Don’t mention the Women

Cathy Owens explains why it’s important a Bill fighting violence against women should include women.

I am a political geek, and I love running political campaigns in Wales. But I am REALLY ANNOYED to be working on the one we are launching today.

I have enjoyed campaigning on behalf of the Wales Violence Against Women Action Group for some seven years. The Action Group represents organisations that campaign on or provide services related to violence against women – encompassing all forms such as sexual violence, domestic abuse, FGM, harassment, trafficking, forced marriage, and other forms of violence that women suffer because they are women.

Around 7 women a year in Wales die at the hands of a partner, around 50,000 will suffer domestic abuse, 30 will suffer so called honour-based violence and 18 girls may suffer FGM.

Working with various Ministers in Wales over the years, we have helped strengthen action in Wales and have seen real successes in developing a better understanding about the links between these forms of violence and gender inequality, and for special measures to prevent violence and provide the services that victims need to rebuild their lives. The commitment is clear, and politicians from all parties recognise the need to do more.

We don’t have any capacity or resources – we are all volunteers and most work for organisations on the front line helping victims. And yet, with strong political vision for which we applauded the Minister at the time, we saw the fruits of labours manifested in the 2012 announcement that the Welsh Government would bring forward a Violence Against Women Bill.

Wales was leading the way (we showed off about it for at least a year) with a groundbreaking Bill. Other parts of the UK were coming to the party and launching strategies and action plans to tackle violence against women, but we were going further – a new law to ensure the public sector in Wales makes real progress.

We knew there was no money left, but this was never about substantive new services for women (and definitely not about fewer services for men). It was about making sure it was high on the agenda, that we tackled the postcode lottery for services and made real strides in prevention by supporting young people and challenging the persistent attitudes that mean so many women continue to suffer. Energised, the sector worked together to deliver 30 recommendations that would make a real difference to the lives of women.

Fast-forward two years and when the Bill was published this June, a shockwave went through the sector. Not only did 29 out of 30 recommendations not make the cut, but it mainly enshrines what is already happening now.

It is now called the Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill, and it wait for it… it does not include any mention of women.

I think it takes some doing to write a Bill to tackle violence against women without the word ‘woman’ in it.

I am happy to have a further debate about why Bills should be inclusive, but if you legislate for everyone, then really its just a bill saying we don’t like any violence, and you miss the whole point of the need to particularly focus on violence against women.

So rather than being ground breaking, we will be taking two steps back, and will be the only part of the UK without a strategy to tackle violence against women in Wales. Even Boris has one. Others are moving forward with a Commissioner to tackle the issue and real steps in education to help young people. But we’ll be binding the hands of future governments in Wales with a gender-neutral Bill that delivers no independent scrutiny and pretty much nothing to prevent violence.

So yes, we have had very welcome discussions with the Welsh Government since the Bill was published, and we really think that they have listened to our concerns –  we may see government amendments coming forward later in the process and the new Minister, Leighton Andrews, is looking again at prevention and service delivery.

But in order to make sure AMs know how vital this is, we are launching a campaign today to get women back into the Bill and press home the need for new measures across government. You can join us here. Please sign our petition and join us on twitter and facebook to drive how our #wherearethewomen campaign.

In the long term, we need to revisit how we write Bills in Wales. But in the short term, we need to launch this REALLY ANNOYING campaign, because it simply cannot be that women are written out of the policy agenda. Again.

Cathy Owens is the Director of Deryn Consulting.

4 thoughts on “Don’t mention the Women

  1. A truly worthy cause Cathy and I wish you well, but happen to be highly sceptical if our AM’s have abilities or even the necessary intellect to understand the corrosive and destructive nature of domestic violence and give it deserved support and prominence in Welsh political affairs.

    Perhaps as you, I can be ‘labelled’ a Human Rights GEEK too, as throughout my life I have always stood up for the underprivileged and marginalised people in our society and happen to have considerable experience of the issues that your campaign is facing.

    One of my main concerns is that somehow ‘We as a Society’ and not just in Wales have lost touch with what’s happening in the Teenage World, especially with teenagers who never had ‘normality’ in their often turbulent and violent existence.

    I’m refereeing to immense number of detached and disfranchised children who are growing up into the adulthood believing and perhaps accepting that the violence is a norm rather than exception.

    I’ve seen this trend first hand, especially in deprived communities where girls are treated as a ‘disposable possession’ by their boyfriends and amazingly girls seem to accept it and would often put up with mindless cruelty and abuse just to keep ‘their man’!

    We need people in Education, Social Services and other Agencies including the Police that have compassion, energy and commitment to make our society fairer and I do share your notion that women are better equipped to handle this role than men!

  2. “It is now called the Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill, and it wait for it… it does not include any mention of women.”

    If this means there is finally an understanding that gender based violence, domestic abuse, so-called honour crime, forced marriages, and sexual violence are also perpetrated against the male of the species then I consider that to be progress.

    Except that I don’t want any divisive and confusing Regional legislation at all – all such legislation should be made and enforced at UK level. There is already a considerable amount of such legislation and if it is enforced then it is probably sufficient – but so much of it is hardly enforced, or even properly investigated, due to politically correct cultural sensitivities aggravated by lack of training and resources. That is the problem – not lack of legislation. So put the Welsh Bill in the dustbin where it belongs!

  3. I recently asked a strongly feminist (i.e. “committed to gender equality”…not “man-hating” etc.) female friend of mine what men could do to support women in their struggle for greater equality, or even for their basic human rights.
    Her response in a nutshell was – “just stop obstructing us!”.
    That sounds easy enough.
    So why do we men (even ‘good’ men) still keep getting in the way – creating distractions, evasions, dilutions and generally doing whatever we can to avoid admitting to, and taking any responsibility for, the core realities of contemporary sexism, and being part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem.
    After much reflection I’ve concluded that it has to be that taboo male emotion – Fear!
    Fear of change.
    Fear of losing power.
    And at the root of it, a fear of women which seems to be burned deep into our collective male souls.
    It’s only recently become apparent to me that almost everything I learned as a boy about girls and women was wrong. Mostly those messages were infused the idea that, while it was a good thing to be kind to women, not to hit them or shout at them in the street (I was lucky enough to grow up in a ‘nice’ family and go to a ‘good’ school, after all), the females of the species are still basically ‘less’ and need to be treated and managed accordingly by any male wanting to claim the right to consider themself a ‘real’ man.
    Those early cultural messages are very ‘sticky’, and it’s taken me fifty years to begin to realise their continuing impact on me of that early conditioning (despite my identifying myself as a ‘feminist man’ and being an active supporter of women’s rights), and I would guess the same would be true, conciously or unconciously, of most men .
    (And, in my view, feminism has generally failed to make much impact on mainstream male attitudes because it makes many men at some level more, rather than less, afraid of women.)
    So when you have a system of government predominantly run by men and shaped by male attitudes at global, national and local levels (I’m recalling those NATO ‘family photos’ taken in Cardiff, with the only three females almost lost amongst the 23 other male leaders, apart from that courageous woman who chose to wear a very visible white raincoat amongst all the dark suits AND to stand on the front row – looking like one healthy tooth on a mouth full of rot), is it a surprise that any move towards the greater empowerment of women at a policy level, or a recognition some of the damage still predominantly inflicted by men on women (recognising that violence is not a gender specific behaviour), will tend to be sabotaged?
    Sadly, we men are cutting off our rather large nose to spite our currently fairly unattractive face in this regard. Letting women teach us about how communicate well, care for others and for ourselves, love well (and even MAKE love well) respect nature and generally become healthier, happier and more well-rounded human beings is what is urgently needed for our little species (in the scale of the universe) to have any chance of survival, and probably the best thing that could happen to men since we first killed a sabre tooth tiger. and dragged the meat and skins home to please our woman and feed our family.
    We men just need to realise that and ‘get out of the way’!
    (My attempt to support that process is at )
    In the mantime (typo intended), hopefully there will always be women like Cathy around to remind us of that. Women who won’t indulge our (as is the case with many ‘good men’) blind spots or denial of the problem and the need for change – or be satisfied with our fearful excuses for wanting more of the same.

  4. Well, I disagree with you all. Unless men and women work together to combat violence of all sorts we will not succeed in eliminating VAWG! Do not forget that the Assembly has almost perfect gender balance so the Bill is not just the machinations/work of men. Take a look at, and Together we can deliver what we want – gender equality – divided we fail.

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