GOOD NEWS FOR WOMEN
The government’s violence against women strategy is welcome – now it must co-ordinate this approach, including internationally
You may not know that 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Where’s the good news? After years of lobbying, the UK government has delivered what we’ve all been asking for – a cross-governmental violence against women strategy.
The scale of the problem facing the government should not be underestimated. Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights both here and abroad. It affects one in three women globally and is a major cause of death and disability. As ActionAid’s work on violence against women reveals, it is also a leading factor in global poverty and a driver of conflict and the spread of HIV and Aids. Within the UK alone, violence against women costs about £40bn every year.
Violence against women is not inevitable. At ActionAid, we see women challenging it every day and it can be prevented. Last Saturday’s Reclaim the Night march in London was a powerful reminder of both what is possible and what is needed. The responsibility for prevention lies squarely with governments.
The UK’s new strategy therefore offers much to celebrate. For example, it aims to cover all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence such as rape, trafficking, domestic violence and forced marriage. It grounds its approach within a human rights framework, recognising that Britain needs to live up to the international standards we have helped set. It focuses on prevention, targeting the mainstream attitudes that fuel and condone violence against women. And it emphasises the importance of frontline women’s services – the vital and life-saving support women rely on when they are resisting violence.
There are of course gaps within the strategy. Funding is a big one: despite the emphasis on frontline women’s services, the strategy does not fully commit the resources needed for this support. The success of the strategy will ultimately be measured by whether the government is able to deliver on its ambitions.
The other major challenge for the government will be how well it can fulfil its key promise – a co-ordinated approach across all departments. This of course includes the most obvious domestic ministries such as those of health, education and criminal justice. But, crucially, the strategy also commits those departments leading on Britain’s international work to tackle violence against women. As the strategy itself notes, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development all have roles to play in helping Britain to fulfil its objectives. In addition, these departments are particularly well placed to deliver on Britain’s international commitments such as our role in protecting women from violence in conflict situations.
President Obama chose to demonstrate the importance of global women’s issues in his administration by appointing Melanne Verveer as the first ever ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. Co-ordinating US foreign policy on women, Vereer’s remit as director of the new department of state office on global women’s issues explicitly includes combating violence against women internationally.
As a signatory of all the relevant international conventions and a leader on the world policy stage, and fresh from publishing its first violence against women strategy, the time is ripe for the British government to similarly embed its work on violence against women and girls across all of its departments, including those leading on our international agenda. First step – make violence against women a foreign policy priority.