25 Nov 2012: UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Cuts can kill: Why the TUC backs action to end violence against women
Every week, two women in the UK are killed by their current or ex partners. And a quarter of all women experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetimes, according to Women’s Aid. This Sunday (25 Nov) marks the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Last year we pressed our government to follow the example of the majority of Council of Europe member states and sign up to the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.
The good news is that the government did sign the treaty (yet to be ratified) – a solemn and binding pledge to make the safety of victims a priority. The treaty binds governments to ensure victims and their children get specialised support, medical assistance, and psychological and legal counseling. And it means that in every town in Britain there should be a safe shelter for survivors to go.
The government has declared its intention to “to end violence against women and girls (VAWG)” – an ambition that the TUC shares. But the harsh reality of government cuts means that many refuges and charities, which provide a lifeline for women suffering abuse, face closure.
According to Women’s Aid, an average of 230 women are turned away from their refuges every day, due to lack of space. Imkaan, an organisation which provides services for black and minority ethnic women, say that they have been forced to close two of their six specialist refuges and local authority funding for two more has also been cut. And False Economy FOI requests exposed that eight domestic violence and sexual abuse organisations took a 100% cut in local authority funding in 2011/12.
It’s not just cuts to VAWG services that are endangering women’s safety and wellbeing. As the TUC outlined in its submission to Vera Baird’s Everywoman Safe Everywhere Commission, cuts to welfare, transport services, policing budgets, legal aid, the voluntary sector and street lighting, leave women vulnerable too.
This year the TUC and rail unions joined forces with the Women’s Institute to highlight the impact of rail network staff cuts on the safety of women passengers. The Government’s plans to let train operators close ticket offices, and reduce staff on trains and stations, put women at risk of violence and sexual harassment.
Women’s unemployment is now at a 24 year high and, without an independent income, they find it harder to escape abusive relationships. Denied a job, women at risk become isolated, with precious little money, fewer friends and no workmates to seek help from.
At work, unions have a big role to play. TUC surveys suggest that too often women suffer in silence – too afraid, or perhaps too ashamed, to tell their employer. But women are more likely to turn to a trusted union rep. And with 46% of women we surveyed saying violence at home was impacting on their job performance, it’s important that they have a union on their side.
Trade unions can also play a vital role in prevention, from agreements on safe transport to tackling unacceptable behaviour from managers, colleagues or customers. Trade union education has a great record in giving reps the confidence and skills they need to take the issue up.
This Sunday, as we send our messages of solidarity to sisters around the world, let’s also campaign against our own government’s service cuts and show our commitment by putting ending violence against women on the bargaining agenda.