Delivering Equally Safe: Challenging and eradicating violence against women

The graphic shows a dark teal background with white left-aligned text quote that reads "Primary prevention means stopping violence against women and girls before it occurs by tackling the root cause of the problem: gender inequality.". The quote is attributed to Hannah Brisbane, Policy Officer (Delivering Equally Safe). In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a white circle.

To mark the annual 16 Days of Activism campaign, our Policy Officer for Engender's Delivering Equally Safe project, Hannah Brisbane, shares some background on our briefing for MSPs on the importance of primary prevention in challenging and eradicating men's violence against women.

We are currently in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. This annual campaign runs from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th of November until the 10th of December, which is Human Rights Day.

During the 16 Days campaign, individuals and organisations worldwide call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Each year, this campaign focuses on a specific theme. This year’s global theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, which invites us all to think about the role we can play in challenging and eradicating VAWG.

Last week, the Scottish Government held a debate in the Scottish Parliament to mark the 16 Days campaign. In line with the UNITE! theme, this debate focused on the role that men must play in challenging and eradicating VAWG.

Ahead of this debate, we wrote to MSPs to remind them of the responsibility they all have to end VAWG in Scotland. Our work consistently demonstrates just how pervasive and insidious violence is in the lives of women and girls in Scotland. You can read our briefing online here.

In our briefing, we highlighted the importance of embedding a primary prevention approach into public policy. Primary prevention means stopping violence against women and girls before it occurs by tackling the root cause of the problem: gender inequality.

Despite being a core component of the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe Strategy, we are still not seeing this type of approach embedded within policymaking across the Scottish Government. This means that policies and strategies are still being developed which don’t apply a gendered analysis or consider how they might risk enabling VAWG. As such, we wanted to use this debate as an opportunity to remind members of the Scottish Parliament to take a primary prevention approach.

This will be especially important for Scotland’s response to the cost of living crisis. Last month, Engender published a report exploring the impact of the cost of living crisis on women and the intersecting ways in which diverse groups of women are being disproportionately impacted. Women facing the greatest risk of destitution include those who are often underrepresented in politics and policymaking, making it even more crucial that these issues are taken into consideration.

Social security is a key area where primary prevention must be embedded as the existing system continues to exacerbate inequality. In particular, the way Universal Credit has been designed has been proven to undermine women’s ability to leave an abusive partner and has even caused some to turn to survival sex. This is because the system entrenches gender and economic inequality, which in turn drives VAWG. That’s why we’ve also called on the Scottish Government to urgently provide individual payments of Universal Credit (instead of the current single household payment) and apply a rigorous intersectional gender budget analysis to all budgeting processes.

The final part of our briefing highlighted our work on sexual and sexist harassment in the workplace following the publication of our Enough is Enough report in spring this year. Through our research, we found that sexual and sexist harassment is the most common form of VAWG experienced in the workplace and is driven by gender inequality in the labour market. You can read our report here and see our Model Sexual Harassment Prevention and Action Policy here.

Sexual harassment has a profound impact on women’s lives with implications for health and wellbeing, earning potential, financial stability, income inequality with men, career progression and ultimately for gender inequality across all spheres. As such, sexual and sexist harassment is a significant public health and safety issue for women in the workplace. And yet, it is not currently treated as such by Scottish and UK policymakers. We want to see the Scottish Government take urgent action to address this issue as part of its mandate to tackle VAWG, along with its ambitions to improve workplace health and safety.

16 Days ends on Human Rights Day on 10th December to remind us that VAWG continues to be one of the most pervasive human rights violations throughout the world. It is estimated that one in three women will be subjected to a form of VAWG in their lifetime, with data from Scotland showing that this violence has lasting physical and psychological effects on women.

We all have a role to play in preventing VAWG and resisting the rollback on women’s rights that is occurring after years of austerity, the Covid-19 pandemic and now the cost of living crisis. We hope that MSPs will act decisively to stop this violence and discrimination against women in Scotland. By embedding a primary prevention approach into Scottish policymaking, we can and will achieve a Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected.

Read our 16 Days briefing for MSPs here and find out more about our work on primary prevention here.

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