Ending violence against Women
Jack Sargeant MS
The 10th of December marks Human Rights Day, the final day of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. The 16 days start on the 25th of November which is international Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women or White Ribbon Day as many of us refer to it.
I am a White Ribbon ambassador which at its core is about getting men to sign up to a very simple promise and mean it — a promise never to commit, excuse, or remain silent about male violence against women. As I have repeated in the chamber and in my work as an ambassador, the reason this promise is so important is that it is men who must change their behaviour if we are to tackle gender-based violence.
That starts by men taking responsibility for their behaviour — all men. This is the message I use in my work as an ambassador, speaking to a variety of groups ranging from football clubs to Welsh Government staff.
Throughout the pandemic the campaign has been an important voice. They report a significant increase in demand for domestic abuse helplines and tragically of women being killed by men they know. By leaving many victims trapped at home with their abusers, COVID-19 has compounded the already hugely prevalent levels of gender-based violence across the UK and globally.
Therefore, I continue to be vocal about the White Ribbon promise. I quite often turn to the media to spread the White Ribbon message, writing articles as well as Facebook videos and in the main I receive a positive response. However, there remains a persistent objection that someone will almost inevitably raise whenever I talk about the White Ribbon Campaign. “What about men?”
I recently wrote a piece for my local paper addressing this exact point. Whilst domestic abuse against men is a real and serious issue, it is important to note that of all homicides, 38% of female victims are killed by a current or former partner, the same can be said for 4% of male victims. Since writing the piece I have seen ONS data that suggests the figure is as high as 46% for women. Male violence against women is common and often has deadly consequences. We should never shy away from saying this and it will continue to be an issue that I speak up about.
‘All men can’ is White Ribbon’s leading message this year and I would urge the men reading this article to do two things: visit the White Ribbon Website to make the promise, and consider joining me and becoming a White Ribbon ambassador.
Of course, it is always worth saying that it is not only individuals who have to take responsibility for tackling domestic abuse, but also institutions large and small. This starts with the government. This is something the minister Jane Hutt has spent a lifetime working towards and I know that in Jane we have someone who ensures that gender-based violence is right at the top of the government’s priority list.
The last 11 years Lib Dem/Tory and Tory governments have damaged domestic abuse services as austerity has seen significant cuts made from the centre that have filtered through to every layer of government. I am always worried that we need to do more to support refuge services and I would like to see the Welsh Government make this a priority.
Bolder ideas have also come to the fore, last year I co- authored a piece with Lydia Godden on how a Universal Basic Income could help tackle domestic abuse. Financial dependency is a leading reason why women find it so hard to escape an abusive relationship, often leaving their abuser numerous times before leaving for good. Sadly, Universal Credit single payments method limits women’s ability to escape their abusers.
Given the clear failings of Universal Credit, we must call for a system that supports women, lifts them out of poverty and provides a crucial safety net that they can rely on in dangerous situations. That is where a Universal Basic Income (UBI) could be transformative to women’s lives in providing economic autonomy and financial security.
Our own Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe has also recognised these problems — Sophie has introduced a progressive work-place policy. People working for the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales can receive cash support to escape an abusive relationship. I would like to see this policy rolled out far and wide and will be speaking to the Senedd Commission and Welsh Government about their own workforce.
Sadly, there is still so much to do but as I have said in this article, we all have a practical role to play in making change happen, this is particularly the case for men.
We all have to be better.
Jack Sargeant is the Labour Senedd Member for Alyn and Deeside