchell said, the social and economic cost of violence against women is enormous. Women suffer isolation, inability to work and the loss of wages. They might quite simply become scared stiff and utterly disempowered.
If a woman finds the inner resolve—perhaps after being encouraged by a poster or another woman’s testimony—to contact one of the organisations that do incredible work with women and children who have suffered violence in any or many of its forms, the least that we must do as a society is ensure that such organisations have the funding and resources that they need if they are to offer the support that their expertise and experience enables them to provide to those who need it.
I ask the minister to say whether she will meet local government colleagues and insist that they look at extending funding agreements with agencies, so that agencies can use their expertise to best effect.