November 25th is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. It marks the start of 16 Days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which ends on the 10th December on Human Rights day. This movement started in 1991 and was coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. It now has thousands of followers and all over the world work takes place to raise the profile of gender based violence and the need to challenge such abuse.
Men, boys, women, and girls can all be affected by most forms of gender based violence (domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, forced marriage, so-called honour crimes, sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation including prostitution; with the exception of FGM which only affects women and girls). However, since the majority of the victims of these forms of violence are women and girls, when we talk about gender based violence we usually talk about Violence Against Women and Girls.
The best known and most prevalent form of gender based violence in Scotland is domestic abuse and this is the one that most people are aware of. Domestic abuse is so common that all of us probably know someone who has been affected by it. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Scottish Women will experience it during their lifetime. Our understanding has developed over the last couple of decades and we have progressed from an acceptance that some men are violent/abusive and that the women who live with them should either fight back or leave, to having a much more sophisticated understanding.
This new understanding reveals that for many women fighting back or leaving is not an option and trying to do so may put them at increased risk. We now recognise that fear has a big part to play in abusive relationships and that the absence of physical violence does not lessen a victim’s risk. She may be subjected to coercive control which is in reality removal of a person’s choices and freedoms. For many women rape and sexual abuse form part of the domestic abuse as does emotional abuse such as putting someone down; not allowing them access to money; and a range of other behaviours. We understand that even when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, this is rarely a singular event but may be a process that takes around 7 attempts. We also know that the woman is likely to have the best understanding of her risk and how to promote her safety. Leaving an abusive relationship does not necessarily mean an abuser will stop the abuse, in fact, he might increase or start abuse at this time; and we know that this is one of the most dangerous stages in an abusive relationship.
Every year during 16 days of action people ask “What about men?” there is an international men’s day on 19th November but most people would agree that when we discuss issues such as domestic abuse, rape, trafficking, etc. it is women who are mainly subjected to such abuse. Worldwide, men still hold more positions of power, more wealth and privilege than women this of course changes when we take into account issues of health, sexuality and race.
Here in Dumfries and Galloway, we have a Domestic Abuse and Violence Against Women Partnership who meet to plan the ways in which we can work together to eliminate violence against women in all its forms. You may be aware of some of our campaigns including leaflets and posters with the tag line “domestic abuse – there’s no excuse”. We have met since 1999 and have been responsible for the development of 3 domestic abuse/violence against women Strategies and Action Plans.
Every year during 16 days of action we organise a variety of ways to raise awareness of violence against women. These include our annual youth Song Writing Competition which is now in year 5. We have been very encouraged at the ways young people in Dumfries and Galloway find to include issues of violence against women into their songs. We regularly have community film shows, send messages via tweets/facebook and have training events.
We are very pleased that this year we will continue to work with White Ribbon Scotland to promote their message of men working to challenge violence against women. The White Ribbon campaign started in Canada as a response by men who recognise that violence against women is unacceptable, that the majority of men aren’t violent towards women and want to do something to challenge such abuse. White Ribbon Scotland as the name suggests works across Scotland to promote positive messages against violence against women.
There is recognition that gender based violence is harmful to men as well as women, that most men think it’s wrong and that many men want to do something about this. Violence against women has many costs to individuals, families, communities and services. Many of our agencies spend time and effort supporting women, men and children who have been harmed by abuse and who often face challenges as a result of the abuse.
Some rigid gender stereotypes along with negative messages of masculinity, can be restrictive to both men and women and can contribute to the perpetuation of domestic abuse and some other forms of gender based violence including sex trafficking.
The White Ribbon campaign asks men to pledge “to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women”. Women are able to sign up too but the main objective is to involve men and provide a platform for them to speak against these issues. Some of you in Dumfries might be aware of Queen of the South’s support of White Ribbon and have seen the cards with messages about positive relationships or the white ribbons on their practice strips. We will continue to work with Queens this year with a White Ribbon game in early 2016.
In D&G we have agreed to work towards becoming a White Ribbon Area. This means that we need men to help! We want men who are prepared to speak out against such abuse to train as speakers, we want 1000 local people to sign the pledge, we want sports groups/organisations to become White Ribbon Groups and we hope that some of you reading this will have some other ideas.
Kerry Herriott, Development Officer (Domestic Abuse and Violence Against Women Partnership)