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That is for the avoidance of doubt.
In all seriousness, I start by making a clear statement that violence against women and girls is a blight on our society. It must not, cannot and will not be tolerated. It is a fundamental breach of human rights. That is more widely accepted in Scotland today than it was previously. There is also a cross-party consensus on how vital it is to tackle effectively violence against women and girls.
As a country, we have made significant progress in recent years, but we all know that there is much more to do to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. Reflecting back, I am struck by the substantial contributions of individuals and organisations over the past years and decades—people and organisations that have brought us to this point.
It was more than 20 years ago that Hillary Clinton told the United Nations fourth world conference on women in Beijing that the issues facing women and girls are often either ignored or silenced, and argued against practices abusing women around the world. She put the issue firmly on the agenda, where it has since remained, when she said:
“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
From 25 November to 10 December, the 16 days of action against gender-based violence is a time to reflect on how, together, we step up the pace to turn more words into more actions, and make more progress on ending violence against women and girls here in Scotland and around the world. It is also a time for recognition of those who have been working day in and day out, year after year, to keep women and children safe.
Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to have an action plan to tackle domestic abuse, and today we have the equally safe strategy, which is described by some as the best in Europe. Today our police and our prosecutors are clear that they take a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse and, indeed, all forms of violence against women and girls.
We are strengthening the law in this area, from the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, passed in March, which supports efforts to tackle domestic abuse and sexual violence, to the forthcoming specific offence of domestic abuse that we will introduce in this parliamentary year. That will recognise domestic abuse for what it is about—power and control, purely and simply—and it will embed that understanding in the law of the land and give the police and prosecutors the powers to tackle it and to hold perpetrators to account.
I very much commend those who work in local women’s aid organisations the length and breadth of the country who, day in and day out, support women and children who have experienced the trauma of domestic abuse. This morning I heard about the excellent work of the national domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline that is being delivered by Scottish Women’s Aid.
I also commend the work of the network of local rape crisis centres, which provide front line support for those who have gone through that most traumatic and barbaric act. I was very privileged to attend the 40th anniversary of Rape Crisis Glasgow last week. That was the first centre in Scotland and it is actually the oldest in the United Kingdom.
The 16 days of action must acknowledge those accomplishments, but it is also a reminder to us that we have much further to go. We have made great strides in tackling violence against women and girls. Domestic abuse, which was once seen as a matter to be hidden and kept private, is now widely recognised for the gender-based violence and abuse that it is, and there are laws, policies and funding in place to prevent it and to support survivors.
In 20th century Scotland, few had even heard of female genital mutilation or forced marriage. Now, we have legislation to protect people from honour-based violence and a national action plan to prevent and eradicate FGM.
Decades ago, a commonplace view was that if a woman was raped it was her fault. Since then, we have seen a major cultural shift, with rape and sexual violence now overwhelmingly recognised to be one of the most abhorrent things that a women can experience. We have strengthened the law in that area, and there is now a network of effective specialist services to support victims.
Although much has changed, we know that those attitudes still exist within our society; we know that some people continue to believe those rape myths that somehow the women was asking for it; and we know that some people still think that it is reasonable for a man to control his wife and treat her as his property. Women continue to be objectified in the media for sexual gratification, and they experience a double standard when it comes to their competence, demeanour and choice of clothing. We know that every hour of every day, women in our society experience sexism, discrimination and misogyny as they go about their daily lives.
That may paint a bleak picture, but it is right that we are open and honest about the society that we live in. We cannot pretend that everything is rosy, when the experiences of women and girls, and children and young people, quite clearly tell us that it is not.
It is those myths and attitudes that we must continue to challenge as a society and work hard to shift as a Government and a Parliament. We need a fundamental shift in culture that ensures that women and girls have equality of access to power and resources economically, culturally and politically. Earlier this week, we published a survey on the attitudes of young people that tells us that we have work to do in that area. The broader economic structures that can constrain women also need to be addressed. Occupational segregation needs to be tackled and we must do more to close the gender pay gap, amongst many other things.
We must also tackle sexism in society through education and by advancing equality. That includes tackling gender stereotypes, which can impact negatively on men, too.
Next week, I will attend the annual Zero Tolerance write to end violence against women awards—an event that celebrates both the best and the worst of writing about women in the media.
Next year, we will bring forward a delivery plan for equally safe, to give a sharp focus to the practical actions that we can take to realise our ambitions in this agenda. I am clear that that must focus on making meaningful changes to the lives of women, girls, children and young people, and I know that Parliament shares that ambition for change.
Everyone in the chamber agrees that violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights, and we must do everything that we can to stop it. That principle is enshrined in the Istanbul convention—or, to give it its full title, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. The convention is supported by this Government and the United Kingdom Government, which signed the convention alongside a total of 42 other countries. However, the UK Government has yet to formally ratify the Istanbul convention.
In May, I wrote to the Home Office to ask the UK Government to lay out a clear timetable for ratification and to engage with the devolved Administrations on that. No response was received, so I have therefore written again to the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, seeking engagement on the issue so that we can take action together to ratify the convention and show our support for its aims.
It is more than four years since the UK Government signed that important convention and two years since it came into force, so I call on the UK Government to stop dragging its feet, to confirm that it will ratify the convention, to provide a clear timetable for doing so and to engage with the Scottish Government on the practicalities of that. If we are all committed to ending violence against women and girls, let us take this next step.
“measures are already in place to protect women and girls from violence”.
Does she think that that smacks of a degree of complacency? Does she believe that the UK Government is going far enough? If not, why does she think it is holding back on ratifying the convention?
It is for the UK Government to account for its actions or indeed inactions, but let me be clear from a Scottish Government perspective. We have the equally safe strategy, which broadly meets the Istanbul convention, but we are not complacent. We have mapped the Istanbul convention across the actions that we are taking under equally safe, but we recognise that there are two or three areas in particular that we would have to improve on. However, it is unacceptable that, four years after signing the Istanbul convention, the Tories are still dragging their feet. I look forward to the response from the Conservative Party today and call on it to explain the inaction of its Government.
As we are focusing on the Istanbul convention, I will read a quotation on it from Marsha Scott, the chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid. She says:
“The Istanbul Convention is probably the very best piece of violence against women policy that has been written ever, anywhere ... It’s the culmination of years of hard work and difficult negotiations resulting in an incredible piece of policy, that is often described as the codification of best practice for Government responses to victims and survivors of violence against women. The Istanbul Convention is a blueprint for how we move from small change at the margins, services that are picking up too few people, too late, to a system that is designed to end domestic abuse and violence against women.”
She ends by saying:
“The UK Government has within its grasp the opportunity to make history, we are urging them to seize it.”
We on the Scottish National Party benches urge the UK Government to grasp history and take us a step forward on the journey towards what we all seek: the eradication of violence against women and girls.
That the Parliament recognises and welcomes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which marks the start of the UN’s 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls; commends the ongoing contribution of people and organisations across Scotland and the wider world toward providing front-line support for survivors, raising awareness of the problem and changing the outdated attitudes that still persist in society in relation to violence against women and girls; reaffirms the cross-party support for Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls; welcomes the work of justice agencies in pursuing a zero tolerance approach to gender-based violence; commends the invaluable work of local women’s aid organisations and rape crisis centres that support survivors on the front line; calls on everyone in Scotland to play their part in creating a strong and flourishing country where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse and the attitudes that help perpetuate them; supports the principles of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and calls on the UK Government to set out a clear timetable for ratification.
I am pleased to open this afternoon’s debate for the Scottish Conservatives, marking 16 days of action to end violence against women and girls. It is an annual debate, which gives us an important opportunity to take stock of the progress that has been made over the past 12 months as well as looking at areas where progress is still needed.
It goes without saying that violence against women and girls is a deeply complex and pernicious problem. In Scotland, there is a multifaceted approach to tackling the problem, with a statutory response working in tandem with the excellent efforts of the third sector and grass-roots organisations to support and secure justice for victims.
I pay tribute in particular to Scottish Women’s Aid, an organisation that can have a transformational effect on the lives of women who have suffered at the hands of abusers. I commend the SWA for advocating not only on behalf of women but on behalf of children. Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. I was struck by hearing that, in one single day in Scotland, 859 women and 400 children and young people were supported by women’s aid groups across the country.
A recent visit to Moray Women’s Aid in Elgin showed me the fantastic work that Women’s Aid groups do locally the length and breadth of Scotland.
Douglas Ross will be aware that I am from Elgin, so I am interested to hear why, when he was on Moray Council, he cut the money for Moray Women’s Aid, and why his council administration is currently tendering out all of Moray Women’s Aid services. In the context of today’s debate, that is not particularly helpful.
I hope that it is helpful if I tell Kezia Dugdale that, during my visit to Moray Women’s Aid, I sat down with it and went through all these issues. It was looking for a champion to take its case to the council on its behalf. [
.] I have committed to doing that, and I am sorry if Ms Dugdale does not think that that is appropriate. Politicians are elected to the chamber to represent their constituents and local groups from their constituency and that is what I am going to do. The response that I had from Moray Women’s Aid was far more welcoming than that response from Kezia Dugdale. I hope that she will reconsider her remarks, given that politicians are trying to do their best for their local communities.
As I have previously said, we must do what we can to ensure that invaluable support continues for women’s aid groups the length and breadth of Scotland. The latest figures show that, over the last year, 58,104 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police. We know from the Scottish crime and justice survey that over a quarter of those who experienced partner abuse in the previous 12 months appeared to tell no one about those experiences. Those people should not and must not suffer in silence. We must continue to increase awareness of organisations such as the SWA and the help that they can offer.
I welcome the comments that Annabelle Ewing made earlier this year, suggesting that the Scottish Government intends to introduce three-year rolling funding where that is possible, and the Scottish Government announcement in September 2016 of an extra £1.85 million for Rape Crisis Scotland, which will be used to develop new local services in Orkney and Shetland. Providing those organisations with greater budgetary certainty in the medium term can only help them to provide further assistance to victims.
It is fitting that the final bill to be passed by the Scottish Parliament in session 4 was the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill. The cabinet secretary and others will be aware that my party did not support every aspect of the bill, but we were pleased to see the inclusion of a statutory domestic abuse aggravator and the creation of an offence of sharing private images without consent. As technology and social media evolve at a rapid pace, it is right that we ensure that the law is equipped to handle developments that, with one touch of a screen, can have devastating emotional repercussions.
In this parliamentary session, the Scottish Government is adding to the tools for police and prosecutors with the creation of a new offence of domestic abuse, and we echo the Labour amendment’s support for the forthcoming domestic abuse bill. That is legislation that we will need to get absolutely right so that it adequately captures the violent emotional and mental abuse that can occur in relationships and the experiences of victims. However, a statutory response cannot be effective if those on the front line and at the sharp end of the criminal justice system do not have the appropriate level of resource to implement it in practice.
Members will be aware that the Justice Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and we already know from organisations such as the Procurators Fiscal Society section of the FDA that the increasing complexity of domestic abuse cases means that it will take a legal member of staff more than three days to carry out checks to serve an indictment on a domestic abuse task force case compared with just over one day in most other circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Women’s Aid board has observed in relation to the Crown Office that
“what seems to be lacking is adequate infrastructure both to support change and implementation of new policies and to sustain that improvement once achieved.”
I hope that the committee’s inquiry will suggest a constructive way forward for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service as more legislation is introduced to tackle violence against women.
The Scottish Government motion refers to the Istanbul convention and I understand that the cabinet secretary has written to the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to seek a clear timetable for the ratification. As Angela Constance will be aware, the UK Government is very much committed to the ratification of the convention, which has three aims—to prevent violence against women, to protect women from violence, and to prosecute offenders.
Douglas Ross mentioned the
Istanbul convention and the cabinet secretary’s pleas, which she has made not just to Amber Rudd but to the previous Home Secretary. Will the Scottish Tories join the cabinet secretary and everyone else in this place in pushing Amber Rudd to ratify the Istanbul convention? It has been a long time in coming and it should happen now.
I will address that last point by Christina McKelvie—I will come on to it and I will explain why we have not ratified the convention yet. There is UK Government support for it; there has been consistent support for it. [
Maybe Christina McKelvie can just give me a moment to come on to that point.
In most respects, measures are already in place to protect women and girls from violence that comply with or go further than the requirements of the convention and that is very much welcomed. The UK Government has confirmed—it has said this repeatedly—that ratification will take place once the approach to implementing the extraterritorial jurisdiction is agreed, given that article 44 of the convention requires states to exert legal authority beyond their territory for forced marriages and other offences. That will require primary legislation. In that vein, the Scottish National Party MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has secured parliamentary time later this month for the second reading of her private member’s bill calling for the ratification of the Istanbul convention, which will offer the opportunity to address these issues directly in the UK Parliament.
I hope that much of the debate will be consensual in nature. Scotland and the United Kingdom have done a great deal to protect women and girls from violence, whether it is domestic or sexual abuse, forced marriage or female genital mutilation. All that hard work must not stop here. I have focused my remarks on the criminal justice landscape in Scotland in this context, but I know that my colleagues Margaret Mitchell, Annie Wells and Oliver Mundell will bring in the international dimension.
Human Rights Watch has said:
“From historic convictions to impunity for gang rapes, 2016 has been a year of highs and lows when it comes to efforts to stem violence against women.”
Let us hope that in the next year we will be able to make far greater progress both at home and abroad.
I move amendment S5M-02820.1, to leave out from “and calls on” to end and insert:
“; notes that measures are already in place to protect women and girls from violence, which comply with or go further than the requirements of the convention; welcomes the UK Government’s commitment to ratify the convention, and further welcomes the parliamentary time secured in the House of Commons by SNP MP, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, to debate this important issue in December 2016.”
It is a great pleasure to open this debate for Labour. Like the cabinet secretary, I commend all the activists and people across the country who are taking part in events and organising events and who have been involved with everything to do with the 16 days of action.
It is probably worth recognising the diversity of the events that have taken place over the 16 days, from the reclaim the night marches at the weekend here in Scotland, where women took to the streets to talk about how unsafe they felt in their communities, to events that are happening in the Parliament tonight, hosted by organisations such as Action Aid, which are fundamentally about the basic rights of women in the developing world that still need to be recognised.
Labour supports the equally safe strategy. We pay tribute, in particular, to Lily Greenan for all her efforts to push the boundaries of that work and encourage speedy implementation of the strategy—something that we would very much like.
Likewise, we fully support the principles of the Istanbul convention on violence against women and the calls for the UK Government to set out a clear timetable for ratification. We will support the Scottish Government’s motion, as the Government would expect us to do on this issue. There is a focus in the motion on raising awareness of the problem and changing the outdated attitudes that persist in society, which we all know perpetuate violence against women and girls.
I want to make three distinct points: on inequality; on the impact of austerity; and on what we can do in the context of austerity. It is worth recognising that, for as long as there is inequality in society—for as long as women are unequal—there will be domestic abuse and violence against women, which are ultimately about power and control and the imbalance of power and control. In everything that we talk about and do in providing services for women who have been affected by abuse, we have to recognise that we are addressing a symptom rather than a root cause of the problem.
The way to address that inequality is to fight for women’s rights, whether we are talking about political, social or cultural rights and whether we are talking about equality in politics or in our most deprived or remote communities. It is why, every time we make the case for quotas in this Parliament and every time we make the case for women in science, technology and engineering subjects or for women in business, we are fighting for women’s rights and against violence against women. It is worth recognising that overarching issue.
It is all the harder to do that in the context of the austerity that so many communities across Scotland are experiencing—austerity that is perpetuated by decisions of the right-wing Tory Government; there is no escaping that, I am afraid. We know that the cuts that the Tory Government is pursing impact disproportionately on women. We know that cuts are keeping poor women poor and making it even harder for women to escape abusive relationships, whether we are talking about the UK Government’s cuts to tax credits and benefits or the Scottish Government’s cuts to student grants and access to part-time college places, which help women to access routes out of poverty and disadvantage.
Another issue in that regard is general investment in housing. If we are serious about helping women to escape violent relationships, we have to talk about housing. The last time I spoke in the Parliament about violence against women, I talked about the terrible state of temporary accommodation in Edinburgh and what we need to do to address it, but when I visited Edinburgh Women’s Aid recently I was able to see one of the best facilities in the country. When I met a woman who had been in the refuge with her children for 18 months, I thought, “Wow, what a fantastic thing it is that she has had her own place for 18 months.” However, when I asked her how she felt about that, she told me that she was actually very sad, because although for six or seven months she had absolutely needed her refuge place, in the year after that she had been able to piece her life back together and she wanted to move on and start to rebuild, but she could not get out of the refuge because she could not get a house. She is stuck in the refuge, held back by the horrors of her history, when she just wants to move on. The issue is the absence of affordable social housing. We cannot ignore the importance of that in the wider picture.
That brings me to consider what we can do in the context of the austerity that we currently face. The Labour amendment introduces two new points. First, it references the Scottish Government’s forthcoming domestic abuse bill. We support the Government’s ambitions in that regard and look forward to working with it to develop the approach—I will say something about a particular constituent in that context.
Secondly, our amendment refers to the consistency of decent long-term funding for women’s aid groups and rape crisis centres. I can pull up Douglas Ross’s record locally in Moray; it is important to recognise that there are threats to women’s services throughout the country, because there is no statutory requirement to provide such services. Councils are having to make cuts.
I have just read the member’s rather pathetic political attempt to criticise me on Twitter. Will she tell me what Labour councillors in Moray are doing to address the cut? What have they done since Moray Council took the decision a number of years ago, and what are they doing now to address the concerns of Moray Women’s Aid, which I am taking on board?
Earlier today I spoke to the Labour councillor in the ward that Mr Ross represents, and he told me that he fought vociferously against the cut that Mr Ross voted for in the council chambers.
I would like to make my wider point about funding for services around Scotland, Mr Ross.
We have to recognise that councils have to double down on cuts to services that are not statutory requirements. That is why women’s aid services are facing cuts just now, which I find unacceptable. I strongly urge the Scottish Government to put those services on a three-year funding cycle at the earliest opportunity, because I have seen first hand in Edinburgh what happens if we fail to do that. The Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre gets only a one-year funding cycle, so it can provide only a nine-month service for that year. It provides 12-week counselling courses for women who are affected by violence and abuse, but it stops providing those services to individual women for fear of not having enough money to help them to complete the 12-week process. If the centre had a three-year funding cycle, it would be able to increase the amount of support that it provides to individual women on a year-by-year basis. That is one practical example of why three-year funding is so important.
It is important for us to recognise that, while we applaud women’s aid groups in the chamber this afternoon, many of the women who work in those organisations are currently threatened with redundancy notices, as the organisations do not know how much money they will have next year. We should be honest about that.
I said that I would mention one particular constituent who came to see me and who is a victim of a violent partner. The perpetrator of that violence faced 13 charges in court and was convicted on 10 counts with three not proven verdicts. He was bailed before sentencing, which put the fear of death into her. While he was bailed, he absconded and he was found months later in Newcastle. He was arrested and, once again, he was bailed. He is still out there somewhere, either in the Lothians or beyond.
Although we have come a long way in improving the justice system, it is not perfect—I know that it is hard to seek perfection for the justice system—so we have to recognise and give voice to the experiences of the women who walk into my surgery and, no doubt, into the cabinet secretary’s surgery, too. This is a constructive debate and it is great to celebrate the 16 days of action, but let us get real about the challenges that many women’s aid groups, domestic violence groups and rape crisis centres face around the country. Let us do everything that we can to support their vital work.
I move amendment S5M-02820.2, to insert at end:
“; welcomes the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, which will create a new offence of domestic abuse to further tackle violence against women and girls, and agrees that the introduction of three-year rolling funding for local women’s aid organisations and rape crisis centres must be prioritised to help secure these support services and deliver on the 2016 campaign theme of sustainable financing for initiatives that tackle violence towards women and girls in Scotland.”
We have a bit of time in hand so I am relaxed about giving time back after interventions. Of course, that might change later when my co-Deputy Presiding Officer gets in the chair.
As we have heard today, the Scottish Government has responded commendably to the need for far greater awareness of violence against women and girls. Already, we are on our way to outlaw revenge porn, and we have introduced Clare’s law across the country. We introduced the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 and I am looking forward to working with the Government on a domestic violence bill. We are fighting constantly against human trafficking and all forms of exploitation of women and girls, and we are now striving to develop a social security system that respects human rights and treats people—especially women—with dignity and respect. I hope that it will be one without a rape clause.
Although we can congratulate ourselves, we must always be vigilant and thoughtful about how we tackle some of the most heinous crimes, of which roughly one in every three women is a victim.
None of us is born with a desire to do violence to anyone nor are we born with innate prejudice. I visited a primary school in Wishaw the other day as part of my committee duties and I talked to some children in primary 4 to primary 7. They were undertaking a project on human rights and they were given red, amber and green cards in order to tell us—the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament—what we were doing well, what we could do better and what we were not doing well. They were absolutely fantastic at their task, which was to rate how they thought the Scottish Government had performed on certain issues, including the idea of fairness. One little boy, when he was asked what he thought was unfair, had very clear ideas: “It is not fair the way people treat immigrants and refugees,” he said. He was very confident in his assertion—the children did not like inequality.
Sexual violence—physical or mental—is an equality issue and we need to do everything that we can to embed that idea in the classroom where receptive children will readily absorb the concept. That is where a cultural belief in the value of fairness begins.
In the summer, the Educational Institute of Scotland produced new guidance for teachers on challenging misogynistic attitudes among children and young people. The guidance—get it right for girls—will help teachers to embed good positive attitudes at the earliest stage of a child’s development. At the launch, one speaker told us that inequality starts when the midwife says, “It’s a girl.” I am the mother of two sons and that really struck home with me. I hope that my sons have clear feminist values.
Further along in life, the standing safe campaign, mounted in universities, which Margaret Mitchell and I supported at the University of the West of Scotland, shows that young people are determined to bring an end to all violence visited on women and girls.
The UNiTE campaign is, in one sense, knocking at an open door, especially in Scotland. No normal person would support the promulgation of violence, yet there remains a major job to do. According to Zero Tolerance, violence against women and girls
“is a significant social problem in Scotland which prevents the country being as safe, healthy and productive as it could be.”
We want our country to be safe, healthy and productive for our women and our girls.
“It remains very prevalent, both in Scottish society and globally, and is still widely tolerated.”
The fact that violence against women and girls is tolerated is mind-blowing, but when the new leader of the free world suggests that it is okay to sexually assault women, we all know that we have work to do.
“It is rooted in women’s inequality—unequal pay and economic, social and political power; sexual harassment; objectification of women and unequal distribution of caring responsibilities.”
We all need to step up. All that is preventable, but it takes commitment and resource, which might not be the easiest aspect to sell.
Therefore, I respect this year’s campaign theme of acquiring increased, sustained funding for organisations working to end violence against women and girls. Governments globally need to step up their support if we are to succeed in outlawing this aggressive and damaging behaviour.
At the UN’s official launch of the annual campaign, attendees draped themselves in scarves of orange—the colour that the UN has chosen to mark action against violence. I see that my colleague, Claire Baker, is resplendent in orange, putting the rest of us to shame. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon has said, like me, that Governments need to step up their support of women’s movements and civil society groups to address what is a human rights violation—women’s rights are human rights; human rights are women’s rights—a health concern and a major obstacle to women’s development not just here but around the world.
It is time to see the whole issue in the wider context of the damage that violent behaviour causes. It is not confined to the bedroom or behind closed doors; it is not confined to some far-off land. It is here; it is now. If we can ensure equality for women and girls nationally and globally, we would ensure a safer, more equal world for our boys and men.
The UN’s 16 days of action against domestic violence is aimed at businesses, supporting them to take action against domestic abuse and the violence that takes place. We all have a duty—businesses, parliamentarians, the Government and parties—to end gender-based violence now and for all. Today, we could be fearless and end it.
I welcome today’s debate highlighting the United Nations’ global campaign for 16 days of activism to prevent violence against women and girls.
Ending violence against women has been an issue debated in the Parliament since its inception. There has been significant progress since then. That includes local initiatives such as the University of the West of Scotland’s standing safe campaign, referred to by Christina McKelvie. It is a student-led initiative, facilitated by staff in consultation with key stakeholders. The aim is to encourage students to reflect on and change the harmful attitudes that underlie gender violence. In addition, practical measures are suggested, such as training in safe bystander intervention and the provision of a toolkit to ensure that students know how to access support.
However, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at the launch of the UN campaign, globally, one woman in every three will be sexually or physically abused in her lifetime. It is, indeed, sobering to hear that the UN office on drugs and crime estimates that of all the women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half of them were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared with less than six per cent of men killed in the same year.
Furthermore, it is now widely acknowledged that sexual violence against women is used as a tool of war. Today, when Rona Mackay, Johann Lamont and I met the Iraqi delegation, the organised rape, sexual assault, sexual slavery and forced marriage that are perpetrated on Yazidi, Christian and other women by Islamic State forces were highlighted as a potent, immediate example and a stark reminder of the on-going atrocities committed against women in conflict zones.
Here, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians have in recent years focused on parliamentarians sharing information and expertise on how Parliaments can contribute to the eradication of this pervasive global issue.
To mark Commonwealth day last year, the CPA Scotland branch executive committee decided to hold a round-table discussion with students from Commonwealth countries who were studying here in Scotland on the topic of “Violence against women and girls: Scotland’s response.” The dialogue proved to be revealing and included a focus on female genital mutilation, with a young girl from the middle east sharing her knowledge of the custom. The students emphasised the point that violence against women includes stalking, commercial sexual exploitation, forced marriage, coercion, so-called honour-based violence and revenge attacks, such as assaults with acid.
In the last 12 months of session 4, in response to statistics revealing a continuous increase in incidents of sexual violence in Scotland, the Scottish Government introduced, through the Justice Committee, legislation on domestic abuse, forced marriage, human trafficking and non-consensual sharing of indecent images. In addition, a bill on domestic abuse is expected next year.
Bearing in mind the comments from the students at the CPA round-table discussion, the police operation in Glasgow two years ago that found that 97 children and teenagers were or were at risk of being victims of sexual exploitation and, more recently, Police Scotland’s online child abuse investigation, which identified 523 children as potential victims of online sexual abuse, I believe that it is absolutely crystal clear that while we are addressing domestic abuse and the other aforementioned issues, much more needs to be done to proactively combat the online abuse and sexual exploitation that are happening here on our doorstep.
I want to end with this thought: the abuse that happened in Rotherham over 16 years involved young people reporting incidents and not being believed; there were various occasions when the perpetrators could have been pursued but were not. Basically, it is a devastating, heart-wrenching example of all the checks and balances that are allegedly in place to protect children and young people proving worthless in tackling the insidious, highly organised and systematic sexual abuse of hundreds of vulnerable young girls.
Here is the crunch: are any of us 100 per cent confident that the same could not happen right under our noses, here in Scotland today, given that perpetrators of sexual violence include the most devious, cunning and manipulative individuals, who are adept at using modern technology in an attempt to remain one step ahead of the forces of justice? Self-evidently, there is an immediate and constant challenge to overcome to combat the various forms of violence against women, both globally and here in Scotland.
Presiding Officer, 25 November marked not only the international day for the elimination of violence against women but the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The campaign ends on 10 December, which is appropriate, given that that is human rights day.
Domestic abuse is unacceptable. Rape and other sexual offences are among the most abhorrent crimes in our society, and I am pleased that we have a Government—and indeed a Parliament, and the parties in it—committed to taking a zero-tolerance approach and to ending violence against women and children. As someone who previously sat on the board of Rape Crisis Central Scotland, I am pleased indeed that the Scottish Government is working closely with Rape Crisis Scotland to strengthen Scotland’s overall approach to tackling rape and sexual assault, providing funding for 14 local rape crisis centres across the country and a rape crisis helpline.
Working with partners who have local connections highlights the importance of bringing on board all levels of government to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. Equally safe, the joint strategy by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, sets out a shared understanding of the causes and scale of and risk factors related to the problem; it highlights the need to prioritise prevention and sets out how we will develop a performance framework that allows us to know whether we are realising our ambitions.
That co-ordinated approach, working with partners, and the £2.4 million investment in our courts and prosecutors to ensure that domestic abuse criminal cases are heard without undue delay will ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice and that the victims receive the help and support that they need. It is worth noting that, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the number of individuals with a domestic abuse aggravator who were given a custodial sentence increased by 53 per cent from 1,017 to 1,560. Over the same period, the average sentence length in such cases increased from 184 days to 257 days. Those are statistics that we can all welcome.
In this period in which we recognise action to end violence against women and girls, it is worth highlighting on-going legislation. I have spoken in many debates related to that issue, including on legislation to create a specific offence of domestic abuse covering not just physical abuse but also other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that cannot easily be prosecuted under existing criminal law. The creation of that new offence will bring clarity to victims and allow them to see clearly that what their partner or ex-partner has done to them is wrong and can be dealt with under the law.
As I have said, domestic abuse is unacceptable and sexual offences are abhorrent crimes. Violence against women and girls—and indeed any individual—is, as has been recognised both nationally and internationally, a fundamental violation of human rights. The Istanbul convention commits nations and states to addressing violence against women, and its aspirations are in full accordance with the Scottish Government’s own approach and our definition of gender-based violence, which is itself based on the United Nations’ definition. As of 1 November 2016, 42 countries have signed the convention, including the UK, which signed on 8 June 2012; it has been ratified by 22 of them.
Unfortunately, the UK Government has yet to ratify it. We should send a message from the Parliament to encourage it to do so, particularly as we have heard and considered the statement from Scottish Women’s Aid, which the cabinet secretary quoted and which has a potent message for all of us to act on. I have talked about national and local approaches; that is a commitment to an international approach. Like the Scottish Government, I urge the UK Government to lay out a clear timetable for ratification that includes full engagement with the other devolved Administrations.
Let us mark the 16 days by passing the cabinet secretary’s motion, which I commend to the Parliament.
The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence always provide us with an opportunity to debate violence against women.
Although we have debates over the year on different aspects of violence against women, we have the opportunity to use this debate to highlight gaps in services and ideas for improved support and service provision.
I have campaigned for some time on access to domestic abuse courts in the Highlands and Islands. We have seen how they have worked well in other places, allowed practitioners to build up knowledge and understanding and allowed services to be put in place to support victims on the day. A court can be daunting enough for anybody, but especially if they are to come face to face with someone who leaves them afraid and diminished. We need that level of support to be available to every victim. In our more remote rural areas, we cannot have separate buildings and a separate court, but we can have days set aside to deal with domestic abuse cases.
Our amendment calls for three-year funding. That is really important for women’s aid groups, whose national and local funding is being cut at a time when we are asking them to do more. If they knew when cases were to be in court, they could use their resources better to support their clients while reaching out to others who have not yet accessed their services. That would save them money and mean that one support worker could spend a day in court to cover all the cases. Currently, different support workers may need to be at court on every sitting day, but that is impossible with decreasing resources.
It must be incredibly disheartening for support workers to do that often harrowing work while they carry around their redundancy notice. That happens all too often. Although most workers are used to that annual occurrence, others are not, and they often move to more secure jobs. If they have experienced the redundancy situation before, they may be used to it, but as funds get tighter, they begin to wonder whether this is the day when redundancy will really happen for them.
In the past two years, people have been within days of losing their jobs before the Government announced the budgets. That needs to stop. If we add to that the lack of pay rises for many people as budgets are cut, we are asking people to do the most difficult jobs while we mostly take them for granted when it comes to rewards, security and pay rises.
We are all signed up to equally safe. Tackling every aspect of violence against women is equally important. We recognise that commercial sexual exploitation is violence against women—that is recognised in “Equally Safe”—but we have no laws to deal with the perpetrators of that form of gender-based violence, and that is simply wrong.
I recently read a book by Kat Banyard in which she says:
“The resistance faced by those working to abolish the sex trade can sometimes simply be the quiet brute force of mass indifference”.
To be frank, that is often what the Parliament feels like. We know that the sex trade is wrong and we know that it is violence, but the
“brute force of mass indifference” means that we do not act. We must act now. There was supposed to be a workstream on that in the equally safe approach, but there is no strategy.
Some time ago, I spoke to people from an organisation that had services to help survivors of child sex abuse, which we all take seriously. When they set up the service, they were quickly struck by the number in their client group who had been involved in prostitution. The abuse that those people suffered as children carried on into adulthood, which left them with complex problems. We rightly condemn the abuse of a child, but we seem indifferent to the abuse of an adult, even when they are the same person. That is not a unique pattern; it is commonly known and recognised. I hope that the Scottish Government will now act. It must protect the exploited, whether or not they are trafficked, because they are all abused.
I make a final plea with regard to parental access when there has been a history of domestic abuse. Far too often, the courts allow children to be used as weapons by an abusive partner. Surely an abuser should automatically lose all their parental rights because of their abuse. They have damaged the children already, and that damage will be with the children for the rest of their days. Parental rights should be returned only when the person can prove that they are a fit and proper parent—nothing else will do.
We have come a long way in the Parliament on dealing with violence against women. Sadly, we have some distance yet to travel before we eliminate it altogether, but I hope that we are all ready to finish that journey. Let us see mass action on violence against women rather than mass indifference.
The Scottish Green Party will support the motion and the Labour amendment. However, every day—not just 16 days a year—should be a day of action to end violence against women and girls. It is important to focus on the issue at a certain time, but the problem is a daily nightmare for many women and girls. The cabinet secretary and others are right to describe that as a human rights issue and an issue of abuse.
We have spoken many times in the chamber about the matter, and I suspect that we will speak about it many more times. The issue is one of gender-based violence. As Kezia Dugdale said, it is also one of inequality and a power imbalance that will be addressed only if we enhance women’s rights. I am grateful to the organisations that provided briefings for the debate, some of which are represented in the public gallery, and I acknowledge the commitment that the individuals in those organisations make to a demanding task and the challenges that they face.
We keep returning to a number of areas. Although progress has clearly been made, we have not yet got resolution. I welcome the fact that an increasing number of front-line staff in various walks of life receive training on domestic violence. For example, in its briefing, the British Medical Association talks about the training that is available to administrative staff to enable them to look for certain signs and to offer support. It also says that, because of the surveillance and the coercive behaviour that victims are subject to, any leaflets that are made available have to be placed discreetly. That is a sign of the pernicious behaviour that we have to deal with.
In recent weeks, there has been quite a bit of discussion about the police response to domestic violence. It is certainly true that it is robust, and that level of response is clearly merited, but it is not without its challenges. As someone who wants a rights-based approach to be taken to everything, I think that the work that Police Scotland has done on domestic violence is highly commendable.
As a number of colleagues have said, the Justice Committee, of which I am a member, is examining the role of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. As part of that, we took evidence from Police Scotland. I asked Assistant Chief Constable Higgins about the work that Police Scotland has done to identify repeat offenders and the protocol that is gone through when a victim comes to light. Again, the work that has been done on that is significant and good. A bully does not stop being a bully because they move to a new partner; instead, the new partner becomes a new victim. It is deeply distressing how some men’s criminal behaviour continues over a considerable time.
There have been high-profile prosecutions—I can think of one in the Highlands—that have sent a clear message, and we know that that has come about because of collaborative working with Scottish Women’s Aid and victims groups and because of the diligent inquiries of Police Scotland, which is supported by dedicated specialist prosecutors, whose role is important. The issue remains, but I say to those cowards that the police are coming to get them, and I hope that the police get them in numbers.
A challenge in our legal system is ensuring that our legal processes do not revictimise people—I am talking about the number of interviews and court design, which has been referred to. There is a role for domestic abuse courts, as my colleague Rhoda Grant said, and I have raised the issue with the sheriff principal in my area. That is not about buildings but about case management and making the best use of resources.
One thing that has developed in recent years is special measures. We have the technology to help but, sadly, it is not always understood and its potential to be used has not been realised. I still hear of cases in which women would have benefited from that technology but it has not been applied.
In a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament, we talked about the role of children’s evidence. Perhaps a different route can be taken to secure that while ensuring that child victims and witnesses are not put through the ordeal of court. There could be a pre-trial agreement about that.
Education is absolutely key. We also have to understand the concerns that have been voiced about the objectification of women and girls and the pressures that they feel from social media. We must promote positive role models, some of whom are in the chamber.
Men know the power that they have. It is disgraceful that, on the back of accusations of misconduct involving women, the President-elect of the USA was elected. On one occasion, I watched him prowl behind his female opponent in a television studio. Some have suggested that that was because of a lack of self-awareness on his part, but I think that it was quite the reverse and that that is far too generous. He showed a sad contempt for his opponent because she was a woman. It is gender-based violence.
We have talked about legislation that has gone through recently, and the previous Justice Committee scrutinised the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill. We also looked at human trafficking, which must be addressed. Positive progress has been made and I hope that it will not be affected in any way by Brexit.
Slavery, forced marriage and the role of rape crisis centres are also important issues to address. I am not enthusiastic about the term “honour-based”. Thuggery is thuggery and it does not matter how it is dressed up. We afford it too much credibility by giving it that name.
Other members have talked about female genital mutilation. The former Equal Opportunities Committee did an inquiry into that and found that the term means nothing to most of the victims. There are various euphemisms for the vile treatment that those women are subjected to and we must do everything that we can to break down the barriers to confronting the issue and to empower women and girls.
Another aspect that has been talked about is gender segregation, which comes up in all walks of life.
We must ensure—this will come up in the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service—that criminal law and civil law work in tandem. When an offender is convicted and bail conditions are immediately lifted, the victim is once more at that individual’s mercy, which is completely unacceptable. There are questions about access to justice; if that happens, that is not justice. Access to justice might—unfortunately—be a cliché, but we should adopt the equally safe approach.
People have mentioned how the UK welfare system—not the one that we are going to put in place—disproportionately targets women and children.
I throw my weight fully behind the remarks that Scottish Women’s Aid made about the Istanbul convention. I have enjoyed the debate.
I do not know what it is like to live in fear of being beaten in my own home. I do not know what it is like to have to hide with small children under a bed, in case someone chooses to abuse me, or worse, the children. I do not know what it is like to have to tell my children to turn the music up really loud in order for them not to hear the slaps or the screams. I do not know what it is like to have to pack up all my belongings, and the belongings of my family, to flee into the dark night, not knowing where I will go or who to turn to. I might never have faced that, but far too many women in my constituency and throughout Scotland do. That is why this motion is so vitally important.
In my constituency, there are fantastic projects working to support those who are affected by domestic abuse. WAVES (Women Against Violent Environments) and Daisy Project are run in Castlemilk by local people and they are changing the lives of many victims who pass through their doors. I have been fortunate enough to work closely with those groups and get an insight into the lives of the women. I would like to mention Janice and Trisha from the Daisy Project and Bessie, Helen and Cathy from WAVES, all of whom have committed so much of their time to make life that bit better for women and their children.
Sadly, the stories are often all too similar. However, I will take the opportunity to be the voice of the women whose stories go unheard. Some of the women present with holes in their shoes. They have no food, no heating and very few clothes because their partner withholds money or they have lost their earning potential due to on-going issues that have arisen because of the abuse. Even after fleeing abuse, many women struggle. One woman and her children spent last Christmas in temporary accommodation in a house with no television, no Christmas presents, no Christmas dinner and no hope. That is why many of the toys from my annual toy appeal go to the children who WAVES and the Daisy Project deal with throughout the year. The women who are looked after by those projects are often seen to be getting frailer and frailer as stress, worry and fear—along with months or years of abuse—take a physical toll on their body. They become mentally unwell, and their self-esteem is often so low that they cannot even find love for themselves.
While those things have an untold effect on a woman, we must never forget the many children who are damaged in the short and long term as a result of domestic abuse. Many leading children’s charities across Scotland and the UK acknowledge that if a child witnesses domestic abuse that is, in itself, a form of child abuse. Children can experience domestic abuse in many different ways: seeing the abuse, hearing the abuse from another room, seeing the parent’s injuries and distress after the attack and—worst of all—being physically caught up in the attack or getting injured trying to prevent an attack when, in reality, there is nothing that a child can or should have to do to protect his mother.
Often, children never tell an outside adult about the abuse that is taking place in their home situation because they either believe that the experience is normal or they are far too terrified of the consequences to alert an adult. If a child is forced to flee their home with an abused parent, that, too, can have a profound effect on their life. They often end up in a strange environment with a distressed parent, and the child can be the parent’s only source of care and comfort. They may have to live in unstable or unsuitable accommodation that is miles from their place of education and with no other family member for support.
In a conversation this morning with Shelter Scotland, which is often at the front line of rehoming families that are fleeing domestic abuse, I was told that the average child who is in unstable accommodation or who is homeless will miss 55 days of school in a year. As the convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I find that unacceptable. On top of that, the child is more likely to experience bullying and to become isolated in the learning environment. When the child experiences those things alongside the emotional and mental turmoil that they face, it can seem to that child that the future is bleak indeed.
Police Scotland describes domestic abuse in the following way:
“Any form of physical, sexual or mental and emotional abuse which might amount to criminal conduct and which takes place within the context of a relationship. The relationship will be between partners (married, co-habiting, civil partnership or otherwise) or ex-partners. The abuse can be committed in the home or elsewhere.”
There is a common misconception that domestic abuse is just physical abuse. That is clearly not the case. Domestic abuse can be physical, sexual and emotional or mental abuse—and there is sometimes a longer-term impact when the abuse is emotional or mental. I recognise that, in Scotland and across the world, gender-based violence can take on many forms, but none of them is acceptable and we must do everything that we can to combat it. The “Equally Safe” report states that, on a practical level, the cost implications of failing to address the prevalence and implications of violence against women and girls are significant, amounting to an estimated £1.6 billion for domestic abuse and £4 billion for violence against women in all its forms. My hope is that we can end all forms of gender-based violence and that that money can be used in other areas.
We are making strides towards change, and the projects that I mentioned earlier are doing huge amounts of work. For example, the Daisy Project helps the women with food banks; gives them emergency support when it is needed, including supermarket gift cards; refers them to money and debt advice; passes on clothes, toys and so on that are donated; and attends their meetings with lawyers and their court appearances. It also—it is horrible that this has to be done—arranges safe entry to and exit from court for the women and children. The project has started a civil court support group to find where the main issues lie for the women, and it provides unlimited support especially for civil court cases that can go on for many years.
The projects that I have mentioned provide drop-in centres, outreach support, group sessions and one-to-one care, and they educate women on their rights. Sadly, like many of the children, the women sometimes do not even realise that they are a victim of a crime because the perpetrator is someone whom they love and trust. Victim Support Scotland does great work in helping women who report the crimes, but it is the projects on the ground, such as the Daisy Project and WAVES, that help women to find the courage to report the abuse in the first place. The projects have my deepest admiration. They are not just a lifeline for women; they are often the salvation of whole families.
It distresses me deeply that, in 2016, we are still having to debate the horrors of violence of any kind against women. Until that violence is eradicated across the globe, it is the job of this Parliament to stand up for and be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves without fear.
I echo the sentiments of previous speakers from all parties and welcome the respectful tone that has been fostered.
I must declare an interest, in that before I entered Parliament, I served on the ministerial expert group on violence against women and children, and on the ministerial task force on child sexual exploitation. My work on both bodies has fostered in me a deep understanding that violent abuse, whether gendered or otherwise, spans an insidious spectrum in our society and that, along with it, there exists an intersectionality of issues, social problems and marginalisation, ranging from the dark realities of human trafficking in this country to the existence of horrific practices such as female genital mutilation and honour crime, and which include our own centuries-old destructive relationship with alcohol—there is a massive empirical link between drink and domestic abuse.
So complex is the agenda that the Scottish Government has rightly embarked on a range of programmes and strategies to address those stains on the fabric of our society, whether through the equally safe strategy, the FGM action plan or the forthcoming domestic abuse bill, all of which shape our response to the challenge of the Istanbul convention, and they have our full support. I have referred to two such approaches in which I have been involved. All those initiatives have rightly received full-throated cross-party support.
However, the complexity that I have described has made it manifestly difficult for us collectively to answer the challenge of violence in our society. Indeed, the first iteration of “Equally Safe”, the violence against women and girls strategy, was drafted without the contribution of the children’s sector. That oversight led to a delay and a welcome redraft, which speaks to the intersectionality that I described earlier. We must be vigilant in ensuring that, when we draft strategies and approaches, victims do not slip through the cracks. Although violence is often gendered in nature, the original equally safe strategy neglected the concerns of the many organisations that pointed to the symmetry with and relevance of the needs and interests of little boys. To put it simply, we cannot allow the approach to become too siloed.
Regardless of the strategies that we employ, we must ensure that they are always implemented from a rights-based perspective, with a child rights and wellbeing impact assessment being conducted at every stage of our journey. Our approach must be preventative from the outset. We must teach children from an early age what a safe, respectful and appropriate adult relationship should look like while building their self-esteem and giving them the tools and understanding to manage their anger. That is why it is vital that our efforts on this agenda must also underpin those on commensurate agendas, such as the nascent relationships, sexual health and parenthood education guidance.
As well as taking a preventative approach, we must look to address the acute end of the problem and the symptoms of it. The availability of trauma recovery services is still entirely dependent on geography. Similarly, teacher training on the specific behavioural needs of children who are affected by attachment disorder, trauma and loss is currently inadequate and it risks further hampering life chances.
The “State of Children’s Rights in Scotland” report, which was published last month by Together—the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights—of which I am a past convener, further delineates the task before us. It clearly lays out that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is concerned by the high prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence in our country and the particular impact that that has on children, both as victims and as witnesses.
It is on the issue of equal protection for children that the Parliament and the country have the greatest distance still to travel. The Government has today righted a wrong in the age of criminal responsibility that has stood as a demerit among the UNCRC rapporteurs for many years, and we welcome that. It is a lasting testament to the work of my good friend Alison McInnes. However, we shall forever fail in our efforts to eradicate any form of violence in our homes while we continue to sanction the use of violence as a corrective sanction against our children. That view is endorsed by Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid.
The antiquated legal defence of justifiable assault used to apply to the physical punishment of servants and of women. Its use in those contexts has rightly long since been repealed, but it still endures in relation to children. To put it simply, we shall never achieve our cross-party ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up while we remain one of only four countries in the Council of Europe to permit the physical punishment of our children. The UN committee repeatedly and rightly admonishes us for that. In not one country in which equal protection has been afforded to children has there been the mass criminalisation of parents—a factor that the Government cites for its reluctance to move on the matter.
As we work collectively across the parties to take forward the laudable steps that the Government has taken on violence, equal protection for our children is the last frontier on that agenda. We will support John Finnie’s efforts in the Parliament to change the law on that. The former head of the Strathclyde Police violence reduction unit, John Carnochan, was asked at a conference in 2007 how we begin to reduce domestic and gendered violence in our society; he responded, “For a start, I don’t think we should be assaulting our children.”
I respect the points that Alex Cole-Hamilton is making about violence against children but does he not acknowledge that violence against women knows no borders, boundaries or classes and, regardless of whether children are permitted to be smacked in our communities, violence against women is a global issue? Does he also accept that, although the campaign on violence against children is important, it is not the last frontier of protecting women against violence?
I thank Johann Lamont for her intervention. I absolutely agree with her remarks on the global fight against violence against women. When I say that equal protection for our children is the last frontier, I mean that it is the last frontier on which we are to make any meaningful policy progress in the Parliament. If we get the early years right, much of the rest will follow. We need to start by setting an example for our children and theirs to come.
I am pleased to support, and speak on, this year’s 16 days of action campaign. The international campaign calls for the total elimination of violence against women and girls. It was born in 1991 at the first women’s global leadership institute and is co-ordinated by the centre for women’s global leadership at Rutgers University. Each year, it runs from 25 November, which is international day for the elimination of violence against women, until 10 December, which is international human rights day. It has as its mission the aim of reframing women’s rights as human rights.
Over the past 25 years, much has been achieved to stop violence against women as a result of the 16 days campaign and the hard work of other organisations. However, recent inappropriate statements by certain prominent presidential candidates have highlighted to the world the reality that we still have much work to do. For all the good that has been done, perhaps we are not as far along with ending violence against women as we thought that we were. It is indicative of that reality that recent estimates by the UN suggest that one woman in three will experience some form of physical or sexual violence at some point during her life. Similar figures are approximated specifically for domestic abuse and even the sexual abuse of girls during childhood.
However, in Scotland, reports on our progress to end violence against women appear positive. I firmly believe that we are headed in the right direction. Last week, Police Scotland reported that four out of five domestic abuse charges lead to a conviction and, only last month, the Scottish Government released figures from 2015-16 showing that incidents of domestic abuse decreased by 3 per cent from the year prior, with a lower total of 58,104 incidents. On top of that, there was an additional 3 per cent decrease in incidents resulting in at least one crime or offence being committed. Those reports are positive, but 58,104 incidents is still 58,104 incidents too many.
Violence against women and girls, in any form, has no place in Scotland or in any nation. When I speak of violence, I mean violent and abusive behaviour that is directed at women and girls precisely because they are women and girls. It comes as no surprise that such acts are perpetrated predominantly by men or that such behaviour is a result of the longstanding and continuing inequality between men and women. It includes domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and prostitution. Whatever form it takes, it permanently impacts every individual and family involved.
Children and close relatives are often drawn into the terrible circumstances that so often arise. The knock-on effect is incalculable. People’s lives are affected for many years and sometimes for all of their lives. People survive domestic abuse and learn to cope with the consequences, but it has to stop.
Studies indicate that women who are experiencing violence are 15 times more likely to use alcohol and nine times more likely to use drugs than other women. They are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and, in some regions, one and a half times more likely to acquire HIV.
Perhaps the starkest figure is that, globally, of all the women who were the victims of homicide in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members as compared to only 6 per cent of men who were killed in the same year. It is an issue that, by any definition, must be close to the homes and hearts of people across Scotland and across the world.
It is 25 years since the 16 days of action campaign was launched and 23 years since the UN General Assembly issued its declaration on the elimination of violence against women. We can and must commit to do better, each year, until such violence is eradicated. The 16 days campaign is a time to mobilise our communities and get them into action; it is a time to band together and stop this epidemic now.
One of the major challenges to international efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls is the substantial lack of funding available. Often, if funding is awarded at all, it is desperately difficult to renew. That is why this year’s campaign, sponsored by the UN, emphasises the need for sustainable financing for all organisations involved in that effort.
Happily, the Scottish Government has been very active in its efforts to fund women’s aid organisations and last year provided over £12 million, backing over 90 organisations dedicated to ending this violence. Those groups include Scotland’s regional women’s aid organisations, Rape Crisis Scotland, Barnardo’s and a host of local and grass-roots organisations. In fact, dedicated funding for violence against women and girls is at an all-time high in Scotland and has been for several years now.
Does Mr Beattie agree with a point that was made by my colleague Kezia Dugdale and has often been made, not just by women’s organisations but more generally by voluntary organisations, that the security of three-year funding allows for the better use of resources, ability to plan and prepare, and gives confidence to people who want to use those services? Will he support our amendment?
I agree that funding is always a challenge for all those organisations.
One of the less enjoyable parts of being a member of this Parliament is dealing directly with some of the fallout related to domestic abuse. Fortunately, organisations such as Women’s Aid are there to help pick up the pieces. As an MSP I have met many women over the past few years who have spoken very highly of Women’s Aid—usually based directly on their own experiences. I would, however, like to highlight that in many cases that I have encountered the abuse suffered is not physical, but verbal or mental. Just because there are no physical scars, that does not mean there is no wound. Personally, I have found the cases of mental abuse by far the most difficult to deal with.
As I said a few minutes ago, fortunately we have organisations such as Women’s Aid to provide the expertise and support needed to the women of our communities. I have been fortunate enough to work with a number of those groups in their missions to promote, protect and empower women and girls across Scotland. Those have included the internationally acclaimed white ribbon campaign, the pink ladies 1st organisation, the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council and, of course, local women’s aid groups in Midlothian and East Lothian. They all, to my mind, provide an absolutely essential service in the battle against domestic abuse, and it is our job to strengthen and enhance them so that they continue to be able to provide their services well into the future.
I hope that my colleagues in Parliament will join me in getting involved with and actively supporting all such groups in their constituencies. I hope that we will all redouble our efforts, not just during the 16 days campaign but day in, day out seeking new ways to help end violence against women and girls in our local communities and across our country.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate and I very much welcome the parliamentary time that this cause has secured both in this chamber and at Westminster.
More important, I am also pleased to have the opportunity to thank the activists, organisations, individuals and volunteers across Scotland, including in my Dumfriesshire constituency, who work day in, day out—and not just for 16 days of the year—to help women to overcome the challenges that violent behaviour from men still brings.
As I said in a previous debate on domestic abuse, we must not underestimate the significance of shining a light on the abhorrent abuse of which women are victims. It is very important that we send that message out from this Parliament today. Indeed, in our fractious and often too-divided politics, it is imperative that individuals and families who have carried the burden and suffered the consequences of this scourge see politicians united both in common cause and in action.
There have been many great strides forward and the Scottish Government deserves credit for the work that it has done, particularly around domestic abuse. However, there is much more to do. We cannot afford to pat ourselves on the back when our criminal justice system is still less than perfect and when outdated and unacceptable social attitudes still prevail. I therefore welcome the tone of the cabinet secretary’s opening speech.
If truth be told, it is the second aspect that I mentioned—social attitudes—that remains the most challenging. I say that not because I discount the importance of seeing justice being done but because we can prevent offending and violent behaviour only by tackling its roots in our homes, our schools, our families and our communities.
I hope that, before my involvement in politics is over, we will reach a point at which debates such as this are no longer needed, but that day seems further away than ever with the continued sexualisation of women both online and offline, challenges around female genital mutilation and the much talked about but all too often dismissed discrimination against women in the workplace.
I look at my own family and back to my grandmothers, who lived through the second world war—a conflict that many acknowledge radically realigned our society and changed through necessity the traditional view that a woman’s realm was domestic and almost exclusively within the home. I think of my grandmother going off in her late teens to join the war effort and how alien that must have seemed in a small rural village. This might seem to be a slight departure from the motion, but the point that I am trying to make is that we have within relatively recent history—within the lifetimes of many who are alive today—made significant advances in challenging stereotypes and misplaced conceptions about the role of women.
We have seen and we see again now in our own field of politics that women can aspire to and hold the highest office, be that First Minister or Prime Minister, but unfortunately the challenges that hold back full and equal representation stubbornly remain. I might be badly placed to make this point having, through no fault of my own, removed an exceptionally capable, dedicated and experienced woman from this Parliament but, alongside achieving greater economic freedom, I still believe that ensuring that more women help to shape our public discourse is key to tackling more extreme discrimination and, ultimately, the truly unacceptable levels of physical and psychological abuse that women are all too often the victims of, and to changing attitudes more generally.
I would like to see a Scottish Parliament where we saw 50:50 representation, but I think that that is better achieved by ensuring that young women are given encouragement to get involved in politics. There are different opinions on that and I do not think that this debate is the best place to go into that in detail.
It not just a task for women—it is incumbent on us all to play our full part. The problem for many of us, particularly those of us who are younger, is that we have become, unknowingly, a little bit complacent—as a whole, we are not as radical as some of the generations who came before us. Instead of pushing for systematic change, we have all too readily accepted that the fight is to be won through incremental change. We need to grasp the opportunity before us to redouble our efforts to build a fair and tolerant society. If we do not do that, we will all pay the social, economic and cultural price.
Finally, I want to turn back to the issue of justice. I make a short, unpartisan, plea to the Scottish Government to keep a close eye on the work that the Justice Committee is doing as part of its review of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The evidence that we have received so far makes it clear that not only are legislative changes required to ensure that all domestic abuse crimes are captured by the law, but that, owing to a lack of resources, there are often very serious failings in the way in which many victims of violent crime are served by the current system.
I commend the work that people do, when they go above and beyond the call of duty, but they also need to know that the Government is on their side. We need to look very carefully at what practical steps can be taken to ensure that justice is being done and that perpetrators, rather than victims, are the ones who are punished.
It is an absolute privilege to speak in this incredibly important debate, which recognises the 16 days of action to end violence against women and girls and galvanises all of us to help reduce those terrible crimes.
I take this opportunity to recognise the work of my predecessor, Malcolm Chisholm. I was delighted to see that, having been appointed as patron of Edinburgh Women’s Aid, he will continue that great work.
This week I wrote an article for Circle Scotland, a charity that is based in West Pilton in my constituency. The charity supports families in a variety of ways and does fantastic work across many parts of Scotland. I used to volunteer with Circle when I was a teenager, mentoring young children who lived in challenging circumstances. One day when I was at the centre, there was a disagreement among the six-year-olds the other volunteers and I were looking after. The boy I mentored was upset because the other children said that his dad was not a hard man. He was upset and worried about that and spent the rest of the day trying to persuade me that his dad was hard. It reminded me of when I was at primary school—in P1 and P2 there were already debates about who was the toughest in the year or in the school.
I think about those moments often—and today in particular—because they encompass many of the problems that we have in Scotland around community cohesion and reducing violence in general. I think about how notions of toughness are misunderstood as demonstrations of strength, and how, too often and for too long in our society and in other societies around the world, the concept of strength has wrongly been viewed through a prism of physical prowess or as an aggressive approach to assertiveness.
It has been 15 years since that moment in Pilton, but even today we know from our own individual experiences that young boys and men in our communities are still growing up with misguided and sometimes unethical societal expectations of how they should behave and what they should aspire to. Those expectations are so damaging, particularly when it comes to violence against women in all its forms.
Today, violence against women in Scotland and around the world stems back to patriarchy and a historical sense of entitlement and superiority among too many men. As individuals and MSPs, and together as a society, we need to play a role in challenging and changing that. That is why today’s debate has been useful.
There are three main ways to challenge that outdated and immoral violent behaviour: through legislation, through financial support and through changing attitudes. On legislation, I support the Scottish Government’s aspirations to implement the equally safe strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls, working with COSLA. I also support the introduction of legislation in this session to create a specific offence of domestic abuse that will cover not just physical abuse, but other forms of abuse, such as psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that cannot easily be prosecuted using existing criminal law.
I support, too, the Government’s determination to support services that work with survivors, such as the remarkable Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre in my constituency, which Kezia Dugdale mentioned and which I have visited. I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to funding such services and I acknowledge Kezia Dugdale’s point—it is mentioned in the Labour amendment—about the security of three-year rolling funding. That point has also been raised with me, and I will support the Labour amendment at decision time for that reason.
I return to the point that I touched on in my initial remarks about what we can all do to support the need to seek, at every opportunity, a shift in consciousness, to change social attitudes and to develop a culture of gender equality and non-violence.
The motion states that we must tackle the underlying attitudes and inequalities that create the conditions for violence against women and girls, and I could not agree more. The cabinet secretary spoke powerfully about how the debate encompasses equality of opportunity as well as social and economic aspects. Those points were covered in other speeches.
I would like to focus on tackling gender stereotypes because, for me, they are a major part of the problem. The cabinet secretary referred to the research that was done into young people’s attitudes to violence against women. I think that it is in all our interests to read the research report, because it lays down the challenge for us. The report focuses on the need to target our message at boys: we must not just challenge misogyny in schools but—this is important—really get boys to think about gender stereotypes and what it means to be a man or a boy.
For too long, we have pushed young men to be hard, dominating and tough, to have no emotions and to be in charge. We say, “Be like a man,” and “Man up”—even in Scottish politics sometimes. We need to stop using those meaningless and unhelpful phrases. Instead, let us do all that we can to move towards a society where the common view is to encourage young men to be respectful, to act with integrity and to believe that real strength is found in equality and in treating others—all others—with dignity, decency and respect.
Whether as a parent, a teacher, a sports coach, a boss, a sibling, a friend, a person who works in the media or a politician, let us challenge the gender stereotypes in our society. Let us create a Scotland where a boy of six or 16, or a man of 26, 36, 46 or 56—or an older man—all relate to women as equals. Let us create a Scotland where that sense of being hard or tough is not what it means to be a boy or a man.
The debate has been very welcome and gives us an opportunity to affirm our commitment to ending violence and abuse against women and girls.
We have heard accounts of the violence and abuse suffered by women and girls here in Scotland and around the world—accounts of actions that damage, seek to destroy and demean women and girls. Some actions are systematic and sanctioned; other actions take place in a culture of acceptance or a culture that turns a blind eye to those activities and does not recognise the problem—societies where women continue to be unequal in social, economic and political realms.
However, we have also heard of courage, challenge and fightback from men and women and from boys and girls who no longer want to live in a society that treats women and girls as inferior and subsumes violence and abuse into our everyday existence.
The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence shows the global importance of the campaign, and we have had a wide-ranging debate this afternoon. The cabinet secretary is right to push the UK Government to confirm that it will ratify the Istanbul treaty and to give us a clear timetable for that.
Kezia Dugdale raised the importance of human rights, which are fundamental to changing society’s attitudes to gender-based violence. Margaret Mitchell was right to raise sexual assault as a tool of war—women and children are hugely vulnerable in such situations. They are often the unacknowledged victims of war and conflict, and they are often doubly assaulted, as they can be excluded and stigmatised by their own communities. In this afternoon’s debate, many members talked about what goes on in their constituencies, but we must also recognise our global responsibilities and aspirations.
As I travelled into work this week, I heard reports on the news of two serious rape cases in Scotland: one in a public park and one in a woman’s own home. Those are horrific cases but they are not isolated. Scotland’s crime statistics show a worrying trend of rising numbers of cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape, which shows that we have a serious problem to deal with. Such crimes are associated with feelings of shame and fear on the part of the victim about how they will be treated or put under scrutiny.
We cannot be a society that fosters degradation and violence. There is no doubt that we have come a long way, but I am concerned that on some of those advances we are going backwards, for a number of complex reasons. I am concerned that gendered attitudes are becoming more common, that everyday sexism is increasing and that women and girls are still disadvantaged in relation to status and privilege. In communities and families, women and girls need to be empowered to go further and change our society, in the interests of us all.
Rhoda Grant talked about commercial sexual exploitation of women. I know how much work she is doing on the subject. I recently attended an event that she organised in the Parliament about changes to the law in Canada. I hope that the Scottish Government will respond to the points that Ms Grant made today.
Many members talked about the importance of the equally safe strategy. It is the job of all members to ensure that the strategy is delivered. In its briefing for the debate, Zero Tolerance was right to highlight the need for a robust delivery plan. What we currently have is welcome, but we need to move on and develop and implement an effective plan that is properly resourced and supported.
A number of members have mentioned the comments and attitudes of the President-elect of the United States. Such comments and attitudes are unacceptable, but they are more common than we like to think that they are. The response needs to be sustained and it needs leaders—it needs a movement—to challenge and change such attitudes. I give credit to all the grassroots movements that seek to do that, including reclaim the night, the everyday sexism project and Zero Tolerance.
An example of the response that is needed was given by both Christina McKelvie and Margaret Mitchell. Students from the University of the West of Scotland are challenging unacceptable behaviour on campus that puts women at risk. The National Union of Students has expressed concern about the growth of lad culture, which has led to an acceptance of everyday sexism that is expected to be accepted and laughed off, leaving women—often young women—being verbally harassed and sexually molested. There have been high-profile reports of sexual assaults on campuses internationally, such as the case of Brock Turner in America, but here at home there have also been high-profile cases, involving celebrities and footballers, which have pushed into the spotlight the way in which society reports cases and judges women’s behaviour.
Christina McKelvie, Ben Macpherson and Alex Cole-Hamilton talked about the need to challenge gendered attitudes among young people. If we can do that successfully, we can have a huge impact on people’s lives and future relationships. More support is needed for prevention work, particularly in relation to teen abuse and exploitation and young people’s attitudes to pornography, sex and relationships.
Kezia Dugdale talked about the need for stable and predictable funding for Women’s Aid and rape crisis centres. I hope that we can unite around that call. Rhoda Grant talked about the unacceptable threat of redundancy for women who work on the front line. Sustainable funding is a theme of the 16 days of activism campaign, so I hope that the Labour amendment receives support.
I have concerns about some of the language that has been used during the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which members mentioned. I want to emphasise that although people might have concerns about how we deal with domestic abuse cases—I do not share those concerns—how they conduct the debate and the tone of the exchanges are important. Domestic abuse is still a hidden and underreported crime, and some of the claims that have been made to the committee risk trivialising domestic abuse. Some comments on social media, from people who really should know better, have been inappropriate and unhelpful.
This afternoon, the Parliament can send a strong and united message that we will do everything that we can do to provide the proper legal framework and the right resources to empower women and girls. We can send a strong message that violence and abuse, whether it is physical or psychological, is not acceptable in our society and will not go unchallenged.
I am pleased to be taking part in today’s debate on gender-based violence. Like other members, I take the opportunity to commend the UN’s
16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign.
As we all know, it is not only in the UK that we are responsible for trying to eradicate violence against women and girls; it is also our duty to do our bit globally. The UK Government has been influential on that issue and, earlier this year, it received recognition from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact for its efforts to eliminate gender-based violence.
The Department for International Development has rapidly expanded its violence against women and girls programming over the past five years. It now has 23 programmes, with a total budget of £184 million. The money is dedicated to addressing a number of gender violence issues, including trafficking, female infanticide and FGM, to name a few. I am also pleased that the UK has committed £6 billion to the United Nations trust fund to end violence against women. The grant, which reached more than 1 million people in 2015 alone, is specifically for small women’s and civil society organisations to tackle violence.
However, I acknowledge that there is much more to be done domestically and internationally and, as Oliver Mundell rightly pointed out, there is no room for complacency. The issue is deeply rooted in cultural norms and in unequal power relations between men and women. One in three women in Africa, south Asia and the middle east still experiences intimate partner violence, which highlights how engrained the global epidemic is, and that is why collaborative campaigns such as that of the UN are so fundamental.
I welcome Margaret Mitchell’s emphasis on collaborative international efforts. As well as the work of the UN, the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians is important. Margaret Mitchell’s contribution about sexual violence against women being used as a tool of war was a stark reminder of the abuse that is inflicted on women and children during wars.
As Douglas Ross stated in speaking to his amendment, the UK Government is in the process of agreeing the approach to implementing extraterritorial jurisdiction. As he said, article 44 of the Istanbul convention requires states to exert legal authority beyond their territory for gender-based violence and other offences. That is why we welcome the fact that SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has secured parliamentary time this month to debate that important issue and that the UK Government has already stated its commitment to ratifying the Istanbul convention.
We all know that the UK is not immune to gender-based violence. Statistics here are still surprisingly high, with one in four women and one in four people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community experiencing domestic abuse.
We now see new forms of gender-based violence that carry their own unique challenges. Revenge porn and online abuse are on the up and we are increasingly starting to recognise that the stereotyping and sexualisation of women in the media and the commercial world can act as a precursor to unhealthy attitudes towards women. We are also hearing more from previously unheard voices in the LBGTI community regarding abuse in same-sex and transgender relationships and marriages.
LGBT Youth Scotland carried out its own research through the voices unheard project and reported that 52 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner.
I absolutely share the member’s support for that. It is fantastic that we have such organisations standing up together.
Young LGBTI people might find themselves in the unique position of being victim to homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse and to other types of controlling behaviour such as outing or the threat of outing. Government and society action on domestic violence should therefore always try to cater to those unique needs, too.
I welcome any action that the Scottish Government takes to tackle violence against women and girls here in Scotland. That includes its equally safe strategy, as well as its plans to legislate on a domestic abuse law that takes account of psychological abuse—including coercive and controlling behaviour—and physical abuse, which was debated in the chamber in September. I reiterate Oliver Mundell’s words about the cross-party, non-partisan need to look at how we can improve the criminal justice system for the better, so that all cases of domestic abuse can be captured.
I thank all those on the front line who work extensively towards eradicating violence against women and girls, but I bring special attention to the work of the voluntary organisations in the region that I represent, Glasgow: SAY Women, Glasgow Women’s Aid and Hemat Gryffe Women’s Aid, to name but a few.
As I have mentioned, it is key that we have exclusivity and a spread of services that cater for a variety of needs. It reassures me to see that different needs are being identified. Although SAY Women specialises in supporting young women who have been the subject of sexual abuse, long-standing women’s aid group Hemat Gryffe specialises in helping Asian, black and ethnic minority women, who may experience very different forms of abuse.
I will raise concerns—they were, again, raised by LGBT Youth Scotland—on a subject that is very close to my heart. Despite a wide range of services, domestic abuse support that is specifically targeted at LGBTI people in Glasgow is lacking. That is no criticism of anyone at all, but it is an issue that I will certainly seek to look into further.
I reiterate my thanks to the organisers of the 16 days of action for putting the issue of gender-based violence so strongly under the spotlight. It is such an all-encompassing issue, with so many variants that, undeniably, its eradication on a global scale can seem somewhat overwhelming. With so many women now in high profile, powerful positions—both in Scotland and in the wider UK—it is time to take decisive action on the issue.
Today’s debate demonstrates strong consensus and collaboration across the chamber; also symbolic is the sense of challenge. Indeed, challenge is needed, along with consensus, because those both spur us on to make the necessary changes.
I, too, echo Claire Baker, who spoke of the courage of women who have had to endure unnecessary violence and oppression in all forms, and said that we have to commend and support the survivors who have had to endure things that we can only imagine.
It is heartening that there is consensus on the approach to take. Violence against women and girls is a symptom and cause of wider gender inequality. Indeed, it is underpinned by gender inequality. In order to prevent and eradicate it, we need to focus on delivering greater gender equality, as well as tackling perpetrators and intervening early and effectively not only to prevent offending behaviour, but to change those underlying attitudes.
Our equally safe strategy provides a shared understanding of the causes, the risk factors and the scale of the problem. In 2014 and 2015, we had nearly 60,000 recorded incidents of domestic abuse. That is testimony to the scale of the challenge that we have still to overcome. The strategy also highlights the need for prevention. It sets out how we will develop the performance framework, which will allow us to know how well we are or are not doing.
I echo John Finnie’s words. Our work to eradicate and prevent violence against women and girls has to be all year round—and it is. However, the purpose of the 16 days of activism is to enable us to reflect on what more we need to do to make the required changes. In recognising our collective progress and achievements, I do so only to increase our collective resolve to continue on the journey—a journey that we are still to complete.
There is much ground to cover and to respond to in the debate, but I do not want to leave the chamber without focusing on two vital issues: funding and children.
I say gently to Douglas Ross that the issue is not just about the organisations and people we visit. At the end of day, it is about how we vote, and we will be held to account for how we vote.
Maybe later. [
.] It is my prerogative to decline. Mr Ross can try again later.
The point that I want to make about this Government’s record is that we have invested record levels of funding, with nearly £12 million from the equality budget. Investment has held since 2012, despite the challenges of shrinking public sector finances that have been experienced locally and nationally. It is important to recognise that there has been an extra £20 million from the justice budget over a three-year period. I say to John Finnie that a portion of that money is being invested in the court system to make it more effective, reduce court waiting times and increase the advocacy that is available to survivors.
The Government has a clear manifesto commitment to the voluntary sector as a whole, which includes organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and rape crisis centres. We want to move to three-year funding as soon as we can, to provide certainty and clarity. In that spirit, we will support Labour’s amendment tonight.
I am here to account for how I voted and for my Government. As I understand it, Douglas Ross continues to be a councillor—or has been a councillor until very recently. I will not demur from talking about my decisions or my voting record, but I suspect that Mr Ross is doing a bit of a shuffle to avoid talking about his.
The point that I want to make—[
.] Mr Findlay can shout at me all he wants—it’ll no work.
Local government is an equal partner in our equally safe strategy. We jointly chair the joint strategic board on violence against women and girls. It is important to stress that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is working closely with Scottish Women’s Aid on producing guidance on the commissioning of local domestic abuse services. I hope that the guidance, which will be published before the end of the year, will go some way towards providing certainty for local organisations.
Kezia Dugdale rightly raised an important point about housing. Many aspects of the domestic abuse debate touch on the provision of housing. The Government has a commitment to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes, and despite uncertain financial times and the post-Brexit world that we are about to encounter, we have not rolled back from our commitment to invest £3 billion in delivering affordable housing.
I was about to come to that point. Kevin Stewart, the housing minister, has been actively involved with both Scottish Women’s Aid and local authorities on the variable practice that exists in the implementation of housing policy, and homelessness policy in particular. There is work to be done to ensure an acceptable standard of practice across the country.
I want to move on. On the important issue of children, I echo the words of Alex Cole-Hamilton, who said that the voice of our children must be heard. We have reflected on that and have adapted how we work in relation to input to the equally safe programme, in which the voice of young people and their organisations has been supported and enhanced, and the delivery of equally safe. It is imperative that we recognise that one in five children will have experienced domestic abuse by the time that they are 18 years of age.
We cannot demur from the impact of domestic abuse and wider violence against women and girls on children. When my son is a little bit older, I will give him Ben Macpherson’s speech on what it really means to be a man. One of the issues in supporting and nurturing our children’s growth is that of really getting to grips with negative stereotyping and attitudes. It is absolutely imperative that we do that. It is important that we raise our girls to be empowered, but it is equally important that we raise our boys to know what it really means to be a man in an equal world.
Violence against women and girls takes place across the world every minute of every hour of every day. Although we have not always recognised that violence for what it is, I believe that the situation is changing, and taking steps to ratify the Istanbul convention is important in ensuring that change continues. Again I quote Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid, who said:
“The Istanbul Convention is probably the very best piece of violence against women policy that has been written ever, anywhere ... The UK Government has within its grasp the opportunity to make history, we are urging them to seize it.”
We, too, are urging the UK Government to make history, seize this opportunity, stop dragging its feet and make more progress. It has had four years to do so.
I, too, commend the work of Dr Eilidh Whiteford in bringing forward her bill, but it is a shame that she has had to do so. It is now time for the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul convention. If it does, it will have this Government’s full and hearty support.