The government have released their strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has called this strategy the next step in honouring the lives of Sarah Everard, Julia James, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. 

Is this what women have been waiting for?

The ‘How?’

This strategy is the biggest acknowledgement, by the government, of Violence Against Women and Girls that the UK has ever seen. It recognises the full scope of what women go through and the many areas of society that influence or cause these experiences.

Rather than centring on change, however, the strategy focuses on the question of ‘How?’

One of the first points made is that the Home Office will invest £3 million to ‘better understand what works to prevent violence against women and girls’.

Right off the bat, the government is admitting that they do not have the answers but that they are committed to finding them. Much of the strategy is dedicated to appointing projects, funds or people to discover what works.

For example, the government is launching a £5 million Safety of Women at Night Fund and giving an additional £25 million to the Safer Streets Fund. However, what the fund will actually be used for is open to interpretation. The government says the funds are ‘open to initiatives’ which will help build a database of evidence and implement changes in public spaces.

The Department for Transport is appointing a Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champion. They will engage with transport operators, local authorises, charities and transport users to find out how best to make public transport safer. The department is also exploring how street design could play a part in personal safety.

Furthermore, the government seeks to improve data collection and sharing throughout all levels in order to enhance its understanding of crimes that target women and girls.

The term ‘review’ features throughout the strategy. For example, an independent reviewer will ‘review the police management of registered sex offenders in the community’. Or the government will ‘review the disclosure and barring regime, which helps ensure employers make safer recruitment decisions’. And, they will review ‘the recommendations of the Law Commission’s review of abusive and harmful online communications’.

So far, the government’s strategy is to review the current system to try and find out why it’s failing women. However, there is not much indication of what specific changes might actually follow these evaluations.

Women Have the Answers

This strategy is based on the government’s comprehensive Call to Evidence on Violence Against Women and Girls.  It was open between 10 December 2020 — 19 February 2021 and then reopened between 12 March — 26 March 2021. In that time, 180,000 women over the age of 16 gave evidence in the form of a public-facing survey, a victim and survivor survey, 16 focus groups and written submissions.

The government want the experiences of women to inform more of their policies. StreetSafe is an app that has been designed to do just that. It gives women and girls the chance to anonymously report any public places where they feel unsafe and to be specific about the reasons for that. All the data gathered will be made available to Police and Crime Commissioners, as well as local authorities, who will then use it to inform their local Policing and Crime Plans.

This strategy is not just about how to physically change society, such as by installing more lampposts and CCTV cameras (although that is important — and has been included). Rather, it’s also about how to change the dismissive culture around the experiences of women.

The strategy highlights that: ‘In the year ending March 2020, of the victims who had experienced rape (including attempted rape) since the age of 16, only 16 per cent reported it to the police, with the main reasons for not reporting being “embarrassment”, that they “didn’t think the police could help” or that they “thought it would be ‘humiliating” ‘.

The StreetSafe app normalises talking about frightening and uncomfortable experiences.

Bringing About ‘Real and Lasting Change’

One of the most hopeful parts of the strategy is the government’s commitment to changing attitudes. The government may have admitted they don’t have all the answers but, they do seem to understand the importance of educating young men and boys.

There is a focus on implementing: ‘programmes in schools, aiming to educate and inform children and young people about violence against women and girls, healthy relationships and the consequences of abuse’.

Despite these promising steps, in its current state, the strategy feels more like a research proposal than an actual working project. Still, this is the first instance when the government has shown real promise to tackling violence against women in any comprehensive way.

Priti Patel believes this strategy will ‘help bring about real and lasting change’. Let’s hope she means it. There is certainly the potential for that level of change but it relies on following through with the said plans to gather more data and evidence. Making it easy, safe and accessible for women to tell their stories will arguably determine the effectiveness of this promising strategy.

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