Guest Blog series: A Wales Without Gender Based Violence, Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO, Welsh Women's Aid
Global circumstances have dictated that the ways in which we mark the 25th November in 2020 are different. While our usual marches, light a candle events and remembrance services aren’t able to happen in the same way, it is so important that feminists across the world still have a dedicated day to remember, reflect and respond.
Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence continues to cause devastation across the world and this year the rates of violence and abuse have been so high that we have often seen them referred to as the ‘shadow pandemic’ that ran alongside Covid-19.
This year has seen a tireless effort to eliminate Covid-19. It has struck me that this is the first time in my life that I have witnessed such a large-scale, dedicated commitment to a preventative response. In Wales, we have taken on a joint responsibility to not wait until a crisis point- where our emergency responses would be overwhelmed- to act. We have all played our part, whether that be frontline staff adapting and sacrificing to care for those who are sick, delivering food parcels to the vulnerable, wearing masks to protect our loved ones and so on.
The focus, within this country and across the world, has been getting ahead of the harm Covid-19 causes. We can learn a lot from this attitude when we think about ending violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. We should not be waiting until violence and abuse is severe enough to appear in the criminal justice system or survivors need to be supported by statutory organisations before we as a society view it as important, and put our energy and resources into tackling it.
To eliminate violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, I believe we must place more emphasis on tackling the roots of the problem. Violence and abuse will always thrive unless we tackle the casual acceptance and comfortable tolerance of gendered inequality and ‘everyday’ oppression that women and girls face. When abuse such as catcalling, sexist jokes and harassment is normalised, dismissed as ‘low-level’ and its’ damage discounted, it creates fertile ground for further abuse to grow- as a society we should all be outraged by any and all levels of discrimination.
This week at Welsh Women’s Aid, we launched ‘No Grey Area’ our biggest campaign to date tackling sexual harassment in the workplace. We know that although workplace settings and circumstances will have changed for many people this year, sexual harassment has persisted. Many of us will have a story of an experience of unwanted behaviour in the workplace and for many women, these experiences can intersect with instances of racism, ableism and other forms of discrimination- this can make the workplace an uncomfortable, threatening or even dangerous space. All individuals have a right to feel safe and supported within their workplace. We would be grateful for anyone in Wales who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace to fill in the survey click here
The shift in working conditions during the pandemic has meant that the opportunity for a place of work to be a supportive space has changed for many survivors, however managers can still take actions to ensure staff are supported. Our Covid-19 Bystander toolkit has resources for employers, as well as concerned neighbours, friends and volunteers. To access it, please click here
Today, while we mourn the women who were murdered this year and organise to fight for change in the year ahead, we also reflect on the amazing specialist services, activists and feminists across the world who are striving to create a world where we can all live fear free. We have come a long way since the first International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women but I only have to glance at the news, scroll through twitter or eavesdrop at the supermarket to know that violence against women is still rooted in our everyday lives. Even when we reach our goal, when we have eradicated violence against women from our societies and are able to live fear free, we will continue to light a candle and remember the life of every woman effected by this epidemic of violence.
Thank you to Sara and Welsh Women's Aid for contributing to our guest blog series as part of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Based Violence.