Kirsty Strickland: Fear of violence should not be an accepted part of being female

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 4 December 2015.

Kirsty Strickland won the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards bursary to write a series of articles for The National, media partners and judges, as part of a campaign by Zero Tolerance and other women’s groups. Here is her latest piece, entitled Time to Act.

NOVEMBER 25 this year saw the 55th anniversary of the murder of the Mirabal sisters. The three were civil rights activists in the Dominican Republic who, in 1960, were assassinated on the command of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Their deaths saw the women become martyrs and heroines in the fight against Trujillo’s repressive regime. Across the world, they became symbols of resistance and democracy, and went on to inspire the creation of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The day is marked annually and signals the commencement of “16 days of activism” to call for global awareness and action against violence against women

The Scottish Parliament marked the day with a debate on violence against women. Margaret Burgess, in her opening contribution, said: “In Scotland, gender-based violence continues to disproportionately affect women and girls, with 80 per cent of survivors of domestic abuse and 95 per cent of rape victims being female. It is a tragic fact that, today, females in Scotland and across the world are at risk of, and are experiencing, violence and abuse precisely because they are women and girls.’’

In what went on to be a largely constructive and thoughtful debate, any pre-election tensions between parties were put to one side. This “bigger picture” politics hasn’t always been on show at Holyrood, and it certainly isn’t a given at Westminster

In the recent Autumn Statement George Osborne announced that the money raised from the VAT on sanitary products would be shared among selected women’s charities.

The pledge was met with celebratory low-octave cheers from his benches. A tax on our wombs dressed up as a winning scratchcard for keeping women safe.

Should we really be grateful for the Chancellor’s generosity in redistributing funds to vital services that should already be a priority in the first place?

MSPs seem to be widening the gap with Westminster in terms of their willingness to take time to explore root causes of inequality and violence. Throughout Tuesday’s debate there was a welcome acknowledgement that violence against women is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. This is progress, and a credit to the sustained and collaborative efforts of women’s organisations in Scotland.

There seems to be the will, and during the debate in Holyrood there were plenty of suggestions for a way. Through sex and consent education, preventative measures such as Claire’s Law & initiatives like Equally Safe there is plenty of scope for action. Agreement too, that the perpetrators of violence must be sent a clear message that abuse will not be tolerated and society will not sit idly by.

In her contribution, Conservative MSP Nanette Milne pointed out that last year in Scotland a domestic incident was reported to the police every nine minutes. She went on to say that dealing such incidents consumed around 20 per cent of the force’s operational time.

Something has to give. Not because violence against women costs a lot of money – though it does. Not because services are stretched, though they undoubtedly are. Not because the measures that women are expected to employ to keep themselves safe are ever more extensive – though that also is true

No. Something has to give because for too long there has been a societal acceptance that the threat and consequences of male violence are just part of the female experience. That acceptance has tainted the willingness of the wider public to accept that it shouldn’t have to be like this. Fear of violence should not an inevitable consequence of being a woman.

Somebody once said that “Feminism is the crazy notion that women are people.” Marco Biagi MSP echoed this sentiment nicely in the chamber when he remarked: “All men have mothers, sisters, nieces or other female relatives, but it would be a stark society where respect for women came only because of family. Is our common humanity not enough? Respect for other human beings says this is violence and cruelty, and it is unacceptable.”

During and after these “16 days of activism” the spotlight on the issues surrounding violence against women will be brighter than ever before. Now – together, is surely the critical time to act?

The shortlist for the 3rd annual Write to End Violence against Women Awards is now available at writetoendvaw.com.

The award showcases journalists, students and bloggers whose work makes an important contribution to ending violence against women.

KirstyVAW not inevitable

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