Guest post: Local elections - 'Women's services are in crisis, but we can use our vote to try and save them'
On an average day in 2013, more than 150 women were turned away from the first domestic violence refuge they approached for help.
Here, Sarah Green from End Violence Against Women argues that local councillors must start seeing these crucial agencies as a 'fourth emergency service', and urges women to use their vote on 22nd May.
End Violence Against Women
Posted on: Tue 13-May-14 14:18:15
(3 comments )
Abuse and violence against women is rarely out of the news – whether it's another trial of a high profile male figure for ‘historic’ sexual abuse, recent reports that up to a third of rape allegations are not being taken seriously by police, or the inspiring efforts of the young women who want to draw attention to the barbaric practice of FGM.
And the Mumsnet community have done a brilliant job in drawing attention to these issues. From the #WeBelieveYou campaign, challenging victim-blaming around rape, to supporting more sustainable funding for Rape Crisis centres, you have refused to let the subject drop.
It feels like awareness has never been higher, and yet services to help women who are experiencing violence are facing perhaps their biggest crisis since they were set up. The End Violence Against Women coalition is made up of more than 60 women's organisations, including rape crisis helplines, specialist projects tackling issues from FGM to stalking, and local grass-roots services such as domestic violence refuges. We therefore have a unique insight into the health of women's services, and the prognosis is not good.
Refuges set up 40 years ago, and independent, women-run helplines are being cut back – and, in some cases, closed. Women's Aid estimated that on an average day in 2013, more than 150 women (more than 100 of whom were accompanied by children) were turned away from the first domestic violence refuge they approached for help. Research has found that local councils had already cut by almost a third their funding to sexual and domestic violence services by 2012 – and the smaller services, for example providing specialist community-based support to BME women, suffered the biggest cuts. Many of these services were set up decades ago, and had years of expertise and experience behind them - when they close, those skills and knowledge are very difficult to get back. Services like this have literally saved lives and are proven to provide successful, long-term outcomes for vulnerable women - they are truly a ‘fourth emergency service’, and should be treated as such.
Local election turnouts are notoriously low, but the people elected arguably have far more power over our daily lives than anyone in Westminster... They can hold sway on the very survival of a women's refuge, or support for girls threatened with forced marriage.
Last April we commissioned a YouGov survey to ask people if they expected their local council to pay for specialist sexual and domestic violence services. Sounds like a no brainer, right? But we needed to be able to show the local politicians making the decisions on funding that people do care. Funding them is not mandatory, and by definition, these services tend not to be high profile enough to provoke public outrage when they are threatened. Nevertheless, we found that a big majority (67-70%) of people in the UK expect these services to be funded by their local council. They should not be see as an 'easy' cuts option. In addition, more than 80% of those people thought these services should be independent and be run by people with knowledge and experience of the needs of abuse victims. This indicates that the practice of handing some of these services over to cheaper non-expert providers would not be popular.
We know how powerful women's voices can be during election times - when the political parties are scrabbling around trying to secure our votes – and the upcoming local elections are a critical opportunity.
Local election turnouts are notoriously low, but the people elected arguably have far more power over our daily lives than anyone in Westminster. They are living in communities that they serve, and have a more intimate relationship with their constituents.
Our 20,000 elected local councillors are responsible for making daily, coal-face decisions on a vast range of issues affecting women's daily lives. They can hold sway on the very survival of a women's refuge, or support for girls threatened with forced marriage. There's also the impact they can have on how a school deals with issues like sexual consent, pornography and sexting, as well as women's safety in their local community, from being vigilant about lap-dancing clubs to tackling sexual harassment on the streets.
That's why the End Violence Against Women coalition have produced an Activist Guide and a template letter for voters across England, so you can tell candidates that they must commit to safeguarding these vital women's services if they want your vote on 22 May. The #WomensSafetyPledge requires candidates to protect women's services, encourage local schools to have responsible sex and relationships education, ensure safety from harassment and other abuse in the community, and bring all this work together to create a local strategy to end violence against women and girls.
We'll keep a tally of the candidates who take the #WomensSafety Pledge, to ensure they're keeping their promises.
Local councillors only receive a small amount of correspondence, so approaching them directly genuinely holds potential for swinging policy in a positive direction. As a woman, your voice is valuable and powerful – please use it.
By Sarah Green
Thanks for that Sarah. Will try to send out the letters tomorrow
I don't think there are elections in my area - certainly no polling card arrived. Brilliant campaign though!
you can do letters which is brilliant and personal and direct to candidates
or you can do emails/tweets (bit easier) - a lot of candidates are on twitter, and they can often be emailed via their local political party website, eg the 'contact' section on 'milton keynes conservatives' or 'milton keynes labour'. so you get the candidates' names from your local council website - there will be a 'statement of persons nominated' and then search for them on twitter and/or email them through the party website. no need to do them all, just maybe target your own ward, or go for one each from main parties in your area (on local council website there will be a 'your council / democracy' section telling you the current coucil make up)
list of where there are elections here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_local_elections,_2014
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