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.

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