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I am grateful to have secured this debate on women’s aid and safety and access to benefits, and to speak under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I am also pleased to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Maria Miller, who has a great interest in the subject that we are debating, and of course my right hon. Friend Mrs McGuire.
The theme of the debate is, unmistakably, women’s aid and safety and access to benefits, but it is also predicated on an enlightened understanding of the scourge of domestic abuse, which is the root cause of the problem. I believe that there is a moral duty not to just pay lip service to an endemic problem visited on far too many women. Domestic abuse was succinctly articulated by the psychologist and author Susan Forward, PhD, who described it as
“any behaviour that is intended to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults…it is the systematic persecution of one partner by another”.
Having assimilated and carefully studied the erudite view expressed by Dr Forward, I wish to proceed. The consequences of domestic abuse are simply horrific and lead women into a very dark place. They live a life in the most sinister, corrosive and destructive environment, which is as near to hell as it is possible to get on earth. Living under a reign of constant fear and terror of mental and physical torture damages the self-esteem of the victims, but what incalculable damage does it inflict on innocent children? We can ponder that. They, too, are often scarred for the rest of their lives.
One of the foremost international diplomats, renowned for resolving conflict around the world, the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once said that domestic abuse
“denies women their most basic human rights, such as the right to health, and undermines the social and economic development of communities and whole countries…Domestic Abuse is widespread and cuts across class, age, religion and ethnic group…it has long been established that there can be no justification for any form of Domestic Abuse.”
“Domestic Abuse is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth.”
Monklands Women’s Aid provides a first-class service to women and children in my constituency. Before institutions such as Women’s Aid existed, many women were forced to suffer in a chilling silence for the sake of their children. When we think back to previous generations, we can only wonder with incredulity at how many women lived in hell. We will never know how many were driven to such a level of despair that they took their own lives.
Clearly, most women did not have a way out of their oppressive environment. I am sure we all agree, irrespective of our political differences, that we do not want a return to those days. We have to understand that many of the partners have not only a physical hold over those women, but a mental hold, an iron grip, which is extremely difficult for many women to break free from. Women’s Aid is now inculcated in our society. Thankfully, women of this generation are not alone and they realise that they have a place of refuge.