Strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:13 pm on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 7:13 pm, 21st July 2021

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is welcome to see the UK Government looking further at this issue. These past months, we have had many discussions in this place and more widely on the blight that violence against women and girls is on society, and the lives that it destroys, but this is not a new issue and the statement, welcome though it is, comes with a glaring and inexplicable gap. The UK signed the Istanbul convention almost nine years ago. Five years ago, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, a former SNP MP, brought forward measures obligating the UK to ratify the convention, but despite warm words, the UK Government remain one of the few EU Governments yet to ratify it, despite repeated pleas from these Benches, so the UK is still not legally bound by its provisions. Does this violence against women and girls strategy mean that this issue will finally be addressed and, if so, when? Warm words do not protect women, but ratifying the Istanbul convention would.

I welcome references to measures to increase prosecutions, but that is just spin unless there are also resources to handle that increase. Delays will simply mean more trauma for victims and less likelihood of convictions as existing delays stack up further. I also ask the Minister to clarify what the strategy will do to overcome the failure of the UK Government to improve support for migrant survivors in their Domestic Abuse Act 2021. What specifically will it do for foreign nationals and those with no recourse to public funds because of UK Government policy choices?

I hear what the Minister says on higher education, but we know that because the UK Government have not acted, abuses of non-disclosure agreements to cover up workplace discrimination remain hugely problematic, two years after the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on the issue. What specifically will this strategy do for these women? When will the UK Government bring forward specific steps to deal with this in the employment context, including requiring companies to report on their use of NDAs? These issues could not be more important, and we need to match our words with action in this situation. We need to see action from the UK Government, but I fear that some of the elements of the strategy do not appear to offer the heavy lifting that is required to move far enough forward.