I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02267, in the name of Shona Robison, on international day for the elimination of violence against women.
I will start by saying clearly and unequivocally that across the Scottish Parliament we stand united—as we always have done—in our condemnation of violence against women and girls in Scotland and around the world.
Today’s debate marks the annual 16 days of action campaign to tackle gender-based violence around the world, as well as the global campaign’s 30th anniversary. I am sure that we can all agree that we would prefer to be marking the anniversary of such violence being at an end, rather than having to use this anniversary as a way of shining a light on an issue that remains pervasive across the world.
This year in particular we will all have in mind certain events. We all watched the scenes in Afghanistan a few months ago with horror and concern. Although we are worried about all citizens under the control of the Taliban, we know that the lives and human rights of women and girls in particular have been impacted and changed. I stand with all those who do not want to see, and are campaigning against, a return to the oppression that women previously faced.
This year, we also have in mind the tragic losses of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. As high-profile cases, their deaths exposed the pervasive and corrosive nature of men’s violence against women. However, so many murders do not get noticed or have the spotlight of media coverage. As this is a global campaign, I also mourn the countless other women around the world who have also lost their lives at the hands of abusive men. It is appalling.
Given that so many murders do not get noticed, it is appropriate that, as a mark of respect for all these women, the Scottish Parliament visibly marked the day with one minute’s silence, which took place earlier. I thank all those who observed that silence across the Parliament campus.
The landmark 2019 United Nations global homicide study has illustrated the gendered nature of the issue by showing that 87,000 women were killed by men around the world—mostly by men in their own family or by their partners. I am deeply appalled and concerned that the risks to women and children affected by violence and abuse increased during the pandemic. I am sure that I speak for all of us in the Parliament in saying that that is shocking and absolutely unacceptable.
This year’s campaign focuses on the dual themes of femicide, or the gender-related killing of women, and the links between domestic abuse and the world of work, in recognition of the many women who have lost their lives as a result of male violence.
Is it not upsetting and deplorable that, in 2021, we need a global campaign to highlight femicide in societies across the world? It does, however, provide us with the opportunity to explore what more we can do to change that.
The simple and unpalatable truth at the heart of the abuse and violence that women and girls face is that it continues to be underpinned by women’s inequality and the attitudes and structural barriers that perpetuate that inequality. Covid-19 has exacerbated and shone a spotlight on what was already there. That is why we, as a Government, have relentlessly focused on ensuring that women and children get the help that they need, and we are clear that tackling domestic abuse and all forms of gender-based violence remains a key priority and that, without ending women’s inequality, we will never completely rid Scotland of violence against women and girls.
I pay tribute to and thank those individuals and organisations, including Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis networks, that continue to work tirelessly in challenging circumstances to support women and children who are affected by gender-based violence. I also pay my respects to the life of Emma Ritch, who was executive director of Engender and who died in July. Her contribution to our understanding of violence against women as a consequence of women’s inequality has been immeasurable. She is sadly missed. [
In recognition of the vital work that is carried out by third sector organisations, including those at the front line, we are continuing to build on years of investment in specialist services and ensuring that they are equipped to handle the additional pressures of the pandemic. Within the first 100 days of the Government, we allocated new funding of £5 million to Rape Crisis centres and domestic abuse services to help to cut waiting lists and to ensure that those affected can access the support that they need more quickly. That comes on top of £5.75 million that was allocated in 2020-21 to help the redesign of front-line services.
As part of our £100 million three-year commitment that was announced in this year’s programme for government, we created a new delivering equally safe fund to provide £19 million each year over the next two years to organisations that offer new and innovative ways to aid recovery and encourage primary prevention work. I am delighted that we have recently confirmed allocations to 121 projects from 112 organisations that work to provide services and prevent gender-based violence.
We recognise the paramount importance of high-quality and sustainable service provision and the need to re-examine existing funding arrangements, and we have listened carefully to the concerns that have been expressed about the current funding landscape. That is why we are taking forward our strategic funding review of national and local specialist services for women and children experiencing gender-based violence. We want to ensure that there is more strategic alignment of resources to ensure better outcomes for women and girls who are affected by violence and abuse.
Our commitment is to undertake essential root-and-branch reform of front-line services to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector. Work around the review will be progressed during 2022. I want to ensure that it is robust and that it delivers results that are transformational and can change lives. That is important work, and I can announce that I have decided not to chair that review and that the Scottish Government will not chair it; instead, that role will be given to an independent chair. We will finalise the details of the review and who will chair it in the new year.
Let me be clear. Effectively tackling and challenging gender-based violence, outdated stereotypes and societal attitudes is not the responsibility of front-line organisations only. It is incumbent on everyone in our society—particularly men—to take action to prevent such behaviour and to work together to achieve success. Overwhelming evidence shows time and again that it is male violence that is perpetrated against women. Research from last year’s “Femicide Census” report shows that, in the United Kingdom, a woman is killed by a man every three days. On average, 62 per cent of those women will be killed by a current or former partner.
I say again that it is the responsibility of men, as role models for their sons, to stand up and challenge those abhorrent behaviours and attitudes, and to challenge their brothers, fathers, grandfathers and friends when they hear such views. It is not the responsibility of women and girls to modify their everyday behaviour in order to stay safe. Ben Macpherson will say more about that in his closing speech.
That is why prioritising prevention and working together with partners is essential if we are to achieve our aim of a strong and flourishing Scotland where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse and the attitudes that help to perpetuate it. Our equally safe strategy, which is co-owned with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, continues to have a decisive focus on prevention. It seeks to strengthen national and local collaborative working to ensure effective interventions for victims and those at risk, and it contains a clear ambition to strengthen the justice response to victims and perpetrators.
A refresh of our equally safe delivery plan, in order to build on the many achievements of the previous iteration, will shortly commence. Once again, we will work with our partners to develop an updated delivery plan to meet the needs of where we are now and continue to ensure that we take a holistic approach to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls.
Since we published “Equally Safe: A Delivery Plan for Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls 2017-21” in November 2017, we have made real progress in delivering on the 118 actions that it included. Of course, in order to fully deliver on the ambitions of our equally safe strategy, we need to prevent violence, abuse and discrimination from happening at all. That is why our strategy is connected with our wide ambitions for women’s equality, and that context is why we place so much emphasis on the importance of our primary prevention agenda. Our equally safe at school project, which was developed with Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland, applies a whole-school approach to tackling gender inequality and gender-based violence in schools, equipping and empowering young people with the knowledge that they need to navigate consent and healthy relationships.
We are also focusing on workplaces and their role in driving change, which has been highlighted through this year’s other 16 days of action theme, which is domestic abuse and its links with the world of work. Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on victims. As part of our equally safe in practice project, we have collaborated with Scottish Women’s Aid on the launch of a new framework that will ensure that workforces across Scotland have a better understanding of domestic abuse, sexual violence and the norms and cultures that perpetuate it.
That builds on our work with Close the Gap to develop the equally safe at work programme, which is an employer accreditation programme that works with local authorities to incorporate gender equality in their internal policies. Scotland’s police and justice partners continue to prioritise domestic abuse cases, and we are working hard to ensure that victims receive the most appropriate response and support in the justice system.
Our gold-standard Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 has strengthened the law and continues to be positively received by the public and partners, and by Police Scotland, which now has greater opportunities to tackle the issue. This year, we brought forward legislation on domestic abuse protection orders through the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021.
However, gender-based violence is not limited to domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, and I am saddened that other forms have emerged over the past 30 years. We recognise the increasing level of online abuse and the disproportionate impact that it has on women and girls. I, and many of my colleagues in this place, unfortunately have first-hand experience of such abuse. There is no place for it in a modern society, and we will work with partners to ensure that victims can access justice as effectively and swiftly as possible.
As I mentioned, our current delivery plan is due to run until the end of the year, which marks an opportune moment for us all not only to reflect on progress so far, but to think about what the equally safe strategy might look like in the future, in terms of both strategic ambition and plans for delivery. In addition, the independent review of funding and commissioning of front-line services will provide an opportunity to create the conditions for a potential transformation of the current funding landscape. We will take forward further engagement on both those pieces of work over the next few months.
Although we have achieved a lot, in particular in the Scottish Parliament on a cross-party basis, a lot remains to be done. A world without violence is possible and that is what I want for my daughter, who is now an adult herself. I urge us all to work together, from constituency, to committee, and across the chamber, to do all that we can to eradicate violence against women and girls in Scotland and to play our part in eradicating it around the world.
That the Parliament marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which this year reaches its 30th anniversary; notes that the 2021 campaign focuses on the dual themes of Femicide and Ending Domestic Abuse in the World of Work; reaffirms its commitment to continue to work collaboratively from constituency, to committee, to chamber, to eradicate gender-based violence; agrees that only by prioritising prevention, can there be an end to violence against women and girls; gives thanks to the organisations and individuals that support women and children affected by gender-based violence, including the Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis networks; notes that gender-based violence, which includes, but is not limited to, domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, is a function of gender inequality and an abuse of male power and privilege; recognises that there is an increasing level of online abuse and the disproportionate impact this has on women and girls; agrees that in order to effectively tackle gender-based violence, society must challenge the outdated gender stereotypes and attitudes towards women and girls that enable it to continue; further agrees that it is clear that women and girls should no longer have to modify their everyday behaviour in order to stay safe; unites in its condemnation of violence against women and girls in all of its forms, in Scotland and around the world, on which it speaks with one voice; mourns all the women around the world who have been killed by men this year, including Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, and Sarah Everard, whose murders showed how fragile the veneer of safety for women can be, and notes, as a mark of respect, the one-minute silence held in their honour.
Today marks the 30th international day for the elimination of violence against women. Society has come some way to recognising the need to protect the rights of women. However, much more needs to be done to end gender-based violence forever.
We have heard from the cabinet secretary that violence against women and girls is an abhorrent human rights violation and that we must redouble our efforts to prevent that abuse from recurring and to support those who fall victim to violence.
The Scottish Conservatives fully support the efforts by the Scottish and UK Governments as they continue to eradicate violence against women and girls in this country and in others around the world. I am pleased that members can unite today, and it is to the credit of the Scottish Parliament that it marks this day each year. It is also right that, although we work collegiately on the issue, Opposition groups continue to effectively scrutinise the work of the Government to ensure the best possible outcomes for women and girls.
I put on record my thanks for the wonderful work that is undertaken by organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland. Having liaised with them to assist constituents, as a councillor and as an MSP, I know the incredible care and support that they give to women and children.
Today, we must remember those who have tragically died as a result of gender-based violence: Esther Brown, Michelle Stewart, Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sarah Everard. The cabinet secretary rightly pointed out that many names have not been mentioned today; we must reflect on that and remember those women, too. Those women should never be forgotten and should be a driver for parliamentarians to do—and to legislate—better.
We also recognise that gender-based violence is a worldwide issue and that we must continue to educate and learn from each other, if we are serious about ending gender-based violence against women. Around the world, every day, 137 women are killed by a member of their family. Haunting statistics by UN Women estimate that, globally, more than half of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 were killed by intimate partners or family members. More than a third of the same group of women were killed by their current or former partner. If anything, those statistics show just how fragile women’s safety can be, especially when they are in the company of someone they trust.
Unfortunately, it is not just domestic abuse that women and girls suffer. We know that at least 200 million women and girls who are alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. FGM is a huge and widespread issue. I know that the Parliament is committed to ending the practice here in the UK. I and my colleagues fully support that.
Although violence against women is a worldwide issue, we cannot ignore what happens at home, here in Scotland. The latest domestic abuse statistics show that the number of incidents recorded by Police Scotland has been rising for more than four years. Scottish Government figures show that, between 2015-16 and 2019-20, there was a rise of 4,803 cases. That is a stark increase.
Domestic abuse cases in North Lanarkshire, an area that I represent as an MSP and as a councillor—I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—are also a cause for concern. For 2019-20, North Lanarkshire was the area of Scotland that had the third-highest level of recorded domestic abuse cases.
That simply cannot go on. Behind each number is a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece or a friend; we must not forget that when we are looking at statistics on gender-based violence.
Aside from domestic abuse, sexual crimes are also at near-record levels. We have all noticed the recent reports of spiking by injection. That has been raised in the Parliament and it must be tackled, in order to protect women when they are trying to enjoy an evening out at a bar or nightclub. I appeal to businesses that have kits that test for spiking: please make those available to women, free of charge. I know that some are already doing so, and I commend them for putting in place measures to protect women from violence and abuse.
The Scottish Government and COSLA have worked together to produce the equally safe strategy to tackle gender-based violence. I fully support its intentions to eliminate the systemic gender inequality that lies at the root of violence against women and girls, through a relentless focus on prevention.
Combined with the Domestic Abuse Protection (Scotland) Act 2021 and the Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Act 2020, that work strengthens the law to protect women and girls from abuse. However, much more can be done, and it is important to outline the measures that the Scottish Government can take to further strengthen legislation in order to eliminate gender-based violence.
For example, the latest domestic abuse legislation does not include provision for all victims to register to find out when their abuser will be released from prison. At present, the victim is able to sign up for the victim notification scheme only if the offender is sentenced to 18 months or more behind bars, so fewer than 1 per cent of victims have been given advance warning. A strong argument could be made for those who have suffered domestic abuse to be made aware of when their abuser will be released. That would allow them to mentally prepare for it, because it can be daunting, and many victims feel that they are constantly looking over their shoulder.
Michelle’s law is linked to that and would prevent convicted killers from returning to the same community as those who are affected by their crime. During First Minister’s question time today, Douglas Ross raised the implementation of Michelle’s law. A promise was made to the Stewart family members, but they are still waiting for the implementation of that very important law, which will help protect victims of crime. I understand that the First Minister will formally respond to my party leader’s questions and will make that document public, but families who are still seeking justice need those additional protections now. Therefore, I ask the cabinet secretary to implement the law on time and fulfil the Scottish Government’s promise to bring it in, in order to strengthen the protection for families who have, tragically, lost a loved one to violence.
Another way to strengthen legislation to favour the victim—and not the perpetrator—of violence against women would be to allow the courts to issue a whole-life order. As we know, Sarah Everard’s killer was, rightly, issued with a whole-life order and, although it will be of small comfort to her family and friends, significant punishment was passed for the horrific crime that was committed. The Conservatives believe that that punishment should exist in Scotland, in order to give proper sentences to those who commit the most heinous of crimes.
Similarly, the not proven verdict should be abolished. That has been backed by organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland, which has also called on the Scottish Government to make that important change to judicial law.
Those are just some of the changes that the Scottish Government could make to strengthen the rights and protections of women and girls across Scotland.
Before I close, I will mention the impact that domestic abuse has on children and young people. Children are often the forgotten voice in domestic abuse cases, because they are usually very young, so might not be at a stage of maturity where they are able to describe the level of violence that they and their mother have endured.
The court and legal processes can be stressful for young people, and the experience can detrimentally impact their mental health and ability to communicate with and trust others as they grow up. I believe that there needs to be a wider discussion on the specific impacts on children and young people who are involved in domestic abuse cases and what the Government can do to support them, especially as they need to live with the outcomes of the cases.
Today is a day of remembrance, but it is also a time for parliamentarians to refocus our efforts and work together to eliminate violence against women. Behind every gender-based murder, domestic abuse incident, recorded FGM case or sexual assault is a loved one, who has fallen victim to or is living with the consequences of violence.
We must continue to bring in legislation to strengthen the rights of women and children—all MSPs of all political parties can unite behind that.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests: I am a previous board member of Engender Scotland and a current member of the GMB.
I thank the cabinet secretary for bringing this important motion to Parliament today and I pay tribute to all the women and girls who have, tragically, lost their lives at the hands of violent men. I also send love, strength and support to other women who are experiencing or are at risk of violence right now.
I also thank the countless individuals, activists and organisations that continue to fight tirelessly for women’s equality and for a world that is free from gendered violence. There are too many to name them all, but I highlight the on-going work of Close the Gap, Zero Tolerance Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Women’s Aid and Engender. I would like to take a moment, too, to reflect on our friend, colleague and activist Emma Ritch, who was an incredible and outstanding activist for women across Scotland, and we miss her dearly.
For women, gendered violence is part of our daily lives. It exists in our economic and social structures, our culture, our workplaces and our institutions. Violence is woven into the very structures of our society, and is the cause and consequence of women’s inequality. Approximately one in three women worldwide will experience intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Research this year has revealed that the majority of Scottish women have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Violence is particularly prevalent for women from minority groups. Some 83 per cent of trans women have experienced a hate crime at some point in their lives. Ethnic minority and migrant women face higher levels of domestic homicide and abuse-driven suicide. Disabled women are twice as likely to experience men’s violence as are non-disabled women. A study that was conducted in the region of Glasgow, which I represent, showed that, of the participating disabled women, 73 per cent had experienced domestic abuse and 43 per cent had been sexually assaulted. Those statistics are horrifying. It is vital that our approach to tackling gendered violence is intersectional and that it pays attention to the various and often overlapping forms of inequality and discrimination that women face.
Sadly, violence against women and girls is on the rise. The outbreak of Covid-19 and the lockdown measures that it necessitated have led to an alarming increase in violence against women and girls around the world, and in Scotland, too. New figures reveal that the number of charges related to domestic abuse that were reported to the Crown Office last year were the highest since 2016. Femicide—the murder of a woman by a man due to gender-motivated factors—is also highly prevalent in our society today. It is estimated that, in the UK, on average one woman is killed by a man every three days, and many of those cases involve the use of overkill. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard shone light on the extreme reality of violence against women and femicide. It also revealed that the very institutions that are supposed to keep women safe are not only failing to do so, but often perpetrate and participate in acts of gendered violence.
Much more needs to be done to keep women safe and to root out sexism, violence and corruption. Crimes of rape and attempted rape in Scotland have the lowest conviction rate of all types of crime. In 2019-20, there were 2,343 rapes and attempted rapes reported to the police, but only 130 convictions. That is not good enough. The Government must do more to ensure that those crimes are properly prosecuted and that victims get the support that they need.
Limitations on jury trials because of the Covid-19 pandemic, including for rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse cases, have significantly increased procedural delays and the access to opportunities for justice, with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service now having an estimated backlog of almost 50,000 trials. Delays exacerbate the stress of victim survivors, impact on their ability to give evidence, reduce confidence in the criminal justice system and pose significant barriers to justice and safety. The Scottish Government must act now to address that.
It is also imperative that the Government properly records data on gendered violence. The Scottish Government does not document femicide as a standalone crime, nor does Police Scotland categorise any crimes as femicide. Instead, it is included in wider homicide statistics, despite its intrinsically gendered characteristics and motivations. The work of the Femicide Census in recording data is invaluable, but the Government needs to also record its own data. Failing to do so can the mask the severity of the crime and make it harder to properly prosecute and eliminate. It is also important to recognise that a legal response is not the only way to tackle gender inequality and violence.
We have come along way, and I recognise the measures that have already been taken by the Parliament, but there is so much more that we must do. We must commit to eradicating poverty, rooting out gender stereotyping in education, increasing women’s participation and representation in public life, ensuring the provision of affordable childcare, and developing social security policies that promote women’s safety and financial independence.
More action needs to be taken to ensure women’s equality in the workplace, too. The Government and local authorities can and must do more to narrow the gender pay gap and end women’s triple burden of labour. Employers also have a responsibility to tackle gender inequality. I commend the work of the better than zero campaign in organising against precarious work and, in particular, for its support of women travelling alone at night.
I also highlight the incredible work of trade unions in Scotland in organising women workers to fight for better pay and conditions and against workplace discrimination. Among other things, for example, the GMB is doing incredible work organising care workers in its fight for £15 campaign.
Local authorities, too, must do more to tackle gender inequality and violence. They must ensure that women’s equality is embedded in their work and services, and do everything in their power to make local streets and communities safe for women. Clyde 1’s #LightTheWay campaign calling for safety lighting in Glasgow’s parks is one example of how local authorities can protect women from potential violence. The Government must properly fund and support local authorities to do those things.
People with the power to effect change must not abdicate the responsibility to protect and promote women’s rights. To look away from the grim reality of gendered violence is to facilitate it. I call on the Government and all of us in the Parliament and in the chamber, particularly the men, to use these 16 days of activism as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to tackle violence against women. Let us use our position and our platforms in Parliament to do all we can to reform our institutions and culture to being ones in which women and girls are respected, protected and safe.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a trustee of Shetland Women’s Aid.
I, too, pay tribute to Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and other services and individuals across Scotland for the good work that they do, not just on international day for the elimination of violence against women, but every day. It is worth saying again that 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the global 16 days of activism campaign. It has been 30 years, and, each year, the debate exchanges statistics that are unacceptable and horrific, as Pam Duncan-Glancy stated.
The World Health Organization estimates that about one in three women worldwide will, in their lifetime, be subjected to
“either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.”
It is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights, and we know that Covid has impacted on women’s equality progress across the globe.
Earlier this year, Jess Phillips MP, the UK shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, read out the names of the 118 women who had been killed in the preceding year and in whose case a man had been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator. It took her a little over four minutes and the list did not include the names of the women referenced in the motion, who were tragically killed after March this year.
The number of domestic abuse incidents reported by Police Scotland has risen for the fourth year in a row, with one in four women in Scotland experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic violence is a plague that not only affects women but impacts whole households. Children are tragically caught in it, too. It was seeing the lifelong impact of domestic abuse on children and the financial abuse of women that drew me into my voluntary trustee role.
I know that all speakers in the debate are striving to ensure that women and girls across the globe and closer to home can live their lives free from fear. Scottish Liberal Democrats have previously called for—and we do so again—the establishment of the new commission to look at ways of preventing men’s violence against women and girls in all its forms, to ensure a co-ordinated approach across all levels of government. Along with providing increased training for those who work in education and on the front line in public authorities, we can work together to build better public understanding of the drivers behind violence against women and take action to eradicate it.
The media, including social media, has a significant role to play in how it reports violence against women and girls. The subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—headline victim shaming must cease. We have known for too long about drinks being spiked on nights out, but the relatively new phenomenon of needle spiking hit the headlines recently. It is shocking. Rather than lessening its impact by giving it the almost jokey term of “spiking”, let us call it out for what it is: the intention of a perpetrator to render someone incapable so that they can sexually assault and abuse them. It happens predominantly but not exclusively to young women.
As has been mentioned, lockdown forced abusers and the abused to spend most of their time at home, when, previously, there might have been hours of respite. However, work is not always a safe haven. The Close the Gap briefing indicates that three quarters of women who are subjected to domestic abuse are targeted at work. Unsurprisingly, perpetrator tactics such as sabotage, stalking and harassment affect women’s performance at work, levels of absenteeism and job retention.
I was pleased that Shetland Islands Council received a bronze accreditation during the pilot of equally safe at work, and I encourage other employers to participate in that innovative programme, which requires demonstration across six standards and aligns with women’s workplace equality.
The Government’s motion refers to “prioritising prevention”. The equally safe fund is welcome, but it is for a two-year term. I wonder whether the Government would consider extending that term to three years, as that would benefit further prevention work.
There is so much more behind gender-based violence against women and girls, globally and at home, as other members have eloquently voiced and will voice after my speech.
My thoughts are very much with people who are currently experiencing domestic abuse. There is help out there if they are able to reach out.
I express my disappointment that there are not more men in the chamber today.
.] It gives me no pleasure to speak in the debate, because, in this day and age, we should not need to have it.
Over the years, women have been given lots of advice. They have been told not to walk home alone and not to dress too provocatively or show too much skin. They have been told to mind their drinks while out socialising and not to get too drunk. They have even been given secret codes to tell bar staff what to do if they feel in danger. They have been given all that advice in order to protect them from the threat of male violence. Now, it appears as though the new threat is a syringe.
It is not a young man’s generational thing; it is a multigenerational, classless, continuous thing that needs to be faced up to. Recognising international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls tells us that it is a global issue, but the danger in focusing on the global perspective is that we risk failing to ask the most fundamental question of all: what do we do right here and now? When I say “we”, I mean men and boys. Why is it that we think that the solution to male violence is to tell women and girls how to protect themselves from us? The most obvious answer is surely to stop the behaviour that hurts them in the first place.
If, from today’s debate, we manage to get any message out, we need to get the message across to men that we are responsible for our actions. During the marches after the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, I read a banner that said, “Why don’t you just stop killing us?” Let us think about that for a second. Well, that message has clearly not been heard, because more than 80 women have been killed by men since March.
I am not asking how many more women have to be killed before we start to do something about it. I say that we should start to do something right now and for real. It is not an issue for somewhere else; it is an issue in every town and city right here, in Scotland. We must look at ourselves, how we behave and how we teach the next generation.
As a boy, I was taught to treat girls in the same way as I would want my sisters to be treated. However, that life lesson did not fully arm me with the knowledge and understanding that we should teach all our young men and boys about what it is to be a female in our society. It does not matter whether she is someone’s mother, daughter or sister; what matters is that she is someone. My daughters and wife explain to me the turmoil and fear that a girl feels when she is walking home and a random guy calls out or wolf whistles. It is even worse when there is more than one male and, with safety in numbers, they egg one another on to check her out. They never seem to understand why their compliment is not welcomed or why fear kicks in for a lone female as she walks home at night and a man walks behind her or, worse, crosses the street and starts walking towards her.
This is, of course, when people start to chip in with the “not all men” argument, but how does someone who has grown up learning to fear males know that a man is safe? She does not. It is on us. It is men’s responsibility to create the space to allow that fear to be dispelled. That means being fully mindful of how our actions, however innocent, could be interpreted.
We teach our children from an early age that unwanted male attention is acceptable. If a wee boy pulls a pigtail, hits a girl or tries to steal a kiss, we tell the wee girl that he is showing that he likes her rather than telling the wee boy that his behaviour is wrong and explaining to him that, if he likes the girl, he does not get her attention by hitting her. Even at that early age, we are setting out the societal norms that are entirely skewed towards females accepting male dominance and violence as a form of affection or endearment, and we are saying that the refusal of females to accept those advances is somehow a breach of male entitlement. As we grow, the lads mentality and male entitlement grow with us. Society accepts them as the norm.
The distance between laddish banter and sexual violence is far shorter than we are prepared to believe, and we need to challenge and change that culture. The Police Scotland video campaign “Don’t be that guy”, born out of the murder of Sarah Everard, is a good start to the conversation. It is an easy phrase to adopt in male company, and it can quickly change the direction of a conversation that is going the wrong way.
I recently read a book by Brené Brown, who talks about challenging someone who has gone over the line. Her argument is that the discomfort of challenging that lasts about eight seconds, whereas the feeling of allowing behaviour that flies in the face of our own values to go unchallenged never goes away. From experience, I can say that she is right on both counts.
However, while a man calling out the behaviour of other men will lead to a few seconds of discomfort for us, for a woman that discomfort comes with fear that she might just have entered an unsafe situation that could lead to aggression and violence extremely quickly. That is the real-life experience of many women in these situations, and it should not be.
In every facet of society—in schools, colleges, universities, sports clubs, sports stadia, the workplace, this Parliament and, just as important, the home—it is up to us to change that culture. We can legislate and set punitive sentencing for domestic, sexual, physical or psychological abuse, but all that is doing is treating a symptom and not the cause. We need to stop the abuse before it starts.
We must recognise that what we males see as harmless fun can be frightening to a woman. We must teach our boys and girls that those cute wee behaviours are not cute; they are the future of a continuing patriarchy, and the lad’s lad mentality is dangerous because it leads to tacit approval of the escalation of sexism and misogyny to, more seriously, domestic abuse, assault, rape and even murder. That means that we males have to look in the mirror, ask ourselves some serious questions and, as my daughter rightly pointed out, feel that personal discomfort of recognising something in ourselves, or something that we might have said or done—a joke, a bit of banter or whatever it wis—and accept that it is no longer, and never was, acceptable. It is up to every one of us right across the country to recognise—and we do—the behaviours and comments that cross the line, and, for the sake of the safety of women and girls, when we see it or hear it, to call it out and take that eight seconds of discomfort and say, “Don’t be that guy.”
I am grateful to be contributing to today’s debate, but it gives me no pleasure to do so.
The eradication of violence against women is a subject that is particularly close to my heart, as a woman, mother, aunty and daughter. I am sure that that is being felt strongly across the chamber today. Violence against women and girls is a fundamental human rights violation. No woman or girl should live in fear of abuse.
The past 18 months have been torturous for some women. During the pandemic, the number of sex crimes reported in Scotland soared to a six-year high. I welcome the Scottish Government’s equally safe strategy, and I am pleased about the increased levels of funding that are being dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, and to supporting them as they leave the most horrific circumstances.
I would like to thank the national and local community outreach organisations, whose workers are true heroes in this crisis. Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Zero Tolerance—the list goes on—are all working tirelessly to ensure that Scotland is a safe place for women and girls.
Even though it is 2021, when equality and fairness are being discussed more openly than ever before, too many women are still hidden in darkness, living in fear of abuse, violence, rape and sometimes even death. If they ask for help, they are ignored. If they try to run away, they are caught. If they try to report it, they have no one to turn to, or, even worse, they are told to keep it a secret.
Data from the Scottish crime and justice survey for 2019-20 showed that only 22 per cent of victims and survivors of rape, and 12 per cent of women who were victims and survivors of other types of sexual offence, reported it to the police. We cannot ignore that fact, as it might indicate a huge lack of trust between victims and the wider justice system.
More must be done to ensure that victims feel safe enough to report incidents to the police, that they do not fear repercussions as a result of reporting their abusers and that they feel listened to. We can support victims by ending automatic early release, so that every criminal must face a parole board before being released early.
I am very conscious of the fact that many reports of abuse will never see the light of day. Sadly, that is all too common in many black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. A recent survey by Sikh Women’s Aid revealed that 70 per cent of the women who were surveyed had experienced domestic abuse and that nearly half had been abused by more than one abuser. Even more distressing is the fact that most victims knew their abuser and nearly half the incidents took place at home.
Research has also shown that BME and migrant women face higher levels of domestic homicide and abuse-driven suicide. Sadly, 50 per cent of the BME specialist refuges across the UK have closed over the past decade. Such refuges have been a safe haven for most BME women. The specialised services that they provide are a vital lifeline for those women, as they understand cultural and societal norms. Many victims in the male-dominated or honour-based cultures fear bringing shame to their family or community. Sadly, in some cases, when the victim reaches out to a family member, the family member also fears being isolated from the community.
As we continue our pursuit of the eradication of violence against women, we must engage more closely with BAME communities and specialised services to find out how we can best support victims from backgrounds where different cultural and societal norms exist. We cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the issue. As someone who comes from a BAME background, I know that the current support is not fit for purpose. Women are not only afraid of the abuser; they fear rejection by the family and the wider community. A service that offers support to one woman might not necessarily be the right one to provide support, or even advice, to another.
First, we must ensure that victims can trust that, when they report domestic or sexual abuse, they know that their abuser will not walk away on automatic early release. Secondly, we must engage with BAME communities to ensure maximum outreach to better educate children on appropriate behaviour, gender equality and how to spot signs of violence against women and girls; to ensure that victims feel safe in reporting cases of domestic and sexual abuse; and to raise awareness of the support that is available to them. That is key to the prevention of domestic and sexual abuse.
No one here today should have to talk about eliminating violence against women and girls. Such violence should not exist in the first place.
As a former Scottish Women’s Aid worker, I pay tribute to all the women and children I supported over a decade and who allowed me into their lives. It was a really big privilege to be in that position. It is my duty to speak here today to amplify the voices of the women and children across Scotland and the world who endure men’s violence and coercion, and of those who have been victims of femicide.
I have been a feminist activist since 6 December 1989. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I had come home from school, trudging through the drizzly snow just like on any other Montreal winter day and was busy with homework with the television on in the background when a news report cut in and an unfolding act of misogynistic horror tattooed itself on my very soul.
A self-styled anti-feminist had walked into the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, ordered the separation of men from women, and, in the space of 45 minutes, shot dead 14 women, injuring another 10 women and four men, before turning the gun on himself.
His suicide note was clear:
“Feminists have always enraged me.”
“I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.”
He was enraged that those women dared study engineering, a career path that was denied to him due to his apparent lack of aptitude, but, to his mind, was denied to him by those women, who took his rightful place.
The magnitude of what happened that day was underscored for my 15-year-old self the following morning when I woke at 6 am to deliver my
Montreal Gazette newspaper round. I was confronted by a graphic image of one of the dead women slouched on a cafeteria chair, her dinner left untouched on the table beside her. I delivered my newspapers in a daze, with tears streaming down my face. Little did I know that, four years later, we would debate the use of that image in my journalism ethics class. To this day, I am divided on whether it was a stark and brutal reality check, or whether it was blatant sensationalism.
Closer to home, CountingDeadWomen, which is a campaign on Twitter, is, today, bearing witness to the women who have been murdered in the UK so far this year. Naming a woman every five minutes from 8 am this morning will take more than 11 hours to complete. That is a staggering 126 women murdered at the hands of men. That clearly demonstrates the absolute reality of the patriarchal system that still operates here and across the world. That reality includes recent horrific murders, FGM, spiking attacks, online misogynistic abuse, rape culture and so-called honour killings.
In the decade when I supported women and children experiencing domestic abuse in North Ayrshire, it became crystal clear to me that we must prioritise prevention work while continuing to ensure that specialist support services are available across the country.
In 2014, I was dismayed when the contract held by North Ayrshire Women’s Aid was put out to tender, resulting in the loss of several key aspects of our work, including specialist addiction and children’s services. We see the same issues at play in other areas of Scotland. I strongly believe that there must be exceptions to procurement policies so that the best possible specialist support services are available when women reach out for help. I look forward to the outcome of the front-line service review that the cabinet secretary announced earlier.
According to Close the Gap, Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted women’s often precarious employment and has had far-reaching implications for women’s experience of work. Many victims and survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women have experienced significant barriers in accessing specialist services and support. Additionally, their experience might have been exacerbated by isolation and a lack of access to informal support networks.
Employers have an essential role to play in ending violence against women. The on-going crisis has provided opportunities for employers to reassess their employment policies and practices, so that they are more inclusive of women’s needs and experiences. I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests. As a councillor, I was proud to help develop domestic abuse policies for employees and tenants of East Ayrshire Council.
I am also heartened to hear of Close the Gap’s equally safe at work employer accreditation scheme, which has been piloted in seven local authority areas across Scotland. Such schemes complement our bold national equally safe strategy, our world-leading, gold standard domestic abuse laws, and other endeavours such as the far-reaching independent report that was published by Scottish Women’s Aid and the Chartered Institute of Housing. The report makes urgent recommendations that social landlords use a human rights-based approach to improve housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse by prioritising their safety over the rights of perpetrators.
Today, I also think of Michelle Stewart, whose life was horrifically cut short in my constituency when she was only 17. I also think of a constituent who contacted me recently to reveal that she is continually abused from prison by phone by her abuser.
Those cases, and the pressures that are placed on the justice system during Covid, highlight just how precarious women’s access to justice remains and how important it is that the needs of families are considered at all points in the judicial journey. That is an area that I will campaign on during my time as an MSP.
Finally, it is my firm belief that the continued commodification of women’s bodies has a direct impact on our collective safety. We cannot look at commercial sexual exploitation and pornography in a vacuum and pretend that they have no bearing on the treatment of women in society at large.
My children have grown up in an era in which the most extreme forms of pornography are available in the palm of their hands 24/7. The rise in the number of women’s deaths by choking during sex is terrifying, and the pressure on young people to conform to that unrealistic and extremely gendered and dangerous portrayal of sex is damaging beyond belief. Daily, women are trafficked around the world for men to purchase. As long as that demand continues unfettered, we all continue to be at risk.
I thank Shona Robison—the cabinet secretary—Pam Duncan-Glancy and Meghan Gallacher for their excellent front-bench contributions, and other members for their excellent speeches in the debate thereafter.
I sincerely believe that we are witnessing a watershed moment: the realisation that violence against women and girls is ingrained in our society and that the high-profile cases of murdered Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Libby Squire must make us question deeply why one woman is killed every three days in the UK.
Misogyny, sadly, is everywhere. It is in our police armed response units, the military, our schools and our workplaces. It is there for our young women, who are only beginning to get an insight into the prevalence of sexual harassment in what is becoming known as rape culture, which was mentioned earlier by Elena Whitham.
This week, the Criminal Justice Committee heard the testimony of female victims of sexual assault who have been utterly failed by the system, which is full of delay and poor treatment. That is utterly shocking. In one case, it took a full year to get the DNA result that was the evidence that was required for the woman’s case.
With the advent of terms such as “rape culture”, and when sexual violence against women is excused in the media and popular culture, can we really claim that we have made real and significant progress in addressing the root causes of male power, abuse and control of women? In fact, few people would disagree that we are discussing a very depressing picture today.
We know that it is not only Scotland’s problem; it is a global issue. That is why the World Health Organization has described it as
“a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.”
It is an issue that cuts across justice, social attitudes, equality and human rights.
We must tackle the root causes of male attitudes and male violence against women. It comes in many forms; from sexual harassment, domestic abuse and revenge pornography to female genital mutilation, human trafficking, child brides, stealthing, rape and femicide. The list goes on. I do not think that there has been a time where parents have been more concerned for their daughters’ safety. Other members have talked about the recent horrific crimes of spiking, including bodily spiking of women, which renders them unconscious for reasons that we know only too well.
I support the call of Meghan Gallacher in relation to what our clubs and hospitality sector should be doing to keep women safe. The advent of smartphones and social media has meant that teenage girls are often under pressure from boys to send nude photographs of themselves. That was highlighted in a recent report by Ofsted in England, which states that it has become the norm in schools. Across the 32 schools that were inspected, nine out of 10 girls said that unsolicited explicit pictures or videos were sent to themselves or their peers very often.
The report states:
“It’s alarming that many children and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up”.
Will the cabinet secretary reflect on whether we need to look at Scottish schools to see whether we have an alarmingly similar trend?
Boys and young men need to be brought into the debate. As Jim Fairlie excellently said in his speech, men must take responsibility for their behaviour. In Zara McDermott’s recent documentary, she talked to young men and found out that their first experiences of watching pornography can be when they are as young as nine or 10. Many boys’ first understanding of what sex is like is gained through the internet and pornography that shows an unrealistic and often violent representation of sex.
I am sure that we agree that we need more programmes in schools that teach young people about consent and aim to prevent violence in dating and relationships. I commend the work of Rape Crisis Scotland, which has worked with over 10,000 young people over the past six months on a programme that allows pupils to explore and better understand the issues.
Cybercrime has doubled in the past year and now accounts for an estimated one in three sexual crimes. Those crimes include revenge pornography and online harassment and abuse, which has risen sharply in recent years. Research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children shows that the number of reported cases of predators abusing children after contacting them online has risen by 78 per cent in just four years.
The United Nations declared a shadow pandemic, as women across the world faced being stuck with their abusers, unable to get help or respite. Since the pandemic began, two thirds of cases that are waiting to be heard in our High Court are sexual crimes. I was shocked to learn of that figure, in the past few months. There are also around 32,400 trials outstanding in the sheriff courts, including many domestic abuse cases.
The Lord Advocate herself has described the court backlog as “an enormous problem”. In a recent committee session, she spoke about
“the extraordinary numbers of sexual violence cases that are waiting for trial and the impact that that has on the most vulnerable members of our community and of society, who require the protection of our courts.”—[
Criminal Justice Committee
, 3 November 2021; c 7.]
Of course, she is talking about women and girls. We need to look at specific ways to reduce the backlog, because it is placing a disproportionate burden on women and children.
We must work together to ensure that by the end of this sixth session of the Scottish Parliament we are on the path to permanent change, and not just in the justice system. We must strike at the heart of men’s violence against women and be brave enough to tackle it at all ages and at all stages in our schools and our education system. We must begin a reversal of the trends in these horrific crimes, otherwise we, as politicians, will not have done our jobs.
It is a pleasure to follow that excellent speech from Pauline McNeill. Like the cabinet secretary and others today, I am thinking of all the women who have lost their lives to men and those who continue to suffer abuse from men here and around the world.
I wanted to speak in this debate to raise the two main issues that concern me in terms of making sure that we are doing all that we can to tackle violence against women and girls.
On the first, which is why we are we still seeing violence against women, I will speak as a man, a husband and a father of three girls and a boy. I hope to rise to the challenge that was rightly set by the cabinet secretary and Pam Duncan-Glancy in their excellent speeches. In the second, I will speak as a local MSP who is concerned about local proven domestic abuse services.
Others have already talked about what drives abuse and violence against women and girls, who is killing them and whose behaviour needs to change in order for the violence and killing to stop. It is men. Those of us men who say, “It’s not all of us; not all men are the same”—as I have seen in response to my social media posts today—completely miss the point, as Jim Fairlie said in an excellent speech. It is true that not all men kill or abuse women, but it is also true that when women are killed or abused, they are killed or abused by men.
Indeed, it should shock, anger and shame all of us and give us renewed focus to tackle violence against women when we know that, as Elena Whitham said in her incredibly moving speech, the @CountingDeadWomen Twitter account is today, on the international day for the elimination of violence against women, publishing the names of all the women who have been killed by men in the UK so far in 2021.
It started tweeting a woman’s name every five minutes from 8 am, and it will take it until 7 pm to publish the names of all 126 women who have been killed by men in the UK this year. How much longer would it take to recognise the 87,000 women who are killed around the world, as the cabinet secretary highlighted?
We need action to stop that, which is why I welcome Police Scotland’s new “Don’t be that guy” campaign. The abuse of women—the killing of women—does not come from nowhere. It comes from unacceptable behaviour being tolerated, left unchallenged and allowed to progress. The “Don’t be that guy” campaign involves all of us challenging the behaviour of others. That can sometimes be difficult, but it is not nearly as difficult as it is for the women who are suffering the abuse.
We must commit to stopping the casual sexualisation and misogynistic abuse that are masked in apparent jest, which in so many of the cases that are listed in the motion was the starting point for the male perpetrators.
The second issue that I want to raise continues the prevention theme and is about local domestic abuse services for my Airdrie and Shotts constituents. For years, North Lanarkshire Council has been looking to restructure domestic abuse services, which was of major concern to Monklands Women’s Aid. When Alex Neil was the constituency member of the Scottish Parliament and I was the local member of the UK Parliament, he and I worked closely with Monklands Women’s Aid and the Women’s Aid’s other groups in North Lanarkshire to try to stop the council tendering for domestic violence services. For more than 40 years, Monklands Women’s Aid had been successfully meeting the needs of the women and children in Airdrie, Coatbridge and beyond. Women’s Aid services are the grass roots and, as such, they have been founded, developed and run by women for women. Domestic abuse is their core focus, and they continue to overperform year on year in their attempt to meet the demand for Women’s Aid’s specialist services, which work according to gendered analysis, at the local level.
North Lanarkshire Council undertook a review of all domestic violence services, including statutory, public and third sector provision. The review identified gaps in statutory provision, specifically in relation to services for men. As a result, the council chose to enact procurement activities to widen and meet broader equalities duties. In doing so, it sadly disregarded the voices of the women who use Women’s Aid’s services, as well as the recommendations in the document from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Scottish Women’s Aid, “Good Practice in Commissioning Specialist Domestic Abuse Services”, which stresses the alternatives to commissioning specialist women’s aid services. The new service provides services to men and women. In doing so, the council became the first local authority in Scotland to defund proven grass-roots services. The result was the loss of 70 per cent of the capacity of Women’s Aid’s local services.
What has baffled and angered me in equal measure is that, by meeting a need—a much smaller need, for services for men—and lumping gendered services together, North Lanarkshire Council has jeopardised the trusted route that the women who manage to find the courage to flee an abusive relationship recognise, which is their local Women’s Aid centre. That is a perfect example of well-meant policy being misinterpreted at the local level to serve a broader equalities need and, by doing so, harming those who are most at need—women.
There was absolutely no need to pursue that course of action. North Lanarkshire Council could have set up and funded a dedicated service for male victims, if there was a demand for it. Figures that I have received from North Lanarkshire Council show that the new service that it has procured has received substantially fewer contacts than Women’s Aid’s groups in North Lanarkshire. Local women who need domestic violence support are voting with their feet and—just as we warned—they have no desire, unless they are automatically referred by the local authority, to use a service that they do not see as being a dedicated service for them.
Although Monklands Women’s Aid has seen its funding cut substantially, demand for its services has sadly risen by approximately 20 per cent in the same period. As Meghan Gallacher said in her excellent contribution, North Lanarkshire is the area of Scotland with the third-highest prevalence of domestic abuse. If it had not been for the Scottish Government’s equally safe fund, I fear that Monklands Women’s Aid would have had to shut its doors. I have nothing against Sacro, which delivers North Lanarkshire Council’s new service, and I am sure that North Lanarkshire Council was well meaning with that procurement, but I cannot see how, when the current tender comes to an end, the council can do anything other than fund services that meet demand.
I am also concerned that we should recognise the danger of erroneous gathering of statistics that are based on flawed categorisation, and how that skews the understanding of need and the subsequent dissemination of resources.
If we are to tackle gender-based violence, we have to support gender-based domestic violence services. We have to change male behaviour, and we must stop expecting women like Sarah Everard to constantly change their lives in order to protect themselves from men. As we know, in Sarah’s case, even her mitigations were not enough.
If we do not give women safe and trusted places to go to flee escalating domestic abuse, violence against women will continue. That is why I say to men, but also to local authorities, “Don’t be that guy”.
B efore I begin, I refer to my entry in the register of interests, which shows that, pre-election, I worked for a Rape Crisis centre.
Once again, I thank all those involved in supporting and advocating for survivors of gender-based violence. It is heart-wrenching work, but it is so, so important. I acknowledge and remember all the women and girls who have lost their lives because of gender-based violence: those that have been named in the motion and around the chamber today, those known to us, and those who are unknown and unnamed, here in Scotland and around the world.
We should not have to be having this debate today. We should not have to have a 30th anniversary of the international day for the elimination of violence against women. We should not be in the situation, in the 21st century, where our society and our culture are still so deeply unequal. That we are here at all should be a source of shame for us all.
One in three women have been abused in their lifetime. When things are tougher than usual, such as during a pandemic, the numbers of victims and survivors increase. A recent report from UN Women, based on data from 13 countries since the pandemic, shows that two in three women reported that they or a woman they know experienced some form of violence and are more likely to face food insecurity. Even more, if not all, women have experienced some form of gender-based oppression, coercion, financial insecurity or street harassment. We can expect the incidence of abuse and violence to rise as we face significant other crises—climate disasters, humanitarian crises and conflict.
As the same UN Women report shows, only one in 10 women said that victims would go to the police for help. We will be speaking more about justice and policing issues in next week’s debate, I am sure, but earlier today at First Minister’s questions I raised the Rape Crisis Scotland survivor reference group’s report on police responses to survivors. I did so because police dealings with survivors of sexual crimes tell us, among other things, just how entrenched sexism and misogyny are in our institutions and our society, how important understanding and awareness of trauma are for justice and recovery, how equality matters, and just how vital intersectionality is.
We still live in a deeply unequal and patriarchal society where the abuse of power causes life-changing, and sometimes life-ending, physical and mental harm. We should not accept that as inevitable. Violence against women can and must be prevented. It can and must stop.
Stopping that violence will mean transformational action across many sectors: justice, health, education, policing and culture. It means securing long-term—not piecemeal—funding for survivor-centred support services and the women’s rights agenda. Fundamentally, it means tackling the root cause of violence and oppression: inequality. That inequality fuels harmful social norms and leads to the implementation of policies that have disproportionate impacts on women, as Covid has made abundantly clear. Indeed, the UN estimates that Covid could set back women’s equality by a quarter of a century.
We cannot assume that Scotland is immune to this. We women are not yet adequately protected from misogynistic behaviours and sexualised harassment. Gender-based violence happens to a majority, if not all, of us women. It costs us money. It wastes our time and energy. It makes us fearful. It changes how we use public spaces. It makes us consider what we say and do, and what we do not say and do not do. It exhausts us. It kills us.
We have a moral obligation to act. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that our policies and practices do not exacerbate gender-based violence or negatively impact women. We must take seriously the mechanisms that we have in place to scrutinise what we do. For example, equalities impact assessments must never be just a tick-box exercise. We also need to see the connections between different areas of policy and to understand that a well-meaning policy in one area can have devastating consequences in others, both in Scotland and further afield. Policy coherence matters.
It is not only in our policy making and scrutiny that we require to act. We need wholesale culture change. Preventative measures play a key part in that. Once again, I would like to recognise the prevention, education and awareness-raising work that is undertaken across our schools and communities by many of the same organisations that support survivors of violence: Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, Zero Tolerance, Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland and all the rape crisis centres.
We also have a role to play in that culture change. I challenge all the men in the Scottish Parliament and all the men MSPs who are role models in their communities to look critically at their behaviour. All men have a responsibility in this: a responsibility to act, to check their behaviour in social, private and intimate settings and to call out sexist behaviour and language whenever they encounter it, including in their own heads. I am pretty sure that all the women in this chamber can recall behaviour by some of the men in this chamber that made them—us—feel uncomfortable. It is not good enough. You men must do better.
Gender-based violence is a public health issue and it is a women’s rights issue. When we talk about tackling the inequality that women face and standing up for women’s rights, we must include all women—trans women, disabled women, women of colour, poor women, old women and girls. Only with an intersectional approach to tackling gender-based violence will we create a better world.
I ask members to think about three questions. Do you feel safe when you walk out of the Parliament building in the evening? Do you feel safe going out for a bite to eat on your own? Do you feel safe getting public transport home? For me, and I imagine most women in the Parliament, the answer to those questions is no.
A 2016 survey found that 35 per cent of women in Scotland do not feel safe walking in their own neighbourhood. Sadly, there is good reason for their fear. Women face threats every day that, thankfully, men seldom need to worry about. At home, at work and on a night out, the threat of sexual violence perpetrated by men is a clear and present danger.
As the cabinet secretary highlighted, it is horrific that one woman is murdered every three days in the UK. To put that figure in context, in one year in the UK, the same number of women will be killed as the total number of people murdered by terrorists in the UK this century. Compare the focus and funding that anti-terrorism receives—and rightly so—to the lack of emphasis on preventing violence against women.
One in three women in the UK experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. I have no reason to believe that the situation in Scotland is much different. In my constituency, in the five years to 2019, the number of recorded sexual crimes has increased by 75 per cent to 258 incidents.
Recently, many constituents have contacted me with complaints about spiking. The initial police messaging was less than I had hoped for. I welcome the focus that Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, has put on the issue. He stated:
“We should be absolutely clear that women are not to blame. Any suggestion that women are in the wrong place at the wrong time, is utterly wrongheaded. The onus and responsibility should be put squarely at the feet of men, who must take responsibility for their behaviour.”—[
, 28 October 2021; c 4.]
It has been good to hear men in this chamber talk about changing our culture. Jim Fairlie’s speech was excellent, as was Neil Gray’s. As others have touched on, despite recent advances, the attitudes of men must change. Misogyny is deep rooted.
The Scottish Government continues to support front-line services that aid survivors of violence and that focus on prevention. In the programme for government, the Scottish Government pledged to invest more than £100 million to support front-line services and focus on the prevention of violence against women and girls from school onwards over the next three years. The figure includes the enhanced delivering equally safe fund, which has been increased by £12 million to £38 million.
It must, however, be accepted that it will take many years to significantly change male attitudes. In the meantime, we need practical action. Engender has highlighted that women need
“to do ‘safety work’ when navigating public space” and that
“Women change the way they use public space, including public transport and streets, to manage safety risks and avoid men’s violence.”
Violence and the threat of violence hold back economic growth in urban areas and limit women’s mobility and access to public space, education and economic, political and social opportunities, and their ability to move into higher-paid or more secure jobs. Open space and buildings are seldom, if ever, designed with the safety of women as an objective. National planning framework 4 is currently open to public consultation. We could really make a difference in that area. I would like a specific commitment to new design standards that are approached specifically from the point of view of preventing violence against women.
Women typically use public transport more than men do because of their lower socioeconomic status. Far more thought must be given to routes, staffing levels and improved connections to ensure that women are safe. Safe, inclusive and well-planned public spaces, infrastructure, urban surfaces and transport can reduce the violence and harassment that women and girls face and increase access to economic opportunities. Modern Scotland should demand nothing less.
“Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”, which is this year’s UN theme for the 16 days of activism, emphasises the urgency of the need to eradicate men’s violence against women. We need to consider effective prevention and responses to tackling women’s inequality with men across all areas of life. Let us start making those changes now.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, which is, as we have seen today, on a subject on which all parties can unite. I acknowledge that we have heard many powerful and excellent speeches, and
I will, of course, support the Government’s motion.
Every year, international day for the elimination of violence against women marks the start of 16 days of activities against violence against women and girls. We have already heard that this year is the day’s 30th anniversary.
This year, the focus of the campaign will be on strengthening the worldwide response to violence against women by advocating for strategies that we know are effective in stopping it. It aims to ensure that women and girls have the opportunity to participate in democracy around the world. Initiatives along the lines of the ask her to stand campaign have a role to play in that promotion. However, it is clear that there is much more to be done to increase the number of women and girls in positions of power.
This year’s campaign also emphasises the impact that the pandemic has had on the worldwide problem. There are many risks associated with violence against women and girls, including poverty and isolation, which have been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Social media have a role to play. Online abuse has exacerbated things and become a massive problem. Sadly, UN Women has already reported significant increases in violence against women and girls in countries such as Cameroon, Kenya and Thailand. Further data on other developing countries will be available soon. I fear that we will see a repeat of that pattern.
However, the sad truth is that Scotland has not been immune from the effects of the pandemic in this regard. We know that, in Scotland, domestic abuse charges are now at a five-year high, with an average of 91 cases per day over the past year. Alarmingly, organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have reported huge increases in demand for their front-line services since the start of the pandemic. To that end, I welcome the additional £5 million of funding that has been committed to support those front-line services, because—as many members have said today—they are vitally important and are a lifeline to some individuals.
Organisations in my region, such as Fife Women’s Aid and Kingdom Abuse Survivors Project, have received such funding, and they work tirelessly to ensure that people are protected. However, as many of those organisations have told us, the effects of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come, and they will inevitably need financial assistance to support them in future.
We also know that there is a massive court backlog of around 7,000 cases of domestic violence against women and girls. Around 70 per cent of those cases involve sexual violence. Some victims currently have to wait up to three years between reporting their abuse and seeing their abuser in court. Scottish Women’s Aid has warned that, because of the length of time that the process takes, we risk women losing confidence in the justice system. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear that I am right, in saying that the backlog will continue as we progress.
However, although domestic violence is a global and a Scottish issue, it is, for me, a personal one. As a three-year-old child, I witnessed the devastation and traumatic impact of the violence to which my mother was subjected by my father, and that has never left me. She accepted the abuse for years and blamed herself, before she had the courage to take her three small children out of that situation before she became a statistic and lost her own life. However, many women do not have the courage to do that. They find it very hard to leave an abusive partner or an abusive relationship.
This devastating situation needs to be discussed in Parliament, and we need to be debating it this afternoon. It is to the Parliament’s credit that, every year, we have taken time to deal with the problem. However, although I welcome the Parliament debate this afternoon, it is disgraceful that we continue to have to debate the issue. Although the debate itself is important, it is positive action that is required to change people’s attitudes. In that regard, the onus is on us all, as politicians and as men, and across society, to tackle the issue. The issue covers many aspects of society, including culture, race and inequality, and only through society acting as a whole can we finally eliminate the violence and ensure that women and girls can live without fear and trepidation, wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
In 2016, when I was a member of Parliament, I spoke in the House of Commons about being raped at the age of 14. Too little has changed. In the immediate aftermath, I received thousands of cards, letters and emails. Simultaneously, I received extensive abuse on social media, almost always from men. After my speech, I made a complaint to Police Scotland. The perpetrator was identified and charged but not prosecuted, due to the passage of time. It was never reported in the press.
Making a police report was difficult. I learned why some facets of my adult character were as they were. When I described my very varied career to Police Scotland, the police explained to me that my workaholic habits were entirely understandable, because when someone like me starts running, they keep running. Many women, however, run into the arms of an abusive partner, drugs or drink.
The police also helped me to understand why my disclosure in such a public arena, in which I was being constantly scrutinised and briefed against, was a rational action. It is common for women to disclose after a significant life-changing or shocking event, such as the loss of a child or partner—and, often, after years of silence and denial. Disclosure was me finally standing my ground. I was naked from the inside out, and all I had was that small internal voice that whispered, “Hear me.”
I learned that freezing, rather than fighting or fleeing, had become a learned behaviour. I understood how I had repeated that freezing during other events. The victim’s guilt and shame that I carried is, regrettably, quite normal.
The process was difficult for me and my family, as we came to realise the extent to which I had masked my pain. I went through a process of grieving for the innocent girl that I had been, and the uncluttered woman that I might have become. However, I refuse to have my voice shut down ever again.
Multiple studies help us to understand how trauma forges different neural pathways and how future life events can add trauma upon trauma. That makes true recovery difficult.
All around the world, women are raped, beaten, abused, subjected to genital mutilation, sold into slavery and prostituted. Data from the UN tells us that, globally, almost one in three women have been subjected to violence from an intimate partner, generalised sexual violence, or both, at least once in their life. Fewer than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort, such are the taboos against speaking out.
Women and girls together account for 72 per cent of all human trafficking victims globally. Girls represent more than three out of four child trafficking victims; most face a life of sexual slavery. Sex-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. Recently, we have seen that at first hand in Afghanistan. Not only has the Covid pandemic enabled more crime against women; it has disproportionately affected them economically, thus placing them more at risk.
The me too movement brought solidarity to women, in the sharing of common experiences about the use and abuse of power; however, it has not brought change. Historically, our state systems were developed by men, for men. Our law, our business practices and so on are now being replicated by artificial intelligence algorithms that are, ironically, embedding sexism further. The advances that women have made feel elusive. Women, as a sex class, are constantly under threat, and many feel that our hard-won rights are being challenged. The fact remains that countless women were, like me, attacked because of their sex.
Sexist and misogynistic behaviour is common in politics, and we cannot pretend that our Scottish Parliament is immune. Scotland’s lion is rampant in one area—that of casual entitlement—despite huge efforts by Government and by multiple agencies.
Sexual violence is not confined just to some. It affects lesbians, gays, straight people and trans people; women, children and men. However, the perpetrator is almost always a man. Good men—that majority of decent, loving and caring men that I know exists—have a critical role in helping to effect the changes that we so desperately need. Whether in the face of casual sexism, a joke that the female target does not find amusing, or more blatant misogyny that tries to shut down women’s voices, society needs us all, including men, to shape the change that we still so desperately need to see. We must all commit to making that change.
Today, we mark the 30th international day for the elimination of violence against women. Despite some progress having been made, it is clear that gender-based violence is still the lived reality for too many women across the world.
We see that in the Covid-19 pandemic, humanitarian crises, conflicts and climate disasters, which are all causing an increasing threat of violence to women and girls, so I welcome the UN’s UNiTE to end violence against women campaign and the 16 days of activism, which are focused on preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls around the world. I welcome the Scottish Government’s motion that highlights the need for the Parliament to renew its shared ambition to tackle gender-based violence.
However, there is clearly still more work to be done to make that ambition a reality. Gender-based violence, whether it is domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, stalking or harassment, remains deeply rooted in our society. Recent figures, which were published in September, found that there were more than 33,000 charges of domestic abuse in Scotland last year. That was the highest number of charges reported since 2015 and represents an almost 10 per cent increase in one year. There were also more than 1,000 stalking charges last year. Yet those figures represent only instances of gender-based violence that were reported and where charges were brought. The truth is that too much of the gender-based violence that is suffered by women and girls in Scotland goes unreported.
Therefore, it is clear that there is more that we must do in Scotland and that there are policy changes that we could make now. We must teach our young people and children to respect each other’s bodily autonomy. Girls should not be expected to internalise misogyny, and boys should not grow up with a sense of entitlement over others. In our public services, we must look to increase awareness of gender-based violence among staff and strengthen training for them to support women and girls. We must address the concerns that women and girls have for their safety, by carrying out safety audits of public spaces to ensure that they are well lit, welcoming and accessible.
We also have to acknowledge the role of the police in women’s safety. The motion refers to the murder of Sarah Everard, who was murdered not just by a man, but a man who was a serving police officer. Women and girls are told to turn to the police in times of crisis, but Sarah Everard’s murder has damaged trust in the police as an institution. Statistics show that Sarah’s murderer is not an exception, but a symptom of the institutional sexism that still exists within the police. At least 15 serving or former UK police officers have killed women since 2009. More than 40 police officers and staff in Police Scotland are being prosecuted over offences that include sex crime, assaults and domestic abuse. Rape Crisis Scotland published a damning report of the experiences of survivors of rape and sexual assault, which exposed the systemic sexism that still exists in Police Scotland’s ranks.
That is why it was so concerning that Police Scotland’s international development and innovation unit had been undertaking work with the Sri Lankan police, including how to tackle gender-based violence. Given Police Scotland’s poor record, how could anyone argue that that unit was best placed to promote good practice internationally? In spite of its supposed aims, the unit’s activities in Sri Lanka failed to change the attitude and culture of gender-based violence that is rife in the country. A Sri Lankan police spokesperson was recently quoted as confirming that the force would not take cases of intimate partner violence to court, so it is no surprise that campaigners feared that Police Scotland’s work was providing political cover and legitimacy for the human rights violations, including gender-based violence, that occur in Sri Lanka.
The chief constable has now made a welcome announcement that there will be no further deployment of Police Scotland officers to Sri Lanka during the remainder of the agreed period, which ends in March 2022, and that Police Scotland will not seek to renew its engagement to support policing in Sri Lanka when the current period ends. That is a victory for campaigners, who will write to the chief constable in the coming days to seek a written confirmation of that decision, and I hope that they are provided with that.
However, members should note that the U-turn comes in spite of the inaction of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans. If the Scottish Government had wanted to demonstrate its willingness to take all necessary steps to tackle gender-based violence, the justice secretary should have supported the calls for Police Scotland’s contract with the Sri Lankan police to be terminated and not renewed. There is no point in a justice secretary who does not stand up for human rights, yet that is exactly what we have in Keith Brown.
I conclude by acknowledging that all of us in the Parliament want to tackle gender-based violence and that it is the responsibility of us all to push the Government to do more to help achieve that. We must educate our children and young people if we are to address deep-rooted attitudes and behaviours, we must improve the support that is offered to women and girls by our public services and we must make our public spaces safe for women and girls. It would be a mark of the failure of all of us in the Parliament if people looking back in 30 years’ time concluded that we had said all the right things but failed to deliver the action that was needed to eliminate violence against women and girls.
In closing for Scottish Labour, I share the sentiment that has been expressed in the debate and I add my voice to other members’ voices.
Not only is violence against women sadly still a major concern in 2021, but it appears to be getting worse in Scotland and around the world. If anyone imagines that it is becoming a thing of the past, they are sorely mistaken. The cabinet secretary and Meghan Gallacher opened by mentioning the shocking statistics, from the UK and around the world, and others across the chamber emphasised them. This is a pandemic.
We know that in the UK this year at least 126 women have been killed by men, or that a man is the principal suspect in their death. How can we look at those numbers and think that there is not a serious problem in our society with the way in which men view and treat women? Whether it is domestic violence, sexual harassment or rampant misogyny, women continue to be the target of far too many men’s terrible behaviour and aggression. I agree with Maggie Chapman that if we cannot understand how serious that is and address the root cause, we do not deserve to be standing here. A big step towards addressing that root cause is exposing those parts of our society that apologise for and normalise the violence. Many of them are key parts of our establishment and seem to think that they are immune to the problem. Michelle Thomson, Pam Duncan-Glancy, Pauline McNeill and Mercedes Villalba talked about that.
There could not be any greater example of the dangers that women face across the UK than the terrible murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, who used his authority to subdue and kidnap her. In the wake of that event, women naturally felt particularly vulnerable and angry. Yet at a peaceful vigil to remember Sarah and to protest the police’s failings in London, officers pinned down and arrested many protesters under Covid regulations. To even consider that a normal or rational thing to do is evidence of stone age thinking by supposed pillars of our society. It was done by the very service that is there to protect us, to women who were responding to one of the police’s own killing a young woman. Who has been held responsible? The Metropolitan Police commissioner continues to be in post, despite those events, while some of the women at the protest have been made out to be criminals. How am I supposed to tell young people in my region—or, indeed, my own daughter—that this is a safe country for women, when that is the headline news and that is the police response?
Something needs to change, and it needs to change quickly.
Often the institutional response to what I and many other women regularly see is minimal, to say the least. We have heard from others that Rape Crisis Scotland has highlighted how Police Scotland’s responses to rape allegations are riddled with poor communications, outdated attitudes, and lengthy and unclear proceedings that leave survivors feeling isolated and anxious. Is it any wonder that so few women come forward and report those crimes?
Another issue mentioned during the debate, which is part of the same problem, is the fact that women now feel that they have to boycott clubs and bars up and down the country in response to serious concerns about increases in drink spiking. For years, those concerns have been met only with public relations campaigns and awareness-raising approaches, but how many people are convicted of spiking drinks, or of similar activities, in Scotland—a charge known as “drugging”? Over the past three years, where there is data available, the answer is that no one has been charged, so either all those women are making up the problem or the crime is not being detected at all. If that many men were saying that they had fallen victim to spiking, I wonder whether the statistics would be the same.
Every woman who is a victim of violence must be treated equally and fairly by an establishment that understands, or at least seeks to begin to understand, what they have gone through. That begins with accepting that it is a serious problem that we do not have under control. It means direct engagement with grassroots organisations, health and recovery charities and, as Pam Gosal rightly said, right across, and sensitive to, all our communities. It requires institutions such as the police to open their eyes and ears to what is going on.
I thank Jim Fairlie for his comments about men joining in with the debate and I thank Neil Gray, Jim Fairlie and Alexander Stewart for their excellent and thoroughly worthwhile contributions. We needed to hear them. We need to deal with the sorts of attitudes that we expose young men to, and that encourage a culture of entitlement instead of one of respect—a point that was raised by the cabinet secretary. If we can approach the problem as both a criminal justice issue, and as a societal issue that is mixed in with the way in which some men think it is acceptable to behave, we can begin to tackle it. Until then, it will just be more PR stunts and not enough serious change.
I finish by repeating what Pauline McNeill said: if we want things to change, we need to be brave. All of us need to be brave.
We have heard some powerful speeches in the debate. Each year, as we mark the international day for the elimination of violence against women, we agree that more must be done to create an equally safe society in Scotland and around the world, but progress to protect the physical, sexual and psychological safety of women and girls has been painfully slow.
We have been reminded that the number of domestic abuse charges is at a five-year high. Sexual crimes are still at near record levels. Mercedes Villalba highlighted the number of stalking charges. The increased reporting of those crimes is, of course, welcome, but it demonstrates how pervasive they are.
Just this week, author J K Rowling posted on social media that she has
“now received so many death threats” that she could
“paper the house with them”.
Dr Marsha Scott, the chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, told the Criminal Justice Committee earlier this year:
“If you are asking me what outcomes we have seen for women and girls since the first strategy or, indeed, since the equally safe strategy, my response is, sadly, that we have seen very few.”—[
Official Report, Criminal Justice Committee,
22 September 2021; c 3.]
The reality is that women feel that their safety is still under siege.
In March this year, Sarah Everard did everything she could to protect herself as she walked home. She walked through well-lit streets. She wore bright clothes and running shoes. She texted her boyfriend to let him know she was leaving. Sabina Nessa had been walking to a pub less than 10 minutes from where she lived. The cabinet secretary highlighted the women who have lost their lives this year from violence, including Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. For hundreds of thousands of women across the UK, it all feels far too familiar.
Women, with their extraordinary strength, tenacity and resilience, are not victims—far from it. However, too often, we are victimised. Somehow, a narrative of victim blaming—that we bring this on ourselves by the way that we dress and act—has become entrenched. We hear that women, not the perpetrators, must modify their behaviour. It simply should not be like that. Women should not have to be fearful as they go about their everyday lives, but they are. They have every right to be angry.
It gets worse, not better. Evelyn Tweed, Meghan Gallacher and Beatrice Wishart highlighted the serious issue of spiking, which has once again come to light in recent weeks, including in my region of north-east Scotland. Women are covering their glasses on a night out, they are wearing thick fabrics to prevent a needle penetrating, or they are choosing to stay home.
However, for some women, home does not always offer the safety and sanctuary that it should. Alexander Stewart described the traumatic experience of watching his mother being abused when he was a young boy. His experience is a painful reminder that violence perpetrated against women has many victims and that its legacy endures over many years.
The cabinet secretary has already mentioned the UK-wide Femicide Census, but its findings should be repeated again and again. Home is often the least safe place for women. Between 2009 and 2018, 888 women were killed in the UK by their current or former spouse or intimate partner. That is 62 per cent of the total number of women who were murdered over the 10-year period. As we have heard today, women were most commonly killed at home.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse. During the pandemic, specialist black and minority ethnic organisations in Scotland have observed significant decreases in referrals for BME women experiencing extended family abuse and enforced servitude. Those women have not been able to make contact with such services because of stricter controls on their freedoms, with family members much more likely to be at home. There are also concerns that the pandemic has prevented women from reporting cases of FGM and seeking medical help.
Pam Gosal, Alexander Stewart and other members have stressed the importance of lifeline support services for women.
Pam Duncan-Glancy said that violence against women is woven into the structure of our society, and she emphasised that disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to experience men’s violence.
Jim Fairlie highlighted the issues of male dominance and entitlement.
Drawing on extensive experience, Elena Whitham emphasised the problems that abused women face in accessing informal support networks. She raised serious concerns about the dangerous portrayal of sex in pornography.
Maggie Chapman raised the issue of harassment and the fact that women are not protected from misogynistic violence. She said that violence against women is a women’s rights issue.
Neil Gray said that men need to modify their behaviour.
I am pleased that there is consensus in the chamber today. To quote Pauline McNeill, when it comes to male power and abuse, “The list goes on.”
Michelle Thomson showed courage in sharing her story of abuse in a very powerful speech.
The Scottish Conservatives have pushed for the introduction in Scotland of whole-life sentences, which is the sentence that Sarah Everard’s killer, Wayne Couzens, was handed several weeks ago in England. All other parties have resisted it.
Today, Douglas Ross highlighted the lack of progress with Michelle’s law and the importance of victims being forewarned that an offender in their case will be released.
MSPs are in agreement that the safety of women is in a precarious position. Women look to us, in the Scottish Parliament, to represent them and advocate for them. I sincerely hope that, over the next 12 months, with a Parliament that is 45 per cent women, we will find a way to rise to the challenge.
First, I thank all colleagues who have given remarkably thoughtful, moving, courageous and emotive contributions this afternoon. Summing up the debate will be very challenging because of the sheer power of what has been said.
Before I refer to what members have brought up during this important debate, and give some thoughts of my own, I want to mention one person who is absent: my colleague Christina McKelvie, the Minister for Equalities and Older People. She has been a mainstay of this debate and of tackling its subject, as well as a driving force of the progress that we have made in addressing its blight on Scotland. We wish her well in her recovery and look forward to welcoming her back from medical leave.
As we have heard during the debate, violence against women and girls is a blight on our country as well as globally. Today we remember all the victims and we reaffirm our collective determination to do more to tackle violence against women and girls in all its forms.
Part of that is about legislation. One of the most important things that we did in the previous parliamentary session was pass the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, giving the police greater powers to tackle this insidious crime. We also passed the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021, which, when it comes into effect, will provide the police and courts with new powers to make emergency orders that are designed to protect people who are at risk of domestic abuse from someone they are living with. Also, the independent working group chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, continues to look specifically at misogyny and explore whether there should be a stand-alone offence to tackle misogynistic behaviour.
I appreciate that a number of members, particularly Meghan Gallacher, raised points about the criminal justice system, and I am sure that my colleagues Keith Brown and Ash Regan will explore those in more detail during next week’s debate.
Some members have rightly given their thanks and praise to all the organisations that are working to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls, and to support victims. Elena Whitham made a particularly moving contribution on that. The Scottish Government recognises that and, in the past 18 months, we have invested an additional £10 million to allow the rapid redesign of services and address backlogs, and to support organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance. Pam Gosal also talked about the specific organisations that are working in minority communities. I know that from my experience of working as a constituency MSP with Sikh Sanjog, Shakti Women’s Aid and Saheliya, to name but a few.
As part of our £100 million investment, which is a three-year commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, we have also created a new delivering equally safe fund of about £19 million each year until 2023, and have recently confirmed allocations to 121 projects from 112 organisations that are working to provide key services and prevent gender-based violence. The longer funding commitments that Beatrice Wishart mentioned will be considered as part of the front-line services review that the cabinet secretary talked about.
One of the most significant points that was raised today was about how to change our culture. I spoke earlier about how we miss Christina McKelvie today, but in her absence, I feel privileged to have the chance to speak in the debate. As colleagues Jim Fairlie, Neil Gray, Alexander Stewart and others, as well as the cabinet secretary, emphasised, men, as allies, need to speak up and act. The fault and cause of violence against women and girls lies with men.
Although some men—the perpetrators—are more to blame, all men are responsible. Collectively, we are responsible for the society that we live in and the underlying prejudices, sexism and misogynistic societal attitudes that are still far too prevalent. It is only by prioritising prevention that there can be an end to violence against women and girls.
As the motion states, gender-based violence, which includes, but is not limited to, domestic abuse, rape, harassment and sexual violence,
“is a function of gender inequality and an abuse of male power and privilege”.
Gender-based violence is a manifestation of toxic masculinity, the commodification of women, porn culture and an immoral set of attitudes, including a sense of sexual entitlement, that are still held by too many men in our society and around the world. It is men who have created the injustice and imbalance in our society today, so men have an ethical and urgent necessity and responsibility to lead the change that we need to see, with solidarity, empathy and in partnership, to bring about the better society that we need to create. That needs to be done across the generations. In that regard, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Malcolm Chisholm, who has been and continues to be a really strong voice on the issue.
It is clear that, for us as guys—by which I mean men—the problem is ours, all of ours: younger and older men, friends and partners, brothers, fathers and grandfathers. If we are to address the problem in the way that we need to, the change that is required needs to be societal, behavioural, cultural and systematic. If we are to effectively and comprehensively tackle gender-based violence, society must challenge and alter the still-too-prevalent outdated gender stereotypes and social attitudes towards women and girls that enable it to continue. Men need to look in the mirror—and to do so critically, as Maggie Chapman rightly emphasised—and to ask how we do better, individually and collectively.
We need to stand up more often to what we hear and see other men say and do, as Jim Fairlie emphasised. We must do so with courage and conviction to change minds, challenge behaviour, champion equality and call out misogyny. As men, we must do better at challenging and criticising ourselves and one another, and not just in person but online. We must do so because—this is important, as was rightly emphasised during the debate—women and girls should not have to modify their everyday behaviour in order to stay safe.
Men, the onus is on us to modify our collective behaviour and to do so in a way that is more sensitive to the situation that women around us face, day in and day out. As the recent Police Scotland campaign highlights, we have to not be that guy who is sexist, that guy who is abusive, that guy who is misogynistic or that guy who harasses women and girls; we also have to not be that guy who ignores such behaviour. That is why, today, I have signed the White Ribbon pledge, and I encourage other men to do so, too, because we can and should do more, proactively.
Men and guys, today and for the next 16 days and beyond, let us be that guy who does more to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls; let us be that guy who calls out his mates when he hears or sees sexism, misogyny, abuse or harassment; let us be that guy who modifies his behaviour to make women feel safer; let us be that guy who plays a part in bringing about the change in culture that we need; and let us be that guy who makes a positive difference in his circles of influence and in everyday life.
Today, as a Parliament—as one—we mark the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls, which begins the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
We are united in condemnation of violence against women and girls in all its forms, in Scotland and around the world, and speak with one voice. We reaffirm our commitment to working collaboratively to eradicate gender-based violence.
We call on all of Scotland to do the same, so that together we eradicate violence against women and girls across our country: in our communities and workplaces, in bars and nightclubs, in homes, in the streets and online and in all the places where sexism, harassment, misogyny and abuse are still far too prevalent.
As others have said in this remarkable debate full of moving speeches, we must and will do more. I urge Parliament to support the motion in that sense of solidarity.