2016 was a frightening year – but we’re celebrating our success

Saturday 31st December 2016

Our Chief Executive Polly Neate blogs on the successes of Women’s Aid in 2016, and what we need to do to keep moving forward in 2017. 

As a feminist, it’s impossible to look back on 2016 without anger, or to look forward to 2017 without fear. It has been a year when misogyny and sexism won terrifying victories. And as domestic abuse is one of the most violent manifestations of misogyny and sexism, the voices of members, supporters, champions, allies and partners of Women’s Aid are needed more than ever. We may be afraid – frankly, it’s the only sane response. But we won’t be silenced.

If we don’t remember how far we have come, we will lose our sense of direction. If we don’t celebrate our achievements, we will lose our confidence. So it’s time to remember just some of what we achieved, with support from so many, in 2016.

We kicked the year off with the launch of our major national campaign Child First, and the report Nineteen Child Homicides. The abuse of survivors within the family courts, and the failure to put children’s safety at the heart of all family court decisions, is the issue survivors of domestic abuse and our local services asked us to campaign on. And just nine months later, Child First was being debated in Parliament. We end the year with real hope of change, and of the many people who made this possible, the one who has led the way, with breathtaking courage, is our Child First spokeswoman Claire Throssell. Read Claire’s story in her own words here and if you haven’t yet, please sign the petition. You will be hearing a lot more from Child First in 2017, and we will need your continued support.

One of the reasons the family courts are so often blind to the real dangers facing survivors and their children is an astonishing level of ignorance of domestic abuse – particularly coercive control. In fact, ignorance of coercive control is at the root of so much of survivors’ suffering at the hands of professionals supposedly there to help. That’s why we spent so much of 2016 working with The Archers – to make a dent in this ignorance. And it did, more than we ever dreamed. We finished the year with a powerful, cutting-edge, coercive control campaign, created with support from WCRS and 8 Outdoor, to get the message out to even more people. And, as our hugely popular 16 Days myth-busting series made clear, there is still much education needed.

2016 was the year we finally won the funds to bring to life our new multi-agency model for responding to domestic abuse, Change that Lasts. Drawing on the decades of expertise from across our federation of specialist services, guided by consultation with survivors, and advised by professionals and agencies from across the public and voluntary sectors, Change that Lasts is about supporting women to come forward, responding to their needs, and building on their strengths to help them towards long-term independence. It dismantles the obstacles that survivors face wherever they turn, and makes the most of every chance to help.

This was also the year when the government showed it had listened to Change that Lasts. Its principles were clearly visible in the government’s new Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, and the doubling of national funding for domestic abuse demonstrated the success of our campaigning.

It’s fantastic that we won national funding, but of course it in no way fills the huge void left by local cuts. I ended the year travelling around the country, meeting the local specialist services who know better than anyone else – and yes, I mean better than any generic organisation, any commissioner – what women need in order to survive domestic abuse, recover, and build a future. I spoke to the women who run services about the support we at Women’s Aid provide for them, how we can improve, and what they want from us in 2017 and beyond. We fought to protect refuges from changes to the housing benefit cap this year – and we succeeded.

And there will be more challenges for these vital services next year, mark my words. But if I had to sum up their mood in one word, it would be: determination. Whatever the difficulties they face – and believe me, they do – they know they are desperately needed – as the findings from the Femicide Census make painfully clear – and they are not about to let women down. If the Government ratifies the Istanbul Convention in 2017 – and the recent historic vote means that we are one step closer to this – then these services will be protected, as they should be now. We will keep calling for ratification next year – for all the women and children who desperately need it.

Join us in a defiant toast to 2017. And remember the woman, reeling from the strain of holding things together over Christmas, reaching out for the unique support of a specialist domestic abuse service, which might just save her life. And the woman welcoming her into that lifesaving service, wondering how on earth she will preserve its work through another year of short-sighted cuts and pointless competitive tenders. If you can, please support us to support them both.

Hard times, yes. That’s why we need your support. But I for one am looking forward to 2017, because I know that together we can make a difference.

We need your support in 2017. Please donate here so we can keep moving forward – until women and children are safe. 

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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