Every year on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This day is for reflecting globally on the varied achievements of women in all economic, social, political and cultural walks of life. It is a celebration about how far women have come in their struggle for equality. Why then, does it feel this year that rather than marking progress, we are mourning a regression for victims of domestic violence?
Only eight days after the joy of celebrating IWD comes the fear of what March 16, the day of George Osborne’s first budget of the new year, will bring. Local authorities have been devolved responsibility for specialist domestic violence services, but central government cuts to their budgets are resulting in the rapid closure of services. Contracts are put out to tender, meaning that women’s services that hardly have the staff or money to operate on a day to day basis are forced to compete for funding alongside other larger private and public firms. Contracts are awarded on a short term basis, meaning that even when secured, the stressful process has to be repeated, making long term planning and investment near impossible. Services for minority groups, for women of colour, LGBTQIA+ and refugee women are hardest hit by these reforms.
The result of this is that 1 in 3 women are turned away from a refuge due to a lack of space. 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner. 32 refuges have been closed under the Conservative government. 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence. A long battle has managed to ensure that we see domestic violence not as a domestic concern, but as a public matter and responsibility of the state. But the deeper that we cut into these specialist services, the more the state is able to abrogate itself of responsibility. It is time we realise that not only is austerity cruel, it is sexist.
The image we have of a domestic violence survivor tends to be an older woman, but it is now women aged 16 to 24 who are at the highest risk for domestic abuse. As a student community, we marched to Fight For the Night. The work done by Edinburgh Rape Crisis, Edinburgh Feminist Society, Sexpression, Sisters Uncut, and the EUSA Women’s Liberation Group are all invaluable. But as a wider community and society, we must not relegate women’s issues to one day a year. The government’s good will, wishes and pledges on one day of the year do not detract from the state sanctioned violence that occurs 365 days of the year.
Lucy Ayris, 25; Alison Wilson, 36; Janet Muller, 21; Melissa Liddle, 23; Sarah Pollock, 41; Jill Goldsmith, 49; Zaneta Balazova, 23; Cecilia Powell, 95; Marian Smith, 74; Shiggi Rethishkumar, 35; Neya Rethishkumar, 13; Niya Rethishkumar, 13; Kathleen Griffin, 57; Mambero Ghebreflafie, 22; Daria Pionko, 21; Katie Locke, 23; Rita King, 81. To mark International Women’s Day, MP Jess Phillips stood and listed the names of the 120 women who had been killed in Britain since last International Women’s day. Next year, let us give survivors of domestic violence something to celebrate by shortening this list.
Image: William Murphy