International Women’s Day 2016: A Celebration
Tuesday 8th March 2016
This International Women’s Day, it would be easy to focus on women as victims and survivors of domestic abuse. It’s the perfect day to remind everyone that two women a week, on average, are still killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner. And it would be wrong not to.
But International Women’s Day isn’t just about women as victims and survivors. It’s about women who do whatever they can to bring us closer to the goal of equality. Today, I want to celebrate women who have done so much to overcome the three main changes that must happen in order to reduce domestic abuse in this country.
The first of these is that specialist services must be accessible to all, and sustainable. Secondly, all public agencies must understand the nature and impact of domestic abuse – especially the coercive control and gender dynamics at its heart. And third, the culture that sustains and even condones the abuse of women by men must change.
These are three among many who have made a difference.
First, the campaigning group, Sisters Uncut. At Women’s Aid, we have campaigned for over three years against cuts to specialist services. We have had tangible successes with our SOS campaign and Give Me Shelter in partnership with The Sun, and worked closely with government departments to back up our public campaigning.
But look at what Sisters Uncut have done. Just one example: they stormed the red carpet at the premiere of the film Suffragette, gaining worldwide coverage and the support of the film’s stars. “Dead women don’t vote,” they said. Brave, bold, unashamedly feminist, they provide the powerful activism that is absolutely essential to achieve change. There are many roles in the struggle. Their role complements Women’s Aid’s and you can bet it has made a difference.
Second, I want to thank and celebrate Claire Throssell, who has launched the Child First campaign with Women’s Aid and is the major reason behind the impact it has had in such a short time. You can read Claire’s story in her own words here. Claire’s two sons, Jack and Paul, were killed by their father after he was given contact by a family court – despite being a known perpetrator of domestic abuse, and despite the children saying they were afraid of him. The family court system fails time and again to recognise coercive control, and to see a perpetrator’s use of the courts as abuse. When we asked survivors and our federation of specialist services what Women’s Aid should campaign about, the vast majority pointed to the growing “contact at all costs” culture of the family courts, that neglect their duty to put the child first. Claire, with her startling dignity and courage, has given a voice to so many women who must be heard as they fight for their children’s and their own safety.
Third, for continuing to reverse the poisonous trend of “I’m not a feminist, but…”, I thank Emma Watson. Her #heforshe campaign has shown young women they should demand equality, and young men that they need to share their power. Before next International Women’s Day, let’s hope we see thousands, millions more women calling themselves feminists. Just do it. If other feminists say you’re not one – well, I’m not sure who put them in charge. If you’re a feminist, you believe violence against women happens because men think they have a right to power over women: a right so many cultures – including in Britain (whatever “British culture” may be) – sustain in myriad ways, both subtle and blatant. Feminism is the best means we have to fight it. And there is strength in numbers.
To these women, and to all who move us closer to accessible and sustainable specialist domestic abuse services, to true understanding of domestic abuse, and to culture change: thank you.
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