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On International Women’s Day enough is enough

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The following was published in The Huffington Post

It is a disgrace that today, and every day, gender-based violence goes on in every society, every country across the world.

It is 20 years since 189 governments signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a comprehensive document to advance women’s rights. Did anything change? Women worldwide are still subjected to violence by an intimate partner, sexual violence and rape, female genital mutilation, honour killings and trafficking.

In countries experiencing war and terrorism women and girls face a range of experiences unique to their gender, from political marginalisation to sexual violence. We need a commitment to eradicate violence to be part of the new international goals to follow the United Nations Millennium Development Goals later this year.

The spread of the so-called Islamic State (IS) resulted in many Yazidi women from Kurdistan being abducted, held as slaves and being repeatedly raped. Hundreds of them had their lives shattered with the horror of sexual violence and sexual slavery. The physical and psychological toll of the sexual violence these women have endured is truly horrifying.

In the UK violence against women and girls is prevalent. The scale and prevalence of violence across many cultures and communities is alarming. In 2011 is was estimated 137,000 women and girls with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) live in England and Wales. FGM is a brutal form of child abuse. Girls face infertility; pain during urination, menstruation, and sexual intercourse for the rest of their lives. There are possible complications during childbirth, at its worst, it can be life-threatening. It is cruel and inhumane.

Government must take more wide-reaching measures to end FGM practices, particularly in light of recent reports that as many as 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are estimated to be at risk. It is very troubling that Sheffield has been identified as one of the British cities where the practise is most prevalent.

We have to act and protect the current and future generations of girls and women from these human rights violations. All girls and women should have the right to a life free from violence, and deserve to have control over their own bodies, make their own choices about their future.

Despite positive steps which have been taken, domestic violence remains a huge issue in the UK. Since 2001 at least 4 women in my constituency have been killed by a current or former partner. Across the country deaths are decreasing, but still on average 5 women and 2 men are killed every month by a current or former partner. Alongside these deaths there is untold misery in families experiencing violence.

Since 2010, we have seen a 17% reduction, from 187 to 155, in the number of specialist domestic violence refuges. Nearly a third of referrals to refuges across the country were turned down last year because of a lack of space, and on one day in 2013, 155 women and 103 children were turned away from the first refuge they called because there was no room. This is unacceptable.

My constituency once had three individual refuges which all provided a specialist and highly effective service. However as a result of funding cuts these have now been merged into a single service which is at risk of losing out to a national provider when the service goes out to tender.

When I was first elected to parliament it was only the women MPs who spoke about domestic violence. Now it is women and men.

I am proud of what the last Labour government did to tackle violence against women and girls. We created additional specialist domestic violence courts to bring more offenders to justice, opened the first UK Human Trafficking Centre, and provided better training for police, prosecutors and courts. We introduced laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, extending and strengthening sex discrimination rules.

This emphasis has continued - my party has the first ever parliamentary spokesperson on preventing violence against women and girls. We have championed the new criminal offence of stalking and pushed the government to introduce Clare’s law which enables women to find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

The Coalition government deserves credit for the progressive work it has done in tackling violence against women and girls abroad. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative tackles the culture of impunity that exists for crimes of sexual violence in conflict, raises awareness, promotes international co-operation and increases the political will and capacity of states to do.

These initiatives are commendable, but at home and abroad we must do more to stop violence against women.

Make it Happen

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Make it Happen.  It encourages us not just to think about the problems facing women but come up with solutions.

More investment is needed to prevent violence against women and girls. Investment to empowering women and girls, support women’s rights organisations, investment in survivor-centred support services and investment into projects working with men and boys to challenge discriminatory social norms.

Whilst laws and programmes of work are important, they are not enough. We have to challenge the underlying attitudes that lead to violence, every human being should be respected and be able to enjoy the basic human right of freedom from violence.

We must move from isolated action to confronting the underlying causes of inequality and transform the unequal power relations between women and men, boys and girls. We cannot underestimate the importance of education in achieving this. Whoever the next government is should commit to compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools so our young people are taught that there is no place for violence in relationships. Only then will the rights of women and girls be secured.

In the words of Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation we face globally, whether in times of peace, conflict or post-conflict transition”. We cannot allow this to go on any longer.


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