25 November was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it was also the start of a 16 days of action campaign, which is an annual global campaign to raise awareness of the need to eliminate violence against women.
As part of that campaign the Cross Party Group on Men’s Violence against Women scheduled a meeting for today, to allow, and indeed encourage, MSPs to sign the Statement of Intent 2014. The statement asks for a commitment to furthering equality and respect, safety, prevention and accountability of perpetrators. It acknowledges the Scottish Parliament’s efforts towards ending men’s violence against women, as well as a re-commitment to the prevention and eradication of violence against women and girls.
The Scottish Government also scheduled a debate on Violence Against Women for this afternoon.
I was proud to sign the statement, and was proud to lead for Scottish Labour in the debate.
In my previous career as a police officer, I saw too often the brutal reality of violence against women. And it is still going on.
In 2012-13, more than 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded in Scotland. It is a matter of record that women often suffer the abuse more than five times before they make an official report. Once that report is made, the women and the children whom they seek to protect are left in limbo as they try to deal with the consequences of the abuse.
In the past, the authorities have often encouraged those who are being abused to move away and leave the home that they share with their abuser. However, between 2003-04 and 2012-13, the number of incidents in which ex-partners and ex-spouses have abused a victim rose from 32 to 44 per cent, so merely separating women from their abusers in order to try to bring a conclusion to the abuse is limited in its impact. As a result, services need to consider how they can best support women who are abused.
We must ensure that the significant funding for dealing with domestic abuse, in particular funding of third sector organisations, is utilised to its best. Victim Support, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and many other agencies operate very effectively in the circumstances, but together they can do only so much.
As part of my contribution I urged the Government, and us all, to open minds to considering the further efforts that the Government can and should make in order to change the nature of relationships between men and women in this country. Such as efforts to create – in the education environment – a new ethos that seeks to engender respect between boys and girls, and between men and women.
During the debate we also noted the growing number of men who are subjected to domestic abuse. It is important that there are services and support for them. While this abuse is predominately perpetrated against women – and that is necessarily where the majority of attention is focussed, we must not forget the men who are victimised.
The debate was consensual, with support clear from all sides to protect and improve the lives of women who are suffering from violence, and many other forms of abuse. And there was also clear support to do more to change cultural attitudes to minimise the numbers of people who are abused in the first place.