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Vote to end violence against women

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EVAW, voting, county councils, women's refugesEnd Violence Against Women lobby candidates in the upcoming elections to #protectwomensservices.

Domestic violence is a grim reality for thousands of British women; according to Home Office statistics, 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the last year alone.

But as local authorities continue to cut spending, the services which provide life-saving support to women like those 1.2 million continue to face closure.

A report published last year found that there has been a 31 per cent reduction in funding to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector compared with the previous year – a cut which translates into £2.4 million.

Yet while cuts in funding have been felt across the board, the report also highlighted that the impact on local services has been uneven across the country.

A poll commissioned by EVAW found that 67 per cent of UK adults believe that councils should fund services for women who have been raped.

The same poll showed that 70 per cent of those asked believe that councils should fund services for women who have been subjected to domestic violence.

The majority of those also felt that these services should be run by women (81 per cent think this is important), should be independent and confidential (87 per cent), and should be run by staff with experience and expertise in managing the needs of victims of abuse (86 percent).

Professor Liz Kelly, co-chair of the EVAW Coalition, said: “This poll shows clearly that a large majority of people value specialist services which support survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“They also recognise the importance that support is provided by experienced and knowledgeable women’s organisations  – probably because they sensibly think this is likely to produce the best outcome for victims in the long term.”

Because of the uneven funding scenario now facing women and girls in the UK, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) launched a campaign to remind us about the part we have to play – to vote in local councillors who are committed to funding services for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence in the upcoming local elections on 2 May.

EVAW has provided the tools for its members, other activists and you and me so we can write to, email and tweet candidates to #protectwomensservices.

And with an overwhelming majority of people in support of councils delivering adequate provision of these services, we should in theory be able to ensure this continues.

But perhaps the biggest stumbling point to the success of the campaign is encouraging us to vote.

A respectable 71.4 per cent of registered voters turned out at the national elections in 1997 when Labour, under Tony Blair, ended the Conservative’s strong hold on government and gave Labour its greatest – national – election success to date.

And figures show that voter turnout for national elections has remained relatively static since 1918.

Two notable exceptions were the record low of 57.2 per cent recorded in 1918 when the country was at war and in 1950, when the closely contested election gave Clement Attlee a meagre Commons majority of five, an incredible 83.9 per cent of voters turned out.

But voter numbers in the UK fall embarrassing low for local elections.

Last year the turn out for local elections was an uninspiring 31.3 per cent, a figure which follows a steady pattern of decline that shows little sign of abating.

Perhaps it is disinterest that keeps some of us away from polling booths; a misguided notion that top on county councils’ agendas are rubbish collection and pothole maintenance.

What is more likely, however, is that we think that councils lack teeth, that we are sceptical about the level of autonomy that local authorities really have.

Not really surprising considering the mentality of blame-shifting that operates in our current political system  – “It’s not our fault [insert vital community service here] is closing, blame the government cuts”.

No doubt austerity measures play a significant role, but propounding this kind of thinking effectively excuses councils and allows them to operate without the same kind of scrutiny that we apply to central government.

General elections are seen to be important – and the vote data bears this out – but many of the services that impact on our daily lives are those that are controlled, at least in part, by our county and district councils.

As Professor Liz Kelly pointed out, “Our local elected leaders make the real coalface decisions about the services that affect all of our daily lives.

“This is a great responsibility.

“We hope that those standing for election next week will be mindful of this clear demonstration of support for quality community based services for women subject to abuse, and act upon it when in office.”

Funding of services for women and girls who are victims of violence and sexual abuse is a case in point, because it is dispensed at both a national and local level.

Certainly, the coalition must bear the brunt of the responsibility for the one in five women’s organisations that have closed down and the 230 women turned away from refuges last year because there was no space for them, but we must not forget the role of local councils and, more specifically, the councillors on those councils.

To that end, we need to support the EVAW campaign, and ensure that candidates who want to take on the ‘great responsibility’ of public office pledge their commitment to ending violence against women and girls.

After all, we have a responsibility of our own: the responsibility that the vote affords us.

So we had better use it – and use it wisely.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Does voting in elections really matter when all parties put the freedom of the male media to portray rape as a women’s fault and term its victims whores and bitches along with the rest of the female population? Mopping up the bodies at the end of this exercise whilst valuable, makes no sense if we are not doing anything to prevent boys and men having this attitude to females in the first place.

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