International Women’s Day
Blog by chief executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer
This is my first International Women’s Day as Women’s Aid chief executive, and I am proud to have joined such an incredible all-woman team.
My passion has always been working towards ending violence against women and girls and progressing women’s rights and women’s equality, particularly for those who are most marginalised within our society. Seeing an end to, and full provision for, survivors of domestic abuse is fundamental to this.
To me, International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women, their achievements, honour women’s struggles and celebrate our vital work as part of the women’s sector work towards equality.
It’s also a day to remember how far away we still are from equality, how prevalent violence is and to come to together to revitalise and rejuvenate our commitment towards ending violence against women and refocus our efforts towards true equality.
I was shocked in my first week at Women’s Aid to hear that one of our member organisations, RISE in Sussex, had lost local authority funding for providing services for survivors of domestic abuse. The local authority had taken a ‘gender-neutral’ approach to commissioning its domestic abuse services, which led to RISE – a women-centred service which has been providing domestic abuse services for over 25 years – losing the contract. And this is by no means the first time this has happened. This is part of a worrying move by some local authorities to disregard the gendered nature of domestic abuse and to ask domestic abuse services to provide a full range of services on an ever-shrinking budget.
While every survivor of domestic abuse needs to be able to access safety and support, there is clear evidence that women make up the majority of victims and experience the most severe and dangerous forms of domestic abuse – 91% of domestic violence crimes that cause injuries are against women, and three women every fortnight are being killed by a current or former partner in the UK. Women need spaces where they feel completely safe, and women’s refuge and specialist domestic abuse services have the expertise and experience to ensure this. Trust is essential to women feeling able to reach out for support.
This is never to say that other services are not needed or important, and access to services should never be a race to the bottom – funds are needed for all those experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence. The lack of funding, poor guidance and often poor commissioning practices should be addressed here. However, and it has to be repeated – 91% of domestic violence crimes that cause injuries are against women, and three women every fortnight are being killed by a current or former partner in the UK – and services should commissioned firmly in this context.
In Sussex, RISE runs a LGBT refuge and said it could expand its approach for heterosexual men, but it was still not successful because being ‘gender-neutral’ was prioritised over decades of experience by a specialist women-led service.
Last month Women’s Aid’s report ‘Fragile Funding Landscape’ showed that over 1 in 5 domestic refuge services are running without local authority funding, with refuge spaces for Black and minoritised women being far more likely to be unfunded. To compound this, the domestic abuse bill returns today to the House of Lords, and although the bill requires councils to fund accommodation for survivors, nowhere does it mention the word ‘refuge’, which is absolutely essential to ensuring women’s safety. Coupled with the current government plan to separate domestic abuse from the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, this will only serve to encourage more ‘gender neutral’ responses to domestic abuse.
We need to stop this right now. Every survivor deserves support, and we know that safe, separate services are necessary for this. Do not defund women’s services in exchange for a ‘one size fits all’ approach, because this does not work for domestic abuse services.
On International Women’s Day, please respect the knowledge and expertise of the women’s sector and the role that women’s refuges and domestic abuse services play in saving lives.
Today we launch a petition to the government to ask that it requires local authorities to fund women’s domestic abuse services.
Please sign here https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/577718 and share widely.
Together, we can make a difference.