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Baroness Gale: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for again giving us the opportunity to air issues relating to women and marking their progress. I shall speak today about violence against women.
Violence against women and girls in the United Kingdom is endemic. Almost half of all adult women in England and Wales have experienced at least one incident of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Domestic violence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has the highest rate of repeat victimisation of any violent crime. In 2003, domestic violence alone accounted for a quarter of all violent crime. In 2002, more than 36,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by Scottish police. In England and Wales, the rate of conviction for rape, with some guilty pleas, has decreased from 32 per cent of cases reported in 1977 to 5.3 per cent in 2003 and 2004.
Women between the ages of 20 and 45 who experience rape or sexual assault are most commonly assaulted by a current partner or ex-partner. Violence against women is an important matter to government, not only because of the direct harm it causes to citizens, but because of its costs. Professor Sylvia Walby's research, commissioned by the Women and Equality Unit in 2004, puts the cost of domestic violence to public services and the economy in England and Wales at £5.7 billion. The highest health-related cost of violent crime is rape. Violence causes extensive physical and mental damage, the long-term consequences of which represent costs to the health and productivity of the entire nation for decades.
I acknowledge that this Government have done more than any other government in the UK in recognising forms of violence against women as public policy issues. They are the first government to deal with domestic violence, trafficking of women, sexual offences and prostitution. Yesterday, they launched a new campaign to get men to accept responsibility. I understand that the campaign is aimed primarily at 18 to 24 year-old men and will run in lads' magazines, in pub restrooms and on the radio. This is a really good campaign which shows once again that the Government are prepared to take action to protect women. Is it not time for them to implement a comprehensive strategy to address all forms of violence against women, building on the valuable work they have already done?
I declare an interest as the commissioner for Wales on the board of the Women's National Commission. One of the commission's priorities is violence against women. It is the only issue that has been continually identified by its partner organisations as both a cause
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and consequence of women's inequality. The experience and fear of violence impact on every aspect of girls' and women's lives, from their education to their employment and health. Breaking the cycle of violence should start at an early age.
I mention an organisation based in south Wales called Black and Asian Women Stand Out. It works mainly with black and Asian women in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. One of its innovative schemes is Mentoring Boys. This is aimed at young boys whose mothers have been victims of domestic violence. The boys are mentored by older men, who act as good role models and take them to play football, see a film or take part in other activities. The scheme teaches them that there are good men who respect women. This is one way of breaking the cycle of violence in families.
The Women's National Commission's working group on violence against women has joined more than 50 other organisations across the women's sector to establish the End Violence Against Women coalition campaign. The coalition's message is clear: violence is gendered, and it is possible to stop it by placing it firmly on the equalities agenda as both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.
The coalition's campaign goals are to gain a commitment from the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland to devise and implement a strategic approach to violence against women. Its ultimate ambition is to end all forms of violence against women in the UK and to place violence against women firmly on the equalities agenda, making prevention central to the response; and to raise awareness of the true nature of violence against women in the UK, the levels of violence, the different forms of violence, and the impact on individuals, families and communities.
I warmly welcome the statement by Fiona Mactaggart, a Minister at the Home Office, on the prostitution strategy. Like her, I can imagine a world without prostitution. I can also imagine a world without any forms of violence against women. There is a need to ensure that the issue of violence against women is woven into the government machinery through an integrated approach, and to ensure a sustainable and continued movement over the decades which will be needed to prevent what Kofi Annan has referred to as,
However, it is clear that overall there is room for improvement, in particular in recognising violence against women as an equality issue and in changing attitudes which condone or tolerate it. If governments in the UK were to adopt a strategic approach, it would streamline programmes creating better, more efficient and holistic public services. That would improve immeasurably the experience of women on the ground. It also has the potential to provide massive savings for government in the long term because of the £23 billion cost in England and Wales in relation to domestic violence. In addition, it would mean that the Government had a built-in vehicle to spread the news about the work they are doing. The Government have
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a good story to tell in many areas but they have no coherent narrative on violence against women at present.
The Government have recently consulted on the development of a gender equality duty to tackle systematic discrimination. This is a great opportunity. Despite that, the consultation document has failed to outline the nature and extent of gender inequality in society today, including gender-based violence. The experience of members of the coalition is that there is a limited awareness among public bodies about the discrimination which women experience and of how violence against women is part of this. Without such an understanding public bodies will not be able to implement the duty effectively. Furthermore, there is a danger that promoting equality of opportunity between men and women will be misinterpreted by public bodies to mean "same treatment", as opposed to "appropriate treatment" according to different needs.
It is mainly men who perpetrate violenceand we should not be afraid of saying so, nor to gear services to deal with these realities. However, the Government have decided to make their work on violence gender-neutralunlike Scotland, which has set up a cross-party group on men's violence against women and children which focuses on issues of rape, domestic violence, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the areas of prevention, protection and provision.
Moving towards equality between women and men requires ensuring that they have the same opportunities. That can be achieved only if we analyse and address existing barriers. Research has shown that violence against women continues to constitute a significant barrier. The Government are trying to deal with violence against women. For women to be truly equal and to be able to live in a society where fear of attack, both physical and sexual, is removed should not be regarded as Utopian. It can become a reality. I believe that it will take some time to achieve the aims of the campaign to end violence against women, but it can and should be done. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will consider how the aims of the campaign can be achieved. I look forward to her response today.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, on initiating this important debate. At the same time, I extend my apologies to the Lord President of the Council. I have to leave before the end of the debate due to a prior engagement about which I could do nothing.
First, it has taken a long time for the situation of older women to gain some priority alongside younger women. The feminist movement, which did so much, largely forgot older women for many years. Thankfully there are now initiatives, not least some by the Government, which help to ease the situation. However, stark facts about the change in our society affect older women dramatically. For example, in the
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new stretched family one often has a woman, perhaps in her fifties or a little older, looking after one, and sometimes two, generations above her and one, and sometimes two, generations below her. That is a caring role which was completely unthinkable in the not too distant past. The support systems for such care are still somewhat lacking.
Secondly, older women suffer far more from chronic disease than younger people, and often than older men. We still have a gap in longevity between men and women. That will continue for some time although the equality gap is narrowing. However, at present one could say, I think with some truth, that a lot of older women live longer in more pain. They are poorer and suffer more. Something has to be done to arrest that shameful situation.
Thirdly, I acknowledge that there has been a large input of cash into healthcare. However, there are still areas in which women, in particular older women, suffer through not getting the attention they need and through blatant discrimination. For example, we tend not to recognise that cardiovascular disease affects more women than cancer does. We always tend to focus on men being likely to be sick through cardiovascular disease. It is an area which needs a lot of our attention.
Chronic disease is mostly suffered more by women than men. The cash problems suffered by the NHS mean that in the commissioning of healthcare the primary healthcare trusts will concentrate on the more acute needs of people to the detriment of the chronic, lower order care which is needed by many people in the community. That will disproportionately affect women in the community. I hope that the Government will address that worrying trend.
I shall not attempt to address the issue of social security. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, will do so admirably. It is a huge problem. I refer to the role of grandparents, in particular grandmothers and other extended kin. They save the nation a fortune by stepping in and taking on often full-time care of their grandchildrenand they may not be blood grandchildren. Most of the people who do this caring job are women. I would even say that they are used by some social services or authorities because they do not get the support they need. Some have to spend a huge amount of money which they do not have or which reduces their income to unacceptable levels. We are talking about children with immense problems. We know that families often split up. Grandparents step in but they are treated terribly unfairly in relation to other carers such as foster carers or adoptive parents because they are family. That is gross discrimination. I should love to speak for a very long time but, in the circumstances, I keep my speech very brief.
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