Saturday, 2 April 2011

Clegg and Cameron sign their names across our hearts

Activist Sian Norris is sending an open letter to a government whose budget has struck at the heart of women's safety, independence, security and employment. The following text is extracted from the letter. To read this powerful piece of writing in full and add your name in support of Sian's activism, click the link here.

I am writing to ask you, as feminists living in the UK, to sign a letter I am writing to Cameron, Clegg, May and Featherstone, regarding the funding cuts to domestic violence support service providers, and the post to combat female genital mutilation. I believe we cannot stand by as the government cut money that saves the lives of women, and provides help and support to some of the most vulnerable women in the country. Therefore I am writing to tell the government about what these cuts mean, and why they cannot happen. And I am asking the leaders to stand by Theresa May's pledge of 'actions, not words' with a promise to donate to the leading charities themselves.

However, I am just one woman, one voice. We need many voices to show the government that they must not do this. So I am asking if you will sign the letter I have written in support of the statement we are making against these cuts. One woman can be ignored. A lot of us are harder to ignore.

Actions, not words. So formed part of Theresa May's speech to the Women's Aid conference after being appointed Home Secretary and Equalities minister, little less than a year ago.


And, in some ways, she was right. Actions have been made, and very few words about them have been spoken. Actions that will result in the deaths, and the physical and mental harm of women all over the country, who are facing the reality of having their life-saving and life-creating services cut, thanks to this coalition government's financial and economic decisions.

It was revealed by Women's Aid on Thursday 31st March that, across the country, 60% of refuge services will have no council funding in the new financial year, and neither will 72% of floating support services, which provide support within people's homes.


These cuts will also lead to 40% job losses.


These cuts mean that 70,000 women and children will be left without the support they need to escape lives of violence. The cuts will reduce refuge places from 400 across the UK, to 160. Every day, 200 women are unable to access a refuge place. These cuts mean that many women will literally have no-where to go to start new lives away from a world of physical, emotional and sexual violence. Their children will have no-where to go. Men in violent relationships will also lose the support that many of these services offer.


Statistics tell us that two women a week will die as a result of domestic violence, and 2,000 women a week are raped. The number of women annually killed by their partner has risen by more than 40% in the past few years, from 72 in 2008 to 104 in 2010. The basic facts are that as a result of these service cuts, more women will be beaten, physically and emotionally. More women will be raped. More women will die.


Women like Tania Moore, whose story was told on BBC Panorama. When Tania Moore left her abusive partner, he continued to stalk her and send her threatening messages, before murdering her in 2004. Her mother has since campaigned to raise awareness of the horrors of domestic violence and stalking.


Or women like Hannah Fisher, whose mother is currently raising money for Refuge to ensure that services which could have saved her daughter exist for future women. Hannah was killed by her former partner when she was 21.

The moment when a woman decides to leave her violent partner is the moment she is most in danger. Without support services in place to ensure a safe space for her to escape to, women are at huge risk of stalking, violence and death. Refuge places save lives, like the life of an anonymous woman who got in touch with me to say how her and her baby fled a violent relationship to find a place in a refuge, and were supported in finding secure accommodation. She says the refuge saved her life.

Actions, not words.

It was also revealed last week that the post created by the government to fight against female genital mutilation in the UK has been cut. This comes weeks after the government pledged to fight this crime, that often leaves women with health problems, pain during intercourse and periods, and increased complications during childbirth. It is an act designed to control women. It is a crime committed against children. This cut suggests that the government has chosen to risk the physical and emotional health of young girls in order to save money. It is hard to get firm statistics about how many young women are affected by FGM, but one charity worker says that of all the young women she works in from the FGM-practising community, nearly all have been cut. It is estimated that 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk of being cut. No-one has ever been prosecuted for practising FGM since it was made illegal in the UK in 2003.


You can ensure that services which save women's lives are safe themselves. You can pledge to invest money and secure funding to protect services that save lives. Supporting the domestic violence sector makes financial sense. Domestic violence costs London alone £2.5 million a day. The average annual income of a Rape Crisis centre is £81,598 – only marginally more the cost to the state of one rape. And it makes moral and social sense. I do not want to live in a society that sacrifices the lives of vulnerable women to make savings. Risking the lives of women to save money is not an option.
Click here to read more and sign.

(c) Text by Sian Norris.