University of Edinburgh hosts panel debate on gender-based violence

The University of Edinburgh hosted a series of events last week in aid of the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre (ERCC).
   The events, collectively known as Equalise Week, included a Panel Debate on Social Policy and Gendered Violence, which featured many distinguished speakers from each political party.

At the debate, Ben Macpherson,  MSP candidate for the SNP, said that gender-based violence was a “multi-faceted problem compounded by societal, economic and gender inequalities”.

He went on to say that the Scottish Government had “invested over £35.5 million in initiatives” to tackle gender-based violence and that Nicola Sturgeon was “using all the powers available to her and her government” to tackle inequality.

He also added that gender-based violence was “a fundamental violation of human rights”.

Maggie Chapman, a candidate for the Scottish Green Party, retorted by saying that she would like to see more changes in Scotland, such as better access to help for victims of violence, better independent legal aid and urgent action on homelessness.

“Limiting or restricting financial independence of women is violence, political decisions can count as violence, women’s underrepresentation and discrimination against women all contribute to the society which say that it is okay to systematically abuse women”, she said last Monday.

Emma Hutton of the Women’s Equality Party argued that the government should decriminalise prostitution, make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools, and add gender as a characteristic to the hate crime legislation.

She also added that the government needed to build a “gender-based approach” when deciding how to use financial resources.

“The research is there that shows that cuts to public services have had a disproportionate effect on women. We saw that coming, everybody saw that coming and now women are bearing the brunt of those cuts.”

The Scottish Labour MSP candidate, Catriona Headley, said that she would like to see a more humane justice system for gender-based violence victims, mandatory consent teaching in schools, and protection of the law for trans-based violence.

Iain McGill, a candidate for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, stated that the UK government had worked to protect victims from “extreme psychological and emotional abuse” and had brought in new laws to persecute against the distribution of so-called ‘revenge porn’, making it punishable for up to five years in jail.

Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate, Hannah Bettsworth, argued that her party leader, Tim Farron, had called on universities to “explicitly recognise rape and sexual assault a special circumstances affecting students’ work”.

She also added that this was something that the University of Edinburgh “does not currently do”.

The candidates clashed over discussions of ‘economics as a form of violence against women’ with Labour’s Catriona Headly criticising the Scottish government’s council tax freeze and cuts to local authority funding.

“The SNP are making choices which are leading to greater austerity in Scotland, particularly in local authority funding”, she argued.

“They are strangling local democracy in terms of what they are opposing on local authorities and local councils and how they can make their choices.”

Deborah Waters, a representative for RISE: Scotland’s Left Alliance, conceded with this view, arguing that “violence against women and deaths increase when cuts are made to local public services and to local authorities.

“When austerity cuts are made they hit women the hardest and they hit them for longer”, she continued.

She also added that RISE wanted to see increased funding for women’s aid and refuges and gender-specific social services.

A spokesperson for the Equalise group which organised the week’s events, told The Student that they had been very successful in raising both money and awareness for the crisis centre.

“This year we are aiming to double the funds raised compared to last year and we have had a significant increase in interest, attendance, outreach and collaborations with other groups for all events.”

They continued to say that although fundraisers like Equalise were important in raising money for the organisation, it was still the “responsibility and duty of politicians to actively advocate and campaign for gender equality and the prevention of gender-based violence.

“We must continue to put pressure on the government to do better for the important reason that politicians are able to make a massive difference in the financial security of centres like the ERCC and in confronting social attitudes towards survivors, towards women generally, and towards members of the LGBT+ community.”

The debate raised £443.39 for Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. So far, Equalise Week has raised close to £3,200 for the charity. Text and online donations are yet to be calculated, which a spokesperson predicted could amount to up to £300.

Image credit: Nicola Osborne

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