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The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on SM5-19772, in the name of Rona Mackay, on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament commends the annual international campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, which runs from 25 November to 10 December 2019; understands that this event is supported by organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls; congratulates Emma Forbes, founder of GlassWalls, which is an inspiring art installation dedicated to women who have experienced domestic abuse; understands that this exhibition will be in the Parliament to coincide with the campaign, and hopes that everyone can visit the stand.
First, I thank everyone from across the chamber who supported the motion and who will contribute to tonight’s debate. It is customary for speakers to say that they are delighted to be taking part in a members’ business debate, but I do not think that that is particularly appropriate on this occasion. I wish that we did not have to have this debate every year, because every year we highlight the terrible statistics that show that violence against women is still the scourge of our society.
It is crucial that organisations around the world that support the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign are heard. That is why it is important that this motion is debated in Scotland’s Parliament.
Started by activists at the inaugural women’s global leadership institute in 1991, this event runs from 25 November to 10 December, and highlights the work that is done by the many organisations around the world that call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. However, highlighting awareness and preventative work should not end on 10 December. It must be taken forward every day while women are being abused.
It has been 20 years since violence against women in Scotland was first debated at the Scottish Parliament. There has been a debate on the subject at least every year since the Scottish Parliament came into being. Movements over the course of those 20 years—more recently MeToo, time’s up and not one more—and the tireless efforts of individual women who speak out, have brought institutionalised gender inequalities to the forefront of societal thinking. However, we know that there is still much to be done.
Currently, levels of violence against women remain alarmingly high. It is estimated that one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime and, in 2017-18, 59,541 domestic abuse incidents were reported to Police Scotland, of which 82 per cent were against women. That is totally unacceptable.
It is time to recognise that gender-based violence is not some isolated problem. It is caused by gender inequality and augmented by other forms of inequality. It is a societal issue that impacts us all. Also, of course, it is a global issue. Whether through acid disfigurement, female genital mutilation, slavery, sexual violence, trafficking, coercive abuse or more, it beggars belief that women throughout the world are continuing to suffer horrendously in 2019.
I am co-convener of the cross-party group on violence against women and girls, which strives to eliminate all aspects of gender-based violence, working in partnership with Women’s Aid and many other organisations. We recognise that gender inequality cannot be separated from other forms of inequality. Primary prevention should address all forms of inequality, and tackling gender-based violence should not be left to women. Men must join us in calling out what is vile behaviour. They must not turn a blind eye to what is happening. Such behaviour must never be normalised, and future generations must know that it cannot be tolerated.
Only by building co-ordinated partnerships that are aimed at tackling inequality at every level can we begin to reduce the incidence of violence against women. We must all make a conscious and collective effort to challenge racism, homophobia, transphobia and classism, and we must all strive to promote social and economic justice.
We know that violence against women knows no boundaries. It happens at home and very often in the workplace, and the perpetrators and the victims come from all backgrounds. However, we also know that the most marginalised women in our society can be more susceptible to violence due to experiencing other forms of oppression, such as poverty, addiction, cultural practices and sexual exploitation. Only through greater public understanding of the links between violence against women—particularly sexual violence—and other social inequalities can we begin to stem the flow of violence against women effectively.
That is why it is so important for us, as members of the Parliament, to do all that we can to promote these values in our constituencies. We must promote and normalise gender equality.
Of course, we must also celebrate positive role models. That is why I am delighted to highlight Emma Forbes and her inspiring “GlassWalls” art installation, which was designed by award-winning artist Brian Waugh, with Charles Provan also part of the artistic team. Charles tailored a rehabilitative 12-week programme on stained-glass art for women from the Glasgow-based Daisy Project, which supports women who have experienced domestic abuse. Their beautiful work is integral to the exhibition. I warmly welcome Emma Forbes and the women from the Daisy Project to the public gallery. For those who have not yet seen the installation in the Parliament’s garden lobby, I say that the project that created “GlassWalls” is a collaborative community art project that aims to raise awareness of domestic abuse. The artwork will be open to the public in Glasgow City Council chambers next week.
Emma Forbes’s PhD thesis explored victims’ experiences of the court process and accessing justice, which we know has been far from perfect at many levels, and I hope that the highly publicised focus on their experience will lead to much-needed improvement.
The artwork depicts the progress that has been made over the years in Scotland to address domestic abuse, while also highlighting the challenges that those who have experienced abuse still face. Put simply, it gives victims a voice. On the glass, members will see the inscriptions “Why can’t I be believed?” and “My word isnae actually enough for what he has done to me over the years.” I am sure that I speak for everyone in the chamber and everyone watching when I say, “We do believe you, and your word is enough.”
On positive role models, as ever, we are indebted to many fantastic organisations such as Zero Tolerance, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, Close the Gap, Engender and the Soroptimists, to name but a few, for their incredible work in protecting and counselling women.
As a follow-up to the debate, Zero Tolerance will show its animation, “It’s Time for Prevention”, in room TG20 in the Parliament from 6.30 to 7 o’clock tonight.
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was a groundbreaking piece of legislation, which recognised coercive control for the first time. The equally safe strategy, which was developed in 2014 by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, released an update to its delivery plan this week. It reported significant activity and progress in relation to many actions, and some key pieces of work are highlighted in the report, which I am sure the minister will expand on in her closing speech.
We must stand together for all the women and girls throughout the world who have lost their lives through gender-based violence and women who have been abused and degraded, mentally scarred and traumatised. Together, we must never stop calling out those who perpetrate such acts of inhumanity.
I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber as part of the 16 days of activism campaign. The annual occasion of the debate is, as she said, a sad but valuable opportunity to discuss the impact on individuals and society of gender-based violence, and to highlight the work that is being done to change attitudes.
I apologise for having to leave to attend an event soon after speaking, but it is unavoidable.
I congratulate Emma Forbes on her amazing artwork, “GlassWalls”, which is a visual dedication in the Parliament to all women who have suffered domestic abuse. As co-convener—with Rona Mackay and John Finnie—of the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children, I am determined, along with many other individuals and organisations, to prioritise tackling gender-based violence.
This year’s theme—“Generation Equality Stands Against Rape”—seems appropriate given the increase in the number of women bravely breaking their silence in recent years, encouraged in part by the #MeToo campaign.
However, having the courage to speak out is only part of the sea change that we need. Zero Tolerance said that there was a female victim in 95 per cent of rapes in 2014-15, which is a staggering statistic. Rape is about power and it is no surprise that the inequality between genders exposes women to greater risk of sexual violence.
After attending a Rape Crisis meeting recently, I committed to working alongside the brave women who are exposing the injustice of the third verdict of not proven, which leaves everyone in limbo. We will work to remove that injustice from our justice system and society. I am also committed to working with others to ensure that there is better support in relation to court appearances.
In recent years, it has been glaringly exposed that we live in a society that still makes excuses for sexual violence in some cases. It is not enough for rape or, indeed, coercive control to be illegal, the latter of which Scotland has led the way in criminalising. Only when we address the underlying causes that reinforce inequality will we see a reduction in the appalling statistics.
Despite the bleak backdrop, tremendous work is being done by organisations that are committed to change, some of which I will recognise today. There is the white ribbon campaign, which works with male perpetrators, and Soroptimist International, which highlights the plight of the estimated 200 million women who have undergone female genital mutilation, and that of the women and girls who are trafficked and subjected to exploitation and abuse.
The commission on women of the Kurdistan National Congress has used the international day for the elimination of violence against women to highlight the continued violence in north and east Syria. It has called on UN Women to defend women-led democracy, which is key to preventing violence.
Closer to home, Rape Crisis has launched its biggest ever crowdfunder, £16 for 16 days. Donations of £16 will help the 1,035 survivors of sexual violence in Scotland who are awaiting access to the support of Rape Crisis.
Close the Gap has developed the equally safe at work programme, which I am sure that we have all heard of. It is being piloted in seven local authorities, two of which—Midlothian and South Lanarkshire—are in my region, South Scotland. The programme aims to address women’s labour inequality.
On refuges, the Dogs Trust runs a project that makes it possible for pets to go into temporary foster care, which removes leverage from an abusive partner. That is welcome, especially in view of the importance of pets to children in such complex situations. Scottish Labour’s paws clause calls for those who are forced into temporary accommodation to be allowed to keep their pets. I ask all women’s refuges in Scotland to consider that.
Zero Tolerance asks us as elected representatives to seek out and promote positive role models, while challenging harmful gender stereotypes and roles.
Debates such as today’s allow us to celebrate the wonderful organisations that are all working in their various fields for the same goal. We are also reminded that we all have a responsibility to drive the societal change that is needed to stop gender-based sexual violence.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s important debate on 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. I congratulate my friend and colleague Rona Mackay on bringing it forward, and on her excellent and detailed contribution.
I have given prior notice to the Presiding Officer that I may need to leave early, depending on when the closing speeches are.
From the start, I record that violence in any form, against anyone, is never acceptable and must be called out, particularly when the violence is simply because of a person’s gender or gender identity.
The international campaign, which seeks to end gender-based violence, has been running for the past two decades and was started by the United Nations General Assembly.
I commend all—both in Scotland and around the world—who have been involved with the campaign year in and year out. Their work really does help others speak out and report violence and domestic abuse. The theme of 2019—“Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape”—places a focus on those who have experienced, or who have been affected by, rape.
Domestic abuse and gender-based violence can take many forms and can affect anyone. It can stem from simple controlling comments such as a partner telling another what to wear, what to do or even what to say, to unwanted sexual comments, acts and violence.
Although gender-based violence and domestic abuse predominantly affect women, with around four in five of all domestic abuse cases in Scotland involving a female victim, I will focus on domestic abuse among Scotland’s LGBT+ community, the rate of which is estimated to be on the rise and cases of which are generally underreported.
Recent research published by Stonewall Scotland revealed some statistics that arnae easy to read. That research evidences that—using the current definition of domestic abuse, which includes coercive and controlling behaviour, physical and sexual assault and financial control—around 49 per cent of gay and bi men in Scotland, around one in four women who identify as lesbian, and around 80 per cent of Scotland’s trans community have experienced domestic abuse in some form.
It is essential that discussion around domestic abuse, albeit that it predominantly affects women, encompasses other groups and individuals across our diverse society so that they, too, know that it is all right to speak out, to report abuse and violence and to seek advice and support.
My request to the minister is that she ensures that in addition to women, who are the group most affected by domestic abuse and violence, other groups across our society, such as the LGBT+ community, are on the Government’s radar.
Like many rural parts of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, which is in my South Scotland region, has its own unique challenges when it comes to people reporting domestic abuse and receiving support, but such support is out there. Many organisations are working to make it easier for those affected to access advice and support services and to report violence and abuse. The Dumfries and Galloway public protection partnership—DGPPP—was established by the local integration joint board in 2015. It brings together several local organisations, including Police Scotland, Dumfries and Stewartry Women’s Aid, Relationships Scotland and Dumfries & Galloway LGBT Plus to reach out to people across the region who are at risk of, or who have experienced, domestic abuse. That is very important for people in such a wide rural area, whom we need to support in coming forward. DGPPP provides advice and encourages and supports people in reporting abuse to the police so that necessary follow-up can be actioned and perpetrators dealt with appropriately. All the organisations that form part of the partnership do absolutely fantastic work day in, day out. They provide public outreach sessions, make home visits to affected people and their families, and offer relationship counselling and the means for those experiencing gender-based violence to escape their situations. They are all to be commended.
I place on the record my thanks to the Scottish Government, which has brought in world-leading legislation to tackle domestic abuse and to support all those who are affected by it.
Finally, ahead of the debate, I visited the “GlassWalls” exhibition that is currently on display in the members’ block in the Parliament. I particularly liked the following statements, which are written on the beautiful glass designs there: “Live, Love, Laugh”, “Indestructible We Stand” and “Walk with Purpose”.
I again welcome the debate and reiterate that gender-based violence and domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and we need to ensure that people are supported to speak up and to report it.
I congratulate Rona Mackay on bringing this timely and important debate to Parliament. It is timely because 25 November was international day for the elimination of violence against women and marked the start of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
Clearly, GBV and violence against women can take many forms. I want to cover three aspects, starting with human trafficking. That crime, which is often carried out by organised crime groups, is still most commonly thought of in terms of the crossing of national borders. That was certainly the case with the recent convictions of four individuals who trafficked young women from Slovakia to Govanhill. However, less well understood is the fact that the crime exists not just interstate, but intrastate, and that in our towns and cities young women are being trafficked within Scotland every day.
In order even to begin to tackle and expose those abuses, there must be a concerted effort to raise awareness of the issue among the general public, and to impress on the public mind that if people see something that does not look or feel quite right, they should report it. Crimestoppers provides a mechanism by which suspected crime can be reported anonymously, if there is a fear of retribution. It is worth remembering that the police would prefer by far to investigate 10 incidents that turn out not to be sinister than allow one genuine case to slip through the net.
I turn now to domestic abuse. In response to today’s debate, the Dogs Trust charity issued a briefing that illustrates the strong link between animal abuse and domestic abuse. Perpetrators often threaten to harm family pets in order to intimidate and control their partners. Consequently, victims are reluctant to leave home without their dog because they know that that will not be safe for the pet. In such circumstances, the freedom project that is run by the Dogs Trust provides a free dog-fostering service throughout Scotland to support people who are fleeing domestic abuse. The dogs are placed in volunteer foster homes, and food and veterinary costs are covered for up to six months, until their owners are in a safe new home and able to take their pet back.
For a number of years now, the British Islands and Mediterranean Region Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians steering group has sought to raise awareness about gender-based violence by urging men in the region’s Parliaments to wear a white ribbon on 25 November to mark international day for the eradication of violence against women. On Friday 6 December, when the steering group’s members meet here in the Scottish Parliament, sexual harassment and abuse will be discussed. The measures that the Scottish Parliament has taken following the results of the anonymous sexual harassment questionnaire will be the subject of a question-and-answer session. That session will discuss positive action to address such abuse, which has attracted much media attention in recent times, in the context of the general election and the vile comments and sinister threats that have been directed at female elected members and candidates.
I congratulate Rona Mackay again on lodging the motion and providing a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of GBV and to highlight all the work that the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and charities—such as those that have been mentioned, including White Ribbon UK, Women’s Aid and Soroptimist International—do to tackle the issue.
I, too, congratulate Rona Mackay on securing this important debate. I strongly support the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, although I take issue with the language, which sometimes seems to mask the reality of violence that is inflicted on women by men. It is important to state that clearly—too often, male violence is something that we are too squeamish to call out.
I will give one example. I looked at a BBC online report from this time last year, which manages to talk about the shocking levels of violence against women without ever defining the demographic that is committing the crime. The report is headlined “The Women Killed Every Day Around the World”, and it says that an average of 137 women across the world are killed every 24 hours
“by a partner or intimate family member.”
There is no mention of the sex of the perpetrator. Paragraph 3 states:
“half of the 87,000 women killed in 2017 were reported as dying at the hands of those closest to them” but there is no mention of males. Paragraph 4 says that
“30,000 women were killed by an intimate partner and another 20,000 by a relative,” but there is no mention of what the perpetrators have in common.
In fact, there is no mention of men in the report at all, until halfway through it, when it counterintuitively tells us that men are
“around four times more likely than women to lose their lives as a result of intentional homicide.”
We hear about men when they are the victims rather than the perpetrators. We know that men kill and hurt other men in great numbers, but they also kill and hurt women in great numbers—and that is not the case the other way around. If we look at court convictions by sex of the defendants, we see that 98.5 per cent of the perpetrators of sex crimes in Scotland were male and the overwhelming majority of the victims of those crimes were female. The convicted perpetrators of non-sexual violent crimes were 88 per cent male. We must therefore be very careful about framing this as a women’s problem; it is a men’s problem.
Violence against women by men crosses class and cultures. Although I will always strive to achieve more equality, that will not entirely eliminate violence against women—the problem is more sophisticated than that. Finland, which is often held up as a beacon of equality, has one of the highest rates of women being murdered by their male partners. Experts believe that equality in Finland’s labour market has not sufficiently changed power relations in the home. The Council of Europe recently suggested that Finland’s pursuit of gender-neutral policies in service provision has resulted in women’s particular needs being overlooked. We should, of course, continue to strive for female equality, but we must not lose sight of women’s unique vulnerability to violence from men. It is because women are vulnerable that society still puts men’s needs first.
I am one of the co-conveners of the cross-party group on commercial sexual exploitation. The Scottish Government rightly classifies prostitution as a form of violence against women. Any society that gives a green light to buying and selling of female bodies is a society that puts men’s sexual demands before the safety and wellbeing of women as a whole. Recently, the cross-party group sent a member to Norway, where they saw at first hand how decriminalising women who sell sex while criminalising men who buy sex reduces demand, reduces trafficking of women and girls, and helps to protect them from the violence that is endemic in prostitution.
We also live in a society in which pornography is not just tolerated but promoted, and is, because of smart phones, easily available to boys and young men. Pornography contributes to and legitimises negative attitudes to women and girls and, thanks to sites such as Pornhub, it is mainstream.
The recurring theme is male dominance and female subordination. The feminist academic Julia Long says:
“It doesn’t take a great awareness of cultural theory to grasp the social meaning of images of women being repeatedly penetrated in every orifice to a chorus of ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’.”
She says that pornography provides
“an endless flow of narratives of women being treated as objects”.
It is no coincidence that a pornified culture has resulted in more men who kill women using the defence of “rough sex” to excuse their crimes. Most recently, that was tragically highlighted in the murder of Grace Millane, the 22-year-old backpacker from Essex who was killed by a date in New Zealand. The website wecantconsenttothis.com has found that, in the UK, 59 women have been killed by men who claimed as a defence that violent sex, often involving strangulation, was consensual. The Guardian reported last week that in four of the 10 most recent killings of that type, the man had watched porn immediately before or after the killing.
Pornography is made and consumed overwhelmingly by men. It is men who exploit the women whom they traffic into prostitution—it is men who buy and sell those women and girls, as johns and pimps, and it is men who kill women and hurt women.
Of course, I know that not all men hurt women: most do not, in fact. I suspect that the growth of euphemistic language about gender-based violence has grown in an effort to bring male allies on board, which reflects the fact that men still hold so much power all around the world. It is not so long ago that the women in the women’s liberation movement were dismissed as “man haters”, and women who talked about their rights felt obliged to say, “I’m not a feminist, but—”.
It was only when men were told that they could be feminists, too, if they put on a T-shirt, that women’s rights were taken seriously.
If we blur the language, we blur the issues. Male allies who want to support women need to take responsibility for male violence, and we all need to call it out for what it is.
It is quite clear that nobody at all is listening to me this evening regarding times. Due to the number of members who wish to speak, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[
Motion agreed to.
I cannot extend the debate any longer than that so, unless people are a bit careful about timing, it could be that we do not even get to hear our wonderful Minister for Older People and Equalities—and would that not just be terrible?
I thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate, and I join her in paying tribute to all the organisations that work tirelessly to combat violence against women. The Parliament has rightly given a degree of priority to tackling violence against women, but there is still much to do.
This year’s theme is “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape” and the focus is therefore on rape. We have an incredibly low rate of rape convictions, with lengthy waiting lists for support. I support Rape Crisis Scotland’s crowdfunding campaign to provide services. On a typical day in Scotland, there are 1,000 people waiting for support, while services face cuts in funding. I encourage people to join that crowdfunding campaign.
I wish to speak about other issues, too. In Scotland, we recognise that prostitution constitutes violence against women, but it is still legal to buy women in Scotland. We know that the civil courts are aiding and abetting domestic abuse by allowing children to be weaponised, but still we do not act on that. Each of those issues could take up the whole of our debating time today, so I urge the Scottish Government to make time to debate the matter and to plot a way forward to end violence against women in Scotland once and for all.
In its briefing, Close the Gap points out the impact of violence against women in the workplace. It is interesting to note that the figures for reporting rape and sexual assault correlate very closely with the number of women reporting sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Only 22 per cent of survivors report rape and sexual assault to the police, and 80 per cent of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace do not report it.
I was alarmed to read the Zero Tolerance briefing, which told us that Police Scotland has stopped disaggregating rape by gender. Why on earth has that happened? That must be changed. How can we measure violence against women if we do not have any statistics to do so?
The underlying reasons for the non-reporting of rape or sexual assault are the same: the fear of not being believed and the fear of being blamed. There is also, sadly, an acceptance of men’s behaviour towards women. That is starkly shown in the case of my constituent DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, who was taped to a chair and gagged with parcel tape in a Scottish Government office. Imagine how that feels: the fear and the indignity, not to mention the physical hurt. Yet, she is the one who is being disciplined, not the perpetrators of the attack. So, “Boys will be boys.” No: it should be, “Boys will be held accountable for their actions.” Could that behaviour ever be acceptable? Apparently so, in a Scottish Government office. If that is the Scottish Government leading the way, we have a very long way to go.
In Scotland, prostitution is also acceptable. There is no penalty for buying another human being. That creates the notion that women are for sale, so it is not surprising that men take that view across the board. If one woman is available for sale, all women are made less equal. If you pay a woman money, then it is supposedly okay to rape her. Yes—that it is what it is, because you cannot buy consent.
In these desperate times, more and more women are being forced into prostitution. We can dress it up any way we like and we can sanitise it as survival sex, sugar daddies or free accommodation in exchange for sex, but it is all the same. It is exploitative and corrosive, both to the women involved and to the whole of the female population.
In countries where buying sex is illegal, women experience less sexual violence and greater equality, and the gender pay gap closes, too. It is only when women are truly equal that we will see an end to violence against women, and we need to fight against inequality everywhere we see it.
It is customary to congratulate the member who brings the member’s debate to the chamber. I recognise Rona Mackay’s comments on that, but I thank her for bringing a debate that we must have.
We have heard some hard-hitting comments, and I align myself with everything that I have heard thus far, not least the comments about gender inequality, which drives the problem. This is about the role of men in resolving these issues. It is not a women’s problem; it is a societal problem that is caused by gender inequality. It is as simple as that.
I am proud to be a member of the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children. I also join all the other organisations that fight hard to protect the women and girls in our communities. Along with my colleagues Claudia Beamish and Rona Mackay, I was at the Rape Crisis Scotland meeting, and I heard powerful testimony there. We can have briefings and get all sorts of information, but hearing from the mouth of an individual who has been wronged is extremely powerful. The one thing that was apparent at that meeting was that people feel let down by our judicial system. When someone has to have recourse to the civil litigation system because the criminal justice system has failed them, we need to look at that.
We also need to look at the disproportionate number of prosecutions for serious sexual crimes that result in a not proven verdict. Henceforth, I am happy to lend my support to the abolition of that verdict.
I want to touch on the Rape Crisis £16 for 16 days crowdfunder. I encourage everyone to contribute what they can to that. It is important because there needs to be an impact on waiting lists. As was mentioned earlier, 1,035 individuals this year—as opposed to 582 last year—are waiting for access to what is referred to as lifeline rape crisis support. Someone who is on the front line of that support described the situation as astonishing and worrying. It is the mark of the trauma that people have to deal with that that euphemism is used—it is an astonishing and disgraceful figure.
I would not do anything to identify an individual, but I have sanction to read out some of the consequences for individuals who have been affected by the dearth of crisis support. One said:
“I was a mess, felt like I couldn’t start healing. No-one to talk to, all going on in my head. I was self-harming, suicide attempts. I felt isolated and my head was exploding”.
“I feel abandoned. I’m left with all this stuff in my head and the only way I can deal with it to deny it’s real. I know this is just adding more to the trauma I’ve suffered for 44 years and I don’t know if I’ll survive until I get help.”
“Following the assessment session which brought up many painful memories, I needed to talk to someone who understood sexual assault. Due to the long wait I was left isolated, with suppressed memories and feelings to cope with. I had nobody to turn to. When counselling began it opened old wounds and caused so much pain it felt as if the assault had just occurred. Have required several GP appointments and telephone counselling during the wait.”
In a progressive liberal democracy, it is unsatisfactory that victims of crime have to put up with that.
I have many things to say but I will conclude by thanking all the organisations for their support.
I am pleased to speak in the debate and add my voice to those who are here and around the world in calling for the prevention and ending of violence against women and girls.
On Monday, I went to an event organised by the Shetland domestic abuse partnership, where Dr Mary Hepburn, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, gave a talk. I am sure that some members will know of her, as she established the Glasgow women’s reproductive health service. She led a specialist support service for pregnant women who were experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage through homelessness, poverty, domestic abuse and rape. The guidelines that she established in the clinic are now used world-wide.
That was the first in a series of events in Shetland to mark 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The Lerwick town hall clock was lit in orange to mark the start of the 16 days.
Dr Hepburn has retired to Shetland, where she grew up. She has recently joined the board of Shetland Women’s Aid, and I am a member of that board, too. Dr Hepburn talked about her experience of working with disadvantaged women in Glasgow, how she established the clinical service there and how she challenged stereotypes—it was inspiring. The panel discussion with local representatives from health, social work, Women’s Aid and the procurator fiscal, which followed her talk, was equally inspiring and demonstrated what can be achievable in a local partnership setting with different agencies working well together.
I know that I can wax lyrical about how wonderful Shetland is—and it is—but it is blighted by domestic abuse and violence against women and girls as much as towns and cities across the country are. How do we change that? Obviously, we can do that through awareness-raising campaigns such as the annual international campaign against gender-based violence, to keep the issue in the public eye. However, like Dr Hepburn, we should challenge stereotypes when we come across them. Education is key, and that should not necessarily be restricted to young people’s education.
The panel discussion left the audience with a plea for societal change—and I heard that plea. Drink driving was used as an example; that used to be acceptable, but it no longer is. That shift in what society previously viewed as acceptable has taken decades to work through. Can we do the same when it comes to violence against women and girls? We must.
Scotland’s new domestic abuse law rightly shone a light on what was previously unseen violence. The new legislation has been held up as “the world’s gold standard” by international expert Professor Evan Stark and already we are seeing the benefits of it. People are much more aware of what coercive control is and cases are going through the court system.
What now needs to happen is a change to the ingrained, centuries-old, patriarchal views of women and girls in our society, and the unconscious bias that starts when we are born. It cannot happen overnight. The Parliament has an important role to play, and members have a collective responsibility to lead and change, however that may be. We need to ensure there are never any unintended, adverse consequences for women and girls. No one should be subjected to violence.
I am grateful to Rona Mackay but I confess to being sad and angry. Violence against women that is perpetrated by men is a symptom and a cause of women’s inequality. Most women and girls will have been affected by harassment or violence that was perpetrated by men at some point in their lives. It is not all men, but it is all women.
Women cannot fix that inequality and we cannot address ourselves the burning injustices of workplace sexual harassment, domestic abuse, so-called honour crimes, sexual assault, rape, trafficking, stalking and prostitution—if we could, we would have done it a long time ago. The 16 days of activism is an opportunity for men to show, by their actions and not just by their words or the badges on their lapels, that they are allies in this fight for an equal society, which will benefit us all.
It is 2019, but in some ways the world feels less equal and more dangerous for women and girls, not safer. Of course progress has been made in some areas, but there are others in which it feels as though we are going backwards. At a time when
Teen Vogue suggests prostitution as a job like any other to girls and young women, I am grateful that the Scottish Government is clear on its position on this violence and, importantly, is considering a more robust approach to tackling male demand for prostituted women and girls. As long as our bodies are objectified, commodified and reduced to something to be bought and sold, used and traded, we will not have equality or justice and women and girls will continue to suffer violence.
Ninety women have been murdered by their male partners in the UK so far this year. The sheer scale of that moved me to tears on Monday, which was, of course, international day to end violence against women. Karen Ingala Smith each year tweets out from the CountingDeadWomen account to commemorate women whose lives have been taken from them by men. Although it is very difficult reading, it is so important in showing the scale, which is often lost in individual news reports. I thank Karen for that difficult work, and commend it to colleagues in the chamber.
Increasingly, as Joan McAlpine mentioned, women and girls are being killed and injured in violence that is claimed to be consensual. In the UK, at the end of 2018, there was a great outcry at the sentencing of the partner of a young woman, Natalie Connolly, to three years and eight months for her manslaughter. He had claimed in his defence that Natalie had consented to “rough sex”, including to beating and to sex acts that caused her horrific internal injury. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a murder charge against him.
The We Can’t Consent to This campaign has found 59 UK women who were killed by men who claim that a sex game went wrong. In the past five years, that defence was successful in nine of the 18 killings of a woman that reached trial, with the man either being found not guilty or receiving a manslaughter conviction. “Sex game gone wrong” must not become the new “she was asking for it” defence. I agree with the We Can’t Consent to This campaign, which does not believe that women can consent to their grievous injury or death, and which believes that they certainly do not invite the male violence that kills them.
I see that I am out of time, Presiding Officer—I could speak about this all night. Part of the reason that I am a little bit angry, as well as sad, is that, yet again, we find ourselves in a half-empty chamber listening to—with a couple of noble exceptions—females speak about this. Men need to step up. This is about male violence, and we need to hear from our male colleagues.
I, too, congratulate Rona Mackay on bringing this debate to the chamber tonight. There is something shocking about the fact that, 20 years after our Parliament was set up, we still have massive inequalities.
On violence against women,
I will focus both on the progress that we need to make and what more we need to do. In her opening comments, Rona Mackay rightly mentioned social and economic injustice. I will focus on the workplace, because it is important that we do so in tackling violence against women. It is important to tackle the barriers that women face at work, and to think about how we empower women and promote equality.
Margaret Mitchell talked about trafficking, and we have mentioned the inequalities, and the abuse that takes place, in relation to exploitation of employment, particularly of young girls who have been trafficked to this country. Rhoda Grant told of the chilling experience of one of her constituents.
I will focus on the work that is being done by Close the Gap to tackle inequalities in work in our local authorities by supporting them to improve their employment practice by addressing the barriers that women face at work. That is a very practical initiative, which is important. It enables employers to progress work on gender equality and to better support victim-survivors of violence against women.
As part of that programme, councils have developed policies on violence against women and reviewed employment policies, and they deliver internal awareness-raising campaigns, organise training for line managers in flexible working, and run a whole variety of awareness-raising events. Although those things do not sound like headline issues, if they were rolled out across all our councils, the public sector and the private sector as well, it would begin to help empower women, and to deliver equality. In order to end violence against women in the workplace, we must tackle women’s labour market inequality as well.
Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. We have got to tackle occupational segregation, toxic male-oriented workplace cultures, the undervaluation of women’s work and the lack of quality part-time and flexible roles, and we have got to end the gig economy. Progress cannot be made in preventing violence against women, in or outwith the workplace, without having that centre stage.
It has already been said that one in three or four women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and three quarters of women are actually targeted at work. Perpetrators of domestic abuse often use workplace resources, such as phones and emails, to threaten, harass or abuse their current or former partner or acquaintance, or a stranger. Perpetrator tactics such as sabotage, stalking and harassment at work affect women’s performance at work, their levels of absenteeism and their job retention, as well as being an utterly horrible experience for women to go through. Action by employers is therefore vital, especially where we can take a lead. I hope that the minister will focus on what the Scottish Government can do more of to deliver on the issue.
At the start of my speech, I said that it is not acceptable that, 20 years on, we still have massive inequalities and massive experience of violence against women in our society and our workplaces. I hope that, in 20 years’ time, our successors will not have such a debate because equality will have been achieved and violence against women will have been tackled.
I thank Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber. Such debates are always extremely important.
I was delighted to meet Emma Forbes last night at the “GlassWalls” exhibition. I had not realised that the Daisy Project had contributed most, if not all, of the small windows. It was great to see my favourite constituency organisation participating in such a great event. There are a lot of good organisations in my constituency, but I can say with complete honesty that the one that gives me the most pride is the Daisy Project. Its work has saved lives, and it has made people’s lives much better.
In her powerful contribution, Ruth Maguire gave the figure of 90 women dead. That is horrific, but the truth is that we are lucky that the figure is not greater—I know that from speaking to people who have come through the Daisy Project and Women Against Violent Environments, or WAVES. There are a lot of women out there who have been maybe one more blow or one more bad night away from being another statistic. It has already rightly been said that that is not the woman’s fault; it is our fault. It is a male problem. Sometimes when I hear such stories, my gender disgusts me. The things that people can do for various reasons that are under their control simply disgusts me.
Margaret Mitchell said that there will be an event in the Parliament on 6 December. Coincidentally, I am holding a meeting on women’s rights and domestic abuse on 6 December in my constituency. People are coming from women’s rights organisations, the legal service, the police and social work services. I believe that the Minister for Older People and Equalities has been invited, although I am not sure whether she or some of her officers will come. Community organisations will be there as well. The more we can get the issue out into the community and the more we can talk about it, the better.
I want to talk about an aspect of abuse that does not get enough publicity. At the end of October, we had a meeting in the Parliament that involved organisations and women who have been victims of financial coercion. Some of the tales were horrific. Some of us will have received an email today from one of the women who gave evidence. She said that the man still controls her to a great extent, although she has been away from him for 18 months. He still has coercive control over her because of finance. Having lived such a life is bad enough, but if a person thinks that they have escaped it and finds that they have not, it must be soul destroying. Sometimes that can last for 15 or 20 years. I met some of my friends and spoke to them about that. They said that that is exactly what happens, and some of them are still living through that.
A lot has to be done, and we have to take responsibility. John Finnie was quite right to raise that issue. Men have to be part of the solution. The campaign cannot work if we do not get behind it. The more we can encourage other males to get behind it—I know that, earlier, there were other males in the chamber who are very supportive of the campaign—and ensure that equality happens in the near future as opposed to in the far-distant future, the better for all of us.
I thank the Presiding Officer for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I join others in thanking Rona Mackay for securing the debate, and
I am pleased to see such a large turnout of members.
I congratulate the Zero Tolerance campaign on reminding members of the importance of marking the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. There is more work to do, and we need to keep that as a top priority for the Parliament.
I was very pleased to have led the first debate in the Scottish Parliament on tackling domestic abuse, and to have been the first minister in the Scottish Government with responsibility for that policy area. I should, of course, advise members that I started very young. Both then and now, the Parliament has come together, irrespective of party, to tackle gender-based violence, which is an important strength. Successive Governments have passed legislation and put in place much-needed funding to support the work of prevention campaigns, such as those from Zero Tolerance. They have also funded practical support, including the £10 million domestic abuse development fund, to ensure refuge provision in all parts of Scotland. I was particularly pleased to see a new refuge being built in my constituency as a result of such funding, and I pay tribute to Dumbarton District Women’s Aid for all its much-valued work.
I was struck by the Women’s Aid briefing for the debate, which mentioned its census day figures. A snapshot was provided by looking at one day in September during which 1,235 women, children and young people were supported by a Women’s Aid group in Scotland. On that day alone, 364 women and 349 children were living in a refuge, and 58 per cent of the women who asked for a refuge space on that day had to be turned away. There is clearly much to be done, and I urge the minister to consider how the Government can put in place long-term sustainable funding to ensure that specialist domestic abuse services are available in every part of Scotland.
I will touch briefly on other aspects of this year’s campaign, but I regret that I will not be able to do that justice in a four-minute speech. As others have said, the theme of this year’s campaign is “Generation Equality Stands Against Rape”. One in 10 women have experienced rape in Scotland, and one in five have had someone try to make them have sex against their will, which are truly shocking statistics. Rape Crisis provides important support for women who have been affected by rape, but we need to get better at prosecuting rape, in terms of the number of convictions and the length of sentences. That will send the strongest possible signal of our view of such a crime.
West Dunbartonshire, which includes my Dumbarton constituency, has one of the highest reported levels of domestic abuse in Scotland. West Dunbartonshire Council and its partners, including those in Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis and other organisations that are working to stop men’s violence against women and children, have worked together to challenge the experience of women and children in my community. Last week, they organised a groundbreaking conference, which has also been welcomed by my colleague Gil Paterson. The conference involved local communities, with people considering the role that communities can play in challenging inequality and tackling domestic abuse that has perhaps been experienced by friends, relatives or neighbours. That is a positive development, and I commend those organisations for it.
I agree with John Finnie that the problem is with men; it is not a women’s problem that we have to deal with. We suffer the consequences of it, but the cause is men. Ultimately, the prize has to be prevention. It is, of course, important to treat the consequences of the problem and to provide women and children with support, but it would be so much better if we could tackle the source of the problem.
As others have said, fundamentally, this is about inequality—an imbalance of economic, social or political power between men and women. Only when we change societal attitudes and challenge gender inequality in our schools, our workplaces and our communities will we be able to end gender-based violence.
This has been a fantastic debate—I have scribbled notes all over my papers. Many issues have been raised, so if I do not cover everybody’s points, please give me a shout and I will answer members’ questions after the debate.
I thank and pay tribute to Rona Mackay for lodging the motion, which marks the 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence. During those 16 days, we put the spotlight on what we are doing, but I hope that by the end of my speech members will realise that across Government, other organisations and all our parties, we are working 365 days a year to end gender-based violence.
As we have heard, violence against women and girls is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. It is never acceptable: it has to stop, and meaningful action must be taken to stop it. It is the responsibility of every single one of us in society, and every community, to send a clear message that violence and abuse is unacceptable, and to call out the behaviour and choices of the perpetrators. The 16 days of activism campaign is an opportunity for us to come together, as we have done, not only to give new momentum to our ambitions and the campaigns that we all know about, but to mark just how far we have come.
The Scottish Government, through implementation of our strategy in “Equally Safe—Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls”, is strengthening the law, investing in our services and driving a whole-system approach and response that places the survivor at its heart. Nonetheless, we recognise that much more needs to be done. We have just published our “Equally Safe: Year Two Update Report”, which I commend to all members and anyone in the gallery who might be interested in reading it.
I will pick up some of members’ points. Sarah Boyack asked about the equally safe strategy in the workplace. I hope that she will be aware that there is on-going work on that. We have committed to undertaking that work over the next few years, but we published an action plan in February this year, and the strategy is being piloted. I pay tribute to Councillor Mary Donnelly, who is in the gallery. She is one of the councillors who is driving the strategy forward in South Lanarkshire, where the pilot is taking place. I reassure members that we listen to them, and that we are working with others to ensure that that happens.
I am a dog lover: I am off to the Dogs Trust first thing tomorrow morning to view its freedom project. I am aware from talking to many people that knowing that their pet is safe, and that they can take a break and get away from a situation, is incredibly important. We all love our absolutely lovely doggies, so I am looking forward to seeing tomorrow the very important work that the Dogs Trust does to put minds at rest.
Rhoda Grant asked about data, and I want to give her a clear answer. She will be aware that we have established a working group on sex and gender in data, in order to develop guidance and best practice, and to consider how best to use the data. We are doing some work on disaggregation of data and how we use it, and I will certainly look into the Police Scotland issue that she brought up.
Like Ruth Maguire, I feel a bit sad when I remember that I have spoken in just about every debate on this topic in the chamber. I remember watching a youthful Jackie Baillie in the very first debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament, when I was a young social worker. It is a mark of this Parliament that one of the first issues that we tackled when the Scottish Parliament was established 20 years ago was domestic violence and violence against women.
Members might have seen the article that I wrote for
The Scotsman on Monday, in which I said that we should never stop being shocked—we should never stop being shocked about the need for the debate that we are having today, or about the impact that gender-based violence has on people.
Beatrice Wishart eloquently highlighted issues around coercive control and behaviour. We are committed to introducing more legislation on domestic abuse protection orders, which will be another step forward. I see that the Presiding Officer is smiling, because that is one of the things for which she has been asking for a while. We are working towards that.
We are also taking steps to drive improvements in responses to rape and sexual assault. This morning, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport introduced to Parliament the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill. We are supporting a pilot on visually recording rape complainants’ initial statements to police, and we are working to ensure that survivors get access to support through additional investment in front-line services.
That takes me on to Rape Crisis Scotland, to which I pay tribute for its work. The STAMP—stamp out media patriarchy—project’s work in schools on sexual violence and consent, and the support to report scheme, are dealing with some of the issues that we face. We are investing record amounts of money—approximately £12 million—in front-line services, and additional money was provided for Rape Crisis’s centres last year. The three-year funding round is coming to an end, and as soon as the budget is resolved I will be able to resolve all the funding issues that members have raised today.
It is vital that we keep our focus on ending all forms of violence against women, and that we move forward with a shared understanding of the underlying story of casual violence, which needs to change and end for good. Many members have highlighted the need to tackle prostitution, human trafficking and many other issues.
A huge amount has been achieved this year, but we should not rest on our laurels and think only about what we have done. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the many feminist activists who are here today—and those who are not—who have worked every day to consign gender-based violence to the dustbin of history. However, we still have work to do.
Some of us are wearing our orange badges, from the Soroptimists, and some of us are wearing our white ribbons. We all wear our badges with pride, and we know about the importance of men as allies through the white ribbon campaign.
Scotsman article on Monday paid tribute to Fiona Drouet, who tragically lost her daughter, Emily, to suicide following domestic abuse. Fiona has been relentless in driving forward change in universities and colleges. It has been an immense privilege to work with her, and I look forward to continuing to do so.
Like me, many members have visited the “GlassWalls” art installation in Parliament and have mentioned doing so. It is a wonderful piece of work. I have known Emma Forbes for a couple of years, since the project was just a wee idea, so to see it manifested in our Parliament is an absolute joy. James Dornan was right to highlight and pay tribute to the work of the Daisy Project. Telling the stories through the medium of art is an inspiring example of the power of the Daisy Project women. I commend Dr Emma Forbes, Charles Provan, Brian Waugh and the talented artistic team of men and women who have worked on the “GlassWalls” project. The installation tells me that we need to have the lived experience of women at the heart of everything that we do to tackle violence against women and girls, and that we must build a Scotland where everyone can live equally safe.
I will finish with the words of that artwork:
“We do believe you. Your word is enough. We walk with purpose.”
Meeting closed at 18:11.