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The history of the violence against women sector in Scotland

The history of the women's movement in Scotland is an inspiring one, but it is easy to become disillusioned when as frontline workers you are continually justifying your job, your funding and your support for women.

This blog will set out our position on why we need single sex services and our need for adequate representation in the Scottish Parliament, which currently is sadly lacking.

We, as workers, stand on the shoulders of giants. Our women’s services were built on the backs of survivors. Women and children who spoke up and spoke out. Women who found the language and strength to make others listen.

We have spent too much time navigating around the needs of others. Throughout the years whenever we talk of women’s needs we have been challenged instead to prioritise the needs of children, men and now the trans community over the needs of women. We all know that where we protect women we protect children. In relation to other adults however the abuse that women experience outstrips the experience of all other adult groups, in sheer numbers, intensity and intimacy.

Women's experience of male violence begins from birth. As parents try to protect their daughters often their only option is to encourage them to mitigate against the violence and abuse by adjusting their lifestyle, choices and approaches to others to name but a few. This is wrong, but with ineffective state protection, communities made with men in mind rather than both sexes and a reluctance to confront male violence and abuse, it is often the only option to allow girls and women to be able to function in a patriarchal society. This is particularly relevant to working class women with even few options.

The violence against women sector was created to not only provide safe space for women, but to challenge the patriarchal society that can be so dangerous for them and we have been extremely successful. We have created refuge space, support services, changes in legislation and improved practice that recognise the impact of abuse in all lives are just some of the progressive changes that have been made. Unfortunately these progressive changes have had little impact on the cultural attitude towards women. Conviction rates for rape continue to be abysmal, women continue to experience harassment and abuse in plain sight in public, men continue to exploit women through prostitution, pornography and sexual entertainment venues, domestic violence rates are not reducing and the specialised domestic abuse courts can’t cope with the numbers. A response to the hate crime women experience is still not being dealt with and on and on and on.

In 1973 Women’s Aid groups were established in Edinburgh and Glasgow and in 1976 Rape Crisis was established in Glasgow. This began the development of the violence against women sector. A sector that began with direct services to women by women.

Glasgow continued to build on this sector and was commended in 2007 by Liz Kelly et al in “Map of Gaps; The postcode lottery of violence against women support services”, for having “extensive provision”. This extensive provision was openly feminist and recognised the sexist nature of violence against women.

One of the key areas for the Scottish services, i.e. Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, was the collective nature of their structures. This could be a challenge for direct service provision, as one Women’s Aid worker once said, “you can never be a collective, you are striving to be a collective all the time”. The importance of it on the national structure however was vital for appropriate representation of the needs of the local groups, as well as women’s, at a national government level. National organisations Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland were established were established in 1976 and 2003 respectively to fulfil this role.

In line with feminist principles neither of these organisations were “headquarters”, but were a way for direct services to represent women’s needs, produce joint guidance based on the experience of groups and strategically influence legislation and policy.

Something however has gone wrong. Groups in these networks have disaffiliated and opinion amongst others is now split. National groups are taking positions that some believe is contrary to women’s rights and there are concerns that there is now no competent representation of groups in the Scottish Government. Not only that but groups autonomous to Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid are being affected by changes encouraged by these national groups, without regard of either their opinion or the impact on their services.

Violence and abuse exists in every area of our society. Services are required for anyone who are subject to these offences. For women however it is essential that while our society remains patriarchal, men continue to choose to use their power over women to abuse them and society continues to reinforce this abuse through the inequalities women experience, feminist, single sex services are available to the women who require them, particularly for working class women with the least resources and options for escape.

If women do not feel safe they will continue to mitigate against male violence and this will not only restrict their lives, but will prevent them from reaching their full potential. The violence against women sector is more than service provision, it is the moral indicator of who we are and the value we put on the lives of women.

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