Austerity is violence against women

‘No level of violence against women and girls is acceptable in modern Britain or anywhere else in the world. . . . As women and as a society we have made great strides but we need to do more to ensure that women and future generations are not held back. My ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls.’[1]

WWAWM- pic Leanne

Theresa May, speaking in her capacity as Home Secretary clearly had lofty ambitions when she made the statement above in 2011. In Britain, there are an average of 1 million female victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) each year[2] whilst 1 in every 4 women will be subjected to this type of abuse in her lifetime[3]. IPV is a factor in 16% of cases of homelessness each year[4]and at least 50% of women who access mental health services are survivors of abuse[5]. I’m using a lot of statistics here, I know. The numbers themselves speak volumes and are provided by governmental sources but we must not forget that behind each statistic is a woman marred by the one of the greatest abuses of trust which can occur in the so-called sanctity of her own home. Awareness of violence against women has certainly increased in the last thirty years but perhaps this has contributed to driving the issue further underground; violence against women is considered by many academics to be the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights violation in the world[6].

IPV has long-suffered from the fact that it occurs largely in a home setting and the separation of the public and private spheres has been venerated as one of the hallmarks of a liberal society since Ancient Greece. [7] What happens in private has generally been considered beyond the reach of the State[8] (unless of course it involves kinky homosexual sex[9]). Indeed a woman’s reluctance or inability to separate herself from a destructive or violent relationship is often seen as ‘mysterious’, and in need of explanation as if it were somehow a defect in her psychology as opposed to her abuser’s.

The statistics used here show that there is a public interest dimension involved in ending IPV and underline the importance of the State having a cohesive strategy to counteract the entrenched stereotyping of women and to ensure the effective prosecution of their abusers. Speaking in 2011, Theresa May envisaged 2015 as the watershed for when a robust commissioning framework for the provision of violence against women and girls services would be introduced which would be also be supported by stable Home Office funding. Data commissioned from only a third of police forces show that ‘community based resolutions’ (where the perpetrator is ‘punished’ by being asked to apologise to the abused) are still being used in over 3000 instances of IPV every year. [10] If the Police, as organs of the State, don’t take IPV seriously, then why would the rest of society?

As a backdrop to these alarming figures we have the ‘Austerity Experiment’ embarked upon ostensibly as a response to the most serious economic crisis to hit Europe since the 1930s[11]. Austerity is now recognised by the UN as a flawed policy as far back as 2013[12]. In the US, a different tact was used – a more Keynesian model which argued that by taking care of unemployment, the economy would look after itself – the need was to stimulate consumption to prevent bankruptcies and low rates of spending. For the US, economists declare this a success, stating that their economy is in a clear upwards trajectory, whereas the countries which imposed austerity have yet to make the inroads to recovery.[13] I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a capitalist and I strongly believe we can create a fairer, more sustainable and more importantly, more human economy by other means. But if we are going to continue with the capitalist regime, can’t we at least look at the empirical evidence and do it right? Austerity is a political and ideological statement. It is unnecessary, even within the constraints of a capitalist regime. This fact does not simply concern economists, the politics of austerity has had a drastic impact on our public services. Simply put, we cannot afford austerity. [14]

In Britain, organisations that help survivors of IPV are often charitable organisations which survive on local government funding. Research shows that local authority funding to such organisations has decreased by 31%[15] as a direct result of the sweeping, all-encompassing cuts. In practice this means that Women’s Aid nationally is forced to turn away over 300 women PER DAY [16] due to a lack of space and lack of resources. Where do these women go? On the streets, or back to their abuser. Respect, an organisation tasked with working to reform male perpetrators of abuse have been forced to make cuts to 78% of their services as a result of a lack of funding. [17] Where do these men go? Back to abusing their partners.

Cuts to the criminal justice system have meant that specialised IPV courts have been forced to close and the Police budget which has been reduced by 20% has led to a loss of so-called ‘Domestic Abuse Officers’. [18]

It has long been argued that in times of great strife IPV increases across all societies.[19] This is not said to absolve perpetrators of abuse from their responsibility for their actions, but merely to illustrate that women are at an increased risk of IPV in times of recession. This phenomenon has already been well-documented in the economic collapse of both Greece[20] and Spain[21]. Women who may be vulnerable to violence against them are thus attacked by the three-headed Cerberus of increased levels of IPV due to economic circumstance, the wonton destruction of appropriate places of refuge and the lack of appropriate funding to allow the Police to investigate and prosecute perpetrators successfully whilst remaining sensitive to the needs of those who have survived abuse.

Time is brief so I will end by calling us to take action by showing our rejection of this failed austerity experiment in all its forms. We must not turn inwards on each other but instead fight this declaration of all-out War on our society in all its forms. Economics needs an injection of compassion, we are not responsible for the deficit, yet we are punished daily. There are other ways to govern.

To quote Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England,

“Never in the field of financial endeavour has so much money been owed by so few to so many.” [22]

[1] Theresa May, Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls. (Home Office) 2011.

[2] Figures derived from 2009/10 British Crime Survey data. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/116347/hosb1210.pdf Last accessed 10th May 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Homelessness and Domestic Violence (Crown Copyright) 2002

[5] Dept of Health, Into the Mainstream: Strategic Development for Mental Health Care for Women. (Crown copyright 2002).

[6] Heise, A World of Abuse. (2012)

[7] C A Mackinnon, Towards a Feminist Theory of the State. 1989

[8] Bassadein. Across the Public/Private Boundary: Contextualising Domestic Violence in South Africa. (2005).

[9] R v Brown [1994] 1 AC 212

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28511862 Last accessed 10th May 2015.

[11] Martin McKee, Marina Karanikolos, Paul Belcher and David Stuckler, Austerity: a failed experiment on the people of Europe. (2012)

[12]  Deputy Executive Director at UN Women John Hendra http://www.unwomenuk.org/askunwomen-the-impact-of-austerity-on-women-and-girls-globally/. Last accessed 10th May 2015.

[13] Martin McKee, Marina Karanikolos, Paul Belcher and David Stuckler, Austerity: a failed experiment on the people of Europe. (2012)

[14] Joseph Stiglitz, US economist and Nobel Prize winner. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/19/no-confidence-fairy-for-austerity-britain. Accessed 10th May 2015.

[15] Professor Sylvia Walby, UNESCO Chair in Gender Research, Measuring the impact of cuts in public expenditure on the provision of services to prevent violence against women and girls. http://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/VAWG-Cuts-Full-Report.pdf. Last accessed 10th May 2015.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] McRobie, https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/heather-mcrobie/austerity-and-domestic-violence-mapping-damage Accessed 10th May 2015.

[19] Ibid.

[20] http://www.theguardian.com/world/greek-election-blog-2012/2012/jun/15/greek-crisis-women-especially-hard

[21] http://revolting-europe.com/2012/11/25/austerity-hurts-women/

[22]Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/mervyn-king-never-has-so-much-money-been-owed-by-so-few-to-so-many-1806247.html. Accessed 10 May 2015.

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