Glenys Thornton on why governments must invest properly to end violence against women and girls
The plight of women suffering violence is about to have the spotlight shone on it, starting today with One Billion Rising (OBR) UK. Some of what’s planned – dancing, singing and flashmobs – will be fun, and I hope parliamentarians and party members alike will consider joining the amazing events taking place both here in Westminster and elsewhere around the country.
But joyful as these events will be and respectful for women and those who love them, they have a serious message. Violence against women and girls is endemic across the world, and we are calling upon governments, parliaments and world leaders to make ending this violence a priority.
Part of the build-up to the activities taking place today has involved small discussions, held all over the country, involving thousands of women – young and old – from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities. On one thing they were clear: to prevent violence against woman and girls we need to do much more to ensure that young men and women are supported to develop positive and equal relationships with their peers.
When one in three 16 to 18 year-old girls in the UK say they experience ‘groping’ or other unwanted sexual touching at school; when more than 70% of 16 to 18 year-old girls and boys say they routinely witness sexual harassment at school; and when, according to NSPCC research, ‘sexting’ is linked to coercive behaviour, harassment and violence in which girls are disproportionately affected, we in the UK cannot be complacent.
OBR UK calls for statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education mandatory, inclusive of a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships. Labour tried to enact this before 2010 general election but the Tories stopped us, and the Coalition needs to address the issue now.
Earlier this week in a Lords debate, I invited the Home Office Minister Lord Taylor to send a strong message of support to the OBR international campaign and to the millions of women across the world who will be making their voices heard today.
Violence against women and girls flourishes in societies where prejudicial attitudes towards women are deeply entrenched. In its excellent brief for the Lords debate, End Violence Against Women makes the important point that there needs to be sustained investment in this area, similar to the long-term investment that successive governments have made in road safety campaigns. Doing so, will change attitudes and behaviours; and in the long term, reduce the emotional, physical and financial cost of such violence as well as save lives.
Baroness Glenys Thornton is Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords
Published 14th February 2013