SBS Gives a Cautious Welcome to the Government’s Consultation on a New Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill

Happy International Day to all our sisters everywhere.

Today the government opened its consultation on a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. SBS welcomes the Bill since it provides an opportunity for us to tell the government that we want a comprehensive law that works for all abused women irrespective of their background

In the wake of the ‘#MeToo’ and ‘#Time’s Up’ movements and against the backdrop of unprecedented worldwide feminist struggles for freedom and justice, this Bill provides a timely opportunity to the government to align the Bill to a broader vision of inclusion, human rights and equality.

This consultation comes at a time when we are rightly celebrating the centenary of the suffragette movement but it also comes at a time when migrant women, many of whom have experienced rape and other forms of gender-based violence and torture, are on hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. They are fighting to be free from ill-treatment and inhumane detention. Far from being offered protection and support, the state treats them as criminals and de-humanises them by subjecting them to racism and further trauma. Even more worryingly, they are threatened with accelerated deportations for standing up for their rights. This kind of degradation has to stop. On a daily basis, we are witness to countless migrant women who are subject to violence but who have nowhere to go because they fear deportation and destitution. They are subject to many state-imposed restrictions that only serve to heighten their vulnerability to abuse and violence. This is why we say that if the Bill is to be meaningful, all migrant women abused in their homes, communities and workplaces must be placed at the front and centre of state protection.

We welcome many of the proposals to be included in the Bill but they do not go far enough. As an opening shot, we call on the government to make space for the voices and demands of the most marginalised women in our society. The following are just some of the issues we will be raising in our submission:

  • The Bill must prioritise safety, equality, dignity & liberty for all migrant women. Anything less is discriminatory, unjust & completely antithetical to a civilised, democratic society that claims to respect human rights value.
  • The Bill must extend its definition to include all forms of violence against women and not limit itself to just domestic abuse. There must be an acknowledgement that violence against women forms part of a continuum that also includes harmful practices often justified in the name of culture and religion;
  • The new Domestic Abuse Commissioner must have extensive powers to hold the government to account for institutional failures of implementation and accountability but she must also hold the government to account when it fails to assess the negative impact of current or new laws and policies in other areas such as austerity, housing, immigration and asylum, welfare, legal aid and mental health. Contradictory imperatives in other areas of the law can and do undermine the principle of equal access to protection for all women.
  • The government must rethink the current commissioning funding cultures pursued by many local authorities that have decimated specialist women’s refuges and services, especially those run by secular BME women’s groups. It must call for a return to grantmaking funding structures that prioritises equality and the social value of violence against women services.

We look forward to the public conversations on these and other matters and sincerely hope that this time, the government will not lose the opportunity to turn its rhetoric on safety and support for all survivors into a reality.

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