Every year in this country, millions of women and girls are subjected to harassment, sexual violence, and domestic abuse.
The United Kingdom is a dangerous place to be female. Every year in this country, millions of women and girls are subjected to harassment, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. Two women are murdered every week by a current partner, ex-partner or close relative. A fifth of women have experienced sexual assault.
Violence against women and girls for a millennium has been an unacceptable reality, but that does not mean it is inevitable. A choice can be made to build a brighter future, to create a country where our population can live free from harassment, and to lead the world in progressing towards true equality.
For starters, that means ensuring no survivor is ever turned away from accessing vital care and support services. This is the focus of a new set of policies from the Liberal Democrats that will provide the funding that is severely lacking.
The proposals put forward include urgently expanding the number of refuge and rape crises centres to meet the country’s requirement. Current Tory funding of domestic violence refuges only covers half of the need identified by the charity Women’s Aid, leaving a shortfall of 1715 bed spaces. No woman should have to face the horrendous choice between homelessness or staying in an abusive home because she cannot access a safe place to sleep.
Rape Crisis services are similarly underfunded, with only 44 centres across the country rather than the 150 required. This inexcusable gap has been highlighted by campaigners and survivors, such as Fern Champion, who have seen first-hand the reality for those seeking support. Making up this shortfall is a Liberal Democrat priority to ensure that survivors of sexual violence, no matter where they live in the country, have somewhere to seek support and advice in their time of need.
Local Authorities must be at the frontline of efforts to support survivors. That requires the central government to both fund councils sufficiently and making it their duty to provide the necessary services. There should be no postcode lottery when it comes to survivors of violence, and people should be able to seek support from more than one local authority where appropriate, for example if they are forced to stay with a family member in order to escape abuse. The Liberal Democrats will fully fund the £90m a year that the Tories have consistently failed to provide to ensure that local authorities can provide essential accommodation and support.
Particular attention must be given to BAME women and women living with disabilities, who are disproportionally impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault respectively. Under this proposal, sustainable grant-based funding would be guaranteed for specialist support services, so that the most vulnerable are able to access tailored care.
In order to make sure that these services are protected into the future, the Liberal Democrats would immediately ratify and bring into law the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. Despite the UK becoming a signatory of the convention back in 2012, the Conservative government has failed to ratify it because it would compel them to properly fund domestic violence and rape services, which they are unwilling to do.
Violence against women and girls has no place in 21st century Britain, yet thanks to a lack of funding for services and a lack of political prioritisation, it has been allowed to stubbornly persist. This negatively impacts our communities and our economy and is a failure we cannot afford to pass on to the next generation.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a country where every person can thrive; where women and girls live equally alongside men, free from harassment and violence. Every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for a government with equality at the heart of its agenda, it is a vote for a brighter future.
Christine Jardine is a Scottish Liberal Democrat politician. She was elected as the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West in 2017.
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