The Scottish Government should better support Councils to tackle domestic violence
Debate on domestic violence against women Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
This year's debate on violence against women is perhaps the most important since the Parliament's early efforts set in motion Scotland's approach to tackling the on-going scourge of violence against women. It is especially important because experience consistently shows us that during periods of financial restraint prevention services and support for victims of such violence are frequently the first and hardest hit. I therefore start by welcoming the Scottish Government's commitment to maintaining the dedicated funding streams for the violence against women fund, the Rape Crisis specific fund and the children's services women's aid fund.

That sends out an important message at this time.

Gender-based violence is rooted in inequality between women and men in our society, and both must be challenged through the type of preventive work that was highlighted by Jenny Kemp of Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust, which is based in my constituency, and by Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan, during the Finance Committee's recent inquiry into preventive spending. However, in 21st century Scotland, equality should not be a bonus to be awarded at times of plenty and should not suit a particular public or political mood or agenda. It is a basic human right both morally and in the laws of the country.

That is why it is so vital at this time that we ensure that all policy and budget allocation decisions at national and local levels are subject to rigorous gender impact assessments to ensure that the equality gap is not directly or inadvertently widened, thereby perpetuating and strengthening a cultural attitude that condones violence against women. For example, a recent study of young people's attitudes to gendered violence found that a third of young men and a sixth of young women aged between 14 and 18 believe that using violence in intimate relationships is acceptable in some circumstances.

Another recent report, "Hidden Marks" by the National Union of Students, found that one female student in seven had been the victim of a serious sexual or physical assault while at university or college, but that fewer than 10 per cent had reported the attack from a belief that they were somehow culpable in what had happened to them. The attitudes and commitment that we show today will directly affect the attitudes to and experiences of violence of the generation of tomorrow.

Although I welcome the national announcements that were made today, it is essential that the political commitment that is displayed in the Parliament is directly translated into local planning. Good analysis of single outcome agreements by various organisations, including the Scottish women's budget group, has shown that far too frequently that is not the case. In evidence to the Finance Committee, Zero Tolerance said:

"As far as violence against women is concerned, there is a mismatch between strategising at national level and what happens on the ground. Single outcome agreements do not reflect the priority that has been given politically to tackling violence against women over the past 10 years. Services have been cut and withdrawn. As soon as ring-fenced funding for tackling violence against women is removed, it is one of the easiest things to go." - [Official Report, Finance Committee, 26 October 2010; c 2570.]

I have seen evidence of that in my constituency, where local authority funding for Edinburgh Women's Aid has dropped by 113,000 in the past three years. Further reductions are expected this year. I heard about that serious concern when I attended Edinburgh Women's Aid's recent annual general meeting. At that meeting we heard a moving speech from a woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse over many years and who, as well as emphasising the funding issues, emphasised the need for further action in the realm of protection. Rhoda Grant's Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill will carry that matter forward significantly. The speaker also highlighted problems to do with the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981, about which I have written to the cabinet secretary.

I am reminded of the old adage about the three Ps that are needed for work to tackle violence against women: provision, which we have talked about; protection, which I mentioned; and prevention, which I mentioned in the context of Zero Tolerance. All three Ps demand our attention and resourcing.

I commend Scottish Women's Aid and GMB Scotland's new together we can stop it campaign, which encourages everyone to take some of the small actions that are needed to fight gender-based violence - actions that can, collectively, have such a powerful effect. I join members in congratulating Scottish Women's Aid on its 35th anniversary and I acknowledge the sterling and invaluable work that it has done over three and a half decades.

I will finish by mentioning a far more recent campaign - white ribbon Scotland. Ultimately, violence against women has to be a men's issue. Until men start challenging other men on how they speak about gender issues, and until men speak out against the gender-based violence that goes on around them, it will be hard to achieve the cultural shift that is necessary to stamp out violence against women for good.
December 23rd 2010 (Column 31931-3)