Delivering Equally Safe: The importance of primary prevention

The graphic shows a dark teal background with white left-aligned text quote that reads "Violence against women and girls is not inevitable and public policy must recognise this if we want to see meaningful change. ". 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.

Last year, Engender was awarded funding from the Delivering Equally Safe fund of the Scottish Government, for work on primary prevention of violence against women. We are now at the end of the first year of this funding and our Policy Officer for the Delivering Equally Safe project, Hannah Brisbane, shares an update about the project so far.

As you may know, Equally Safe is Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. The strategy uses a feminist analysis of violence against women and girls (VAWG) by recognising it as a cause and consequence of gender inequality.

One of Equally Safe’s core objectives is primary prevention, the prevention of violence before it occurs. This is different to secondary prevention or early intervention, which addresses violence that has already happened. For a primary prevention approach to be effective, intervention is required across different levels of society, including in the media, schools and policy and institutions, for example.

Since the launch of Equally Safe, there has been some great work going on across the country at these various levels. However, Engender, along with other organisations, believe that more work is needed to ensure a primary prevention approach is embedded into public policy development for our efforts to be effective.

This is important because almost every area of our lives is affected by public policy decisions, from our healthcare to the public transport we take. People sometimes think that these types of policy areas do not affect gender equality because they are developed in an apparently gender-neutral manner.

However, feminist researchers have exposed this misconception by demonstrating how seemingly gender-neutral policies have in fact been developed around the needs of men and have reproduced gender inequality. As a result, this can create an environment which enables men’s violence.

One policy area which has been used to demonstrate this is housing policy. Policy interventions on housing and homelessness have typically centred around the issue of rough sleeping. However, this is more commonly men’s experience of homelessness, while women are more likely to seek out temporary and unstable accommodation to avoid sleeping on the streets. Research also suggests there is a strong link between women’s homelessness and violence against women; domestic abuse is the main reason given by women applicants on homeless applications in Scotland, and there is a vicious cycle between selling sex and homelessness.

Despite this, the Scottish Government’s 2018 Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan did not include a single action which focused on women’s needs or gender inequality. While the 2020 annual report on the action plan did include new commitments on women’s inequality and an annexe on women’s homelessness, there is still no mention of commercial sexual exploitation.

We know that public policy can be a powerful tool for creating a context which is hostile to men’s violence. However, it is clear from examples like this that primary prevention is still not featuring in non-justice-related policy domains across the Scottish Government, despite being a key element of the Equally Safe strategy. This means that we are missing opportunities to prevent violence against women and girls in Scotland.

This is what our Delivering Equally Safe project seeks to address. In the first year of this project, we have been working with external researchers who have been engaging with women who have lived experience of men’s violence to explore what factors enabled this violence. To support our work, we have also formed an Expert Group on primary prevention comprising partners in the women’s sector to share expertise and develop policy solutions that can disrupt men’s violence before it takes place. Alongside all of this, we have been researching existing approaches to primary prevention, both at home and internationally. This work will continue over the next year, along with other evidence-gathering activities so we can better understand what works when it comes to primary prevention.

Ultimately, we want to create a tool for policymakers which will support them to integrate primary prevention into the development of public policies. Violence against women and girls is not inevitable and public policy must recognise this if we want to see meaningful change.

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Engender Parliamentary Briefing:  Recognising the Vital Role Men Must Play in Challenging and Eradicating Violence against Women and GirlsEngender Parliamentary Briefing: Recognising the Vital Role Men Must Play in Challenging and Eradicating Violence against Women and Girls This is a briefing for MSPs ahead of the Scottish Government debate marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence in 2022 on the theme of 'Recognising the Vital Role Men Must Play in Challenging and Eradicating Violence Against Women and Girls'.

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