On Thursday the 26th of March, a conference organised by Scottish Women’s Aid took place at the George Hotel in Edinburgh. The theme and named heading of the day was, ‘Violence Against Women (VAW): a Human Rights Violation’. Informal and formal agencies gathered to learn on the progress in combatting women and violence from an International context by Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and on Scottish soil from, Lily Greenan, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, alongside Kaliami, Scotland’s Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The day and year was marked by the 20th anniversary since the Beijing Platform for Action laid out the work that should be undertaken globally to improve and protect women’s human rights. The Platform for Action identified violence against women as one of the critical areas of concern.
Less than a year since her last visit to the UK, UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo stressed the responsibility on all State’s to recognise their role in tackling violence against women.
“It is my hope that we are working on a common quest towards complete elimination of violence against women. My mission to the UK is a starting point; a tool for you in your advocacy and a challenge to us all”.
Manjoo delivered an analysis of International VAW instruments and her own mandate across the globe.
“I rely on CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) to hold governments to account. Being a mandate has allowed me to measure and evaluate in various countries on the adoption of national legislation, including institutional and policy measures. 125 countries do have policy against VAW; however there are no laws in place to guarantee protection or justice that leaves a huge gap”.
Despite the recognition for over four decades that VAW is now characterised as an International human right, soft law developments (quasi-legal instruments that do not have any legally binding force) are a popular method for governments to favour over tougher universal principles.
“Soft laws are convincing, but it is not enough. We need to strengthen laws so States can be legally bound to respond to this violation”.
The CEO of Scottish Women’s Aid, Lily Greenan, welcomed the input of the First Minister to the day.
“It has been twenty years since Beijing and it is such a marked achievement to have the first minister, the first woman to be first minister of Scotland, here on this stage. Nicola is a woman leader, irrespective of her politics; we must applaud this achievement”.
Nicola Sturgeon was in the media headlines days before the VAW gathering, for her immediate actions since her appointment to have a gender balanced cabinet (5 men/ 5 women) to put equality at the heart of the Scottish government.
“I will do everything with the power that I have to advance women’s equality, for however long I am in this position, and within my positions in the future for true gender equality. It’s time for women to break the glass ceiling”.
Nicola made a surprise announcement on the development of a new consultation in the Scottish Government on criminal justice reform which could see an actual criminal offence of domestic abuse and revenge porn.
In Scotland, there were 60,080 reports of domestic violence in 2012/13 (this rose from 59,847 in 2011/12) and 70% of asylum seeing women will experience violence in Scotland”. The number of rapes in 2013/2013 amounted to 1372 reported cases and 90 attempted rapes.
Nicola commented, “I know that changing the law isn’t enough on its own – but it can play an important part in the wider social and cultural changes we want to bring about.”
While the day should be praised on all levels, it does leave behind more confusion of how and where the role of men in gender equality should be placed, including terminology in tackling women and violence – should it be referred to as gender based violence, or women and violence? It would appear that gender neutrality has, in some cases, prohibited the advancement of women’s participation and representation in society, from experiences told by Manjoo by speaking directly with women, and those who were present at the conference. Equal participation of women and men in decision making was also one of the goals of the Beijing declaration and has become an International plea through HeForShe, highlighted by the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson. Personally, I am for the solidarity movement for gender equality; I want men to know they have this responsibility, and to act, alongside women.