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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Statement, Urgent Question, Portfolio Question Time, Primary Care, Cost of Living: Mortgage Rescue Scheme, NHS Forth Valley, Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women


Contents


International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06299, in the name of Pam Gosal, on recognising international day for the elimination of violence against women. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November, and the 16 Days of Activism following this, which run from 25 November to 10 December 2022, Human Rights Day; recognises that the 2022 global theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”; notes the view that this is an opportunity to come together with the global women’s movement to call for an end to gender-based violence; further notes reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG); believes that VAWG remains the most pervasive human rights violation worldwide; understands that it affects more than an estimated 1 in 3 women; notes that it is estimated that on average a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes across the globe; welcomes that, during the pandemic, UN Women, women’s rights organisations and others acted with urgency to secure policy changes aimed at eradicating VAWG; believes that there is growing evidence that VAWG is preventable; commends the hard work of organisations and individuals that aim to eradicate any and all forms of violence against women, and notes the view that Parliament should do everything in its power to contribute to the work to stop violence against women and girls.

18:21  

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

It is an honour to bring to the chamber this debate to mark the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls, which will take place on Friday 25 November, followed by the 16 days of activism. This year’s theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”.

Thanks to our dedicated police force and our endlessly dedicated third sector organisations, women in Scotland have a voice. The drive to make the world a safer place for women and girls gains more momentum every year, and this year is no different. As always, there remains a hard battle to be won, whether that is against anti-feminist movements, human traffickers or lone abusers, but women will not back down. We can look, for example, at the bravery and resilience of the Iranian women who are protesting following the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini. They are fighting for their freedom, and today we all stand in solidarity with them.

The United Kingdom is a leader in women’s rights, and we cannot afford to go backwards or to be complacent.

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Is the member aware of comments that were reported today from a leading United Nations official, who warned that the Scottish National Party’s gender self-identification bill risks endangering women and called for it to be put on hold?

Pam Gosal

I thank the member for her intervention, as that is a very serious point. It is deeply concerning that the United Nations expert on violence against women has expressed her concerns about legislation that is passing through this Parliament right now. After months, if not years, of the SNP telling women that their concerns about the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill were imaginary, the United Nations has confirmed that the bill could

“potentially open the door for violent males ... to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate”

and that it

“presents ... risks to the safety of women”.

I take the opportunity, in this debate about eliminating violence against women, to urge the SNP, if it will not listen to the concerns of women, campaigners or even its own members, to listen to the United Nations experts and not bring in any law that might harm the rights or safety of women. As I said, we cannot afford to go backwards.

The “Recorded Crime in Scotland” statistics for 2021-22 provide a bleak snapshot of the dangers facing women and girls in Scotland. For example, they show that the number of sexual crimes soared by 15 per cent on the year before, and there has been a 96 per cent rise since 2012. Worse yet, fewer of those sexual crimes are being solved. I acknowledge the efforts that have been made to develop policy to tackle violence against women and girls. However, that policy clearly does not go far enough.

Women should not have to walk home with their keys rammed between their knuckles in case they come across an assailant, but we do. Women should not have to walk the long way home to avoid quiet areas and blind spots, but we do. Women should not have to watch for shadows cast on the path as they walk home, but we do. Until we do not, we cannot stop looking for new ways to tackle violence against women and girls.

That brings me to my next area of focus: domestic abuse, which often takes place much closer to home. Last year’s domestic abuse statistics were shocking. In 2020-21, more than 65,000 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by Police Scotland. Even more tragically, about half of those incidents were committed by reoffenders. Throughout the year, I have engaged with countless domestic abuse organisations and individuals, one of whom said to me that they cannot understand how an abuser is able to ruin so many lives and get off so lightly for their crimes.

That is exactly why I brought forward my proposal for a domestic abuse prevention bill. If one thing is clear, it is that a register must be created to stop perpetrators moving from area to area, and from victim to victim. We need to do more to ensure that rehabilitation is no longer a postcode lottery. We must also improve the data that we collect on domestic abuse in order to understand the support and services that are required in different communities, because one size does not fit all. That is the case for black and minority ethnic individuals and disabled individuals in particular. The final thing that we need is education. Children must be taught at a young age that domestic abuse is wrong. They need to know what an unhealthy relationship looks like, and they need to be aware of the support services that are available to them.

I thank every organisation and individual who has taken the time to complete my consultation, which has now closed. As I have outlined, there is a clear-cut case for doing more, and I hope that all members will give my bill proposal due consideration.

I end with this. First, I recognise the endless activism of the third sector organisations that are there to fight the corner of victims. Secondly, I call on members to unite together, in the knowledge that our efforts will make a difference to the lives of women and girls around the world. Last but not least, we must all commit today to do more to be their voices. We cannot give up—we must eradicate violence against women and girls.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It will not surprise members to learn that there is an awful lot of interest in this evening’s debate. I would be grateful, therefore, if members could stick broadly to their time allocations. With that, we move to the open debate.

18:28  

Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I am grateful to Pam Gosal for bringing to the chamber this debate on recognising the importance of the international day for the elimination of violence against women. Even though I have had my own challenging experiences in the past, I am very sensitive to the fact that many women around the world face much more deadly threats and repression than anyone in our country of Scotland will have experienced.

I therefore dedicate my speech to the courageous women and girls of Iran. They display a quite remarkable heroism by standing against repression and brutality. Their cause is admirably summed up in their cry, “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi”, or “Women, Life, Freedom”. Throughout history, Iranian women have participated in national protests. Today, they are leading the way by confronting the Iranian regime’s abusive and repressive treatment of women and girls. Regrettably, the Iranian Government is responding with lethal force.

The brutal killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by Iran’s so-called morality police has sparked nationwide protests. In violent crackdowns, the regime is trying to crush calls for the human rights of women to be recognised.??Since 19 September 2022, more than 100 civilians, including at least 23 children, have been killed with impunity. It seems unimaginable that scores of women and children are being brutally murdered by cowardly men to protect the immorality of a brutal regime.

It is not only the evil of the killings that concerns me. Countless numbers are being thrown into prison to face torture. As Sonya Angelica Diehn has recently written,

“In Iran, men and women are ‘equal’—only in torture”.

Torture is a standard method of the regime. Direct physical torture includes whippings, being hung by the hands for lengthy periods and being forced to sit for many hours with hands tied together behind the back. As part of systematic psychological torture, techniques include total isolation for weeks or even months, enforced sleep deprivation, threats of sexual violence and threats of violence towards family. Those acts are happening as we speak.

The former UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Professor Rashida Manjoo, revealed in her report of October 2013 that torture in Iranian prisons included men raping virgins prior to execution. That women and young girls are therefore brave enough, in such a society, to throw off their headscarves and confront the violence of state police is extraordinary—those are extraordinary acts of bravery. Courage is, indeed, calling to courage in Iran.

We need as many international voices as possible to put pressure on the Iranian regime to end all torture. I add my voice to that of Pam Gosal, and I hope that other members who are participating in the debate feel able to add their voices. For this international day for the elimination of violence against women, let us all join in the Iranian rallying cry for women, for life, for freedom: “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” indeed.

18:31  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank Pam Gosal for nominating this important topic for a members’ business debate. I apologise to her and to other speakers; I did not realise that we had gone on so late tonight, so I cannot remain for the whole debate, but I really wanted to speak in it.

On 25 November, we observe the international day for the elimination of violence against women. On this day, we are reminded of all the women and girls who are victims of male violence, and we are reminded of the urgent need to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls.

On Friday, Scottish Labour will launch our consultation on changing the future for women and girls, simply because we want to be part of the conversation about how we can change things for all time. Like other members, I applaud the bravery of the Iranian women who are marching in the streets. However, I add that there are many other women in other countries who are also being brave—for example, by speaking out under the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, and in many other countries around the world where girls are not given an education and where they are treated appallingly as an extension of widespread global discrimination against women and girls.

Gender-based violence is one of the most systemic and socially tolerated human rights violations of our time. Global estimates that the World Health Organization published in 2021 indicate that one in three women worldwide will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. At least one in ?ve women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse, and an average of six rapes are reported every day. Shockingly—I am sure that we have debated this before—only 7 per cent of reported rapes and attempted rapes made it to court in Scotland in 2020-21. Figures that the Scottish Government released yesterday reveal that the number of reported sexual crimes was 6 per cent higher than it was in the year ending September 2021. It is worrying that that trend is, unfortunately, rising.

The question that we must answer is: how are we going to tackle the root cause of that? The root cause will be the same in Scotland as it is in the rest of the world. I know that the Minister for Equalities and Older People, and probably all of us, will share this view, but we need to continue to return to that question. There is an epidemic of misogyny and inequality across our society. Research has shown that socially constructed gender norms that socialise boys and men to value hierarchy, aggression, power, respect and emotional suppression might be a primary root cause of violence against women.

In such debates, I always feel, even when I am literally in my last minute, that I have not really said anything at all, but l must conclude. I could go through more shocking statistics. For me, however, the most important thing is that the Parliament must continue to do the work to identify the root causes. We know that boys of a certain age—we have seen this time and again—mimic the behaviour of other males. In a sense, we have to break that cycle and the cycle of young girls being harassed, arguably, more now than they were in my generation. Figures show that they are harassed while going to school, and the advent of social media has meant that many of them are under pressure to send nude photographs of themselves as a normalised part of growing up. That should not be normal, and it is not acceptable behaviour in schools.

I know that Christina McKelvie and Shona Robison will talk about the work of the equally safe programme. I support that programme, and I would like it to be extended to every school. I make one request, if I may, as I would like to see this in action: we must work together to eradicate violence against women and girls.

18:36  

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I, too, thank my colleague Pam Gosal for bringing to the chamber this important debate. I absolutely associate myself and my party with the comments from Michelle Thomson about the heroism and tragedy that we see taking place in Iran, and with what Pauline McNeill said about the bravery of women who are fighting similar battles in so many countries around the world.

Pam’s campaigning work on domestic abuse and violence is a shining example of the good that this Parliament can do. Her proposed bill to create a domestic abuse register should be commended and supported by MSPs on all sides of the chamber. The proposal, which is strong, well intentioned and well considered, would introduce a system along the same lines as the sex offenders register. People who commit violence in the home would be added to the database by a sheriff; police officers would then have access to that information about those who pose such a risk.

Police Scotland already operates such a scheme: it is called the disclosure scheme for domestic abuse Scotland, and it gives people the right to ask about the background of their partner. However, Pam’s proposed register, which is still being shaped, might go even further, and I hope that it does. I strongly believe that transparency should be central to our justice system. Secrecy and closed doors are a feature of so many of the scandals in which victims have been let down. There should be no hiding place for people who commit domestic violence and abuse. Pam has already highlighted the scandal that one in three women—

Mr Findlay, I know that it is a members’ business debate and therefore slightly more informal, but I encourage you to use full names rather than just first names—thank you.

Russell Findlay

Apologies, Presiding Officer—I did not realise that that was the form.

Pam Gosal has already highlighted the scandal that one in three women suffer violence—it is a global problem. As my colleague said, we should not lose sight of the fact that Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are at the forefront of women’s rights. That is as true today as it has been historically. However, it is a problem that we can do more to tackle.

Women in Scotland still face discrimination, misogyny, abuse and violence every day. It seems that every week I speak with women who have been through the horrors of sexual assault or rape; women who have been stalked or preyed on or who have had their drinks spiked; and women who have had their lives trashed by abusers with revenge porn, emotional abuse or everyday, low-level harassment. Just this afternoon, I met the chief constable of the British Transport Police, who told me that an estimated 75 per cent of sexual offences on our railways pass unreported.

Many women share a belief that Scotland’s justice system does not always live up to the values that it likes to espouse, and I agree. Right now, our justice system remains stacked against victims. The Parliament could act more decisively to tackle violence against women. We could increase sentences for violent and sexual crimes. We could ensure that people who commit unspeakable acts serve their full sentences. We could end automatic early release. We could increase pitifully low rates of conviction for sexual assaults and rapes. We could make the justice system more understanding and compassionate. We could prevent sex offenders changing their names and, indeed, their gender. We could ensure that courts deliver justice much more quickly. We could prevent men exploiting the courts to prolong their abuse, and we could pass Pam Gosal’s proposed domestic abuse register bill. If any member, and any party, in the Parliament wants to progress any of those policies to end violence against women, her bill is a good place to start.

I hope that we will step up and use our powers to end violence against women.

18:40  

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I am pleased to speak today to recognise the international day for the elimination of violence against women. I thank Pam Gosal for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts that are directed at an individual or individuals on the basis of their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, abuse of power and harmful norms. Violence against women is any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women and girls. Those definitions demonstrate that violence against women occurs both privately, within families and communities, and publicly, perpetrated or condoned by the state.

Since the pandemic began, 45 per cent of women report that they or a woman who they know have experienced a form of violence. Lockdowns, increased isolation and economic uncertainty exposed women and girls to increased rates of domestic violence and child marriage. Violence against women remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations around the globe. Impunity, stigma and shame result in underreporting and failures to address problems.

In Scotland, the death of Adrienne McCartney, as reported in the Sunday Post last week, shows the horrific consequences of structural failings to address violence against women. It is heartbreaking to read the litany of failures of the public authorities that were supposed to protect her. I am sure that members in the chamber will join me in extending our deepest sympathy to Adrienne’s family and friends.

Action is needed. We need recognition that women suffer directly and indirectly from male violence and biased, patriarchal systems. I turn to the situation that women and girls in Afghanistan face. It is now more than a year since the Taliban returned to power, and women and girls in Afghanistan are being systematically excluded from public life. Human rights violations against women and girls are increasing. Girls are no longer allowed in school past sixth grade; women are barred from most jobs and are effectively eliminated from political participation; and women face increased restrictions on their movements and bodies.

Removing education from girls violates their right to education and creates lifelong adverse consequences. Manizha, a teacher, said to UN Women,

“I ask the international community to listen to Afghan women”.

I say that we hear you, Manizha.

From a counsellor who helps women to heal from trauma and enrol in literacy and vocational training to a human rights defender who has stayed in Afghanistan to help women, Afghan women continue to unite, forming new civil society groups and reopening businesses—all under constant threat of violence.

I turn to Iran, where a women-led protest movement demanding political freedom is persisting, as Michelle Thomson has highlighted. In addition to laws on women’s clothing, the Government of Iran has ratified a law that criminalises abortion and restricts family planning. Catalysed by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, women-led protesters are pushing back against increasing Government control over women’s lives.

When we spoke in the chamber for international women’s day in March, our thoughts were with the women of Ukraine. Nine months on, the impacts of war continue to affect women and girls disproportionately. A UN report highlights that school-age girls are at higher risk of being forced out of school and into marriage. Women face food insecurity, increased care responsibilities and a heightened risk of sexual violence.

Around the world, civil society organisations, women’s networks and human rights defenders are working tirelessly to combat violence against women. Efforts to end violence against women must be inclusive and intersectional, paying attention to the multiple discriminations that many women face, including women with disabilities and LGBT+ women. Together, let us unite in activism to end violence against women and girls.

18:45  

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Pam Gosal for bringing the debate to the chamber. One of my first speeches last year was in the debate on eliminating violence against women. I remember in my speech reflecting on the fact that, although the work around the globe on the issue is to be commended and is essential, it must make us think. We, the elected members in this Parliament, have a responsibility to work hard, make decisions, make action happen and ensure that we do not have to make the same remarks in years to come. I am here speaking again to ensure that we in the Scottish Parliament do all that we can to raise awareness, change and implement suitable laws, and amplify the voices of women and girls.

The theme this year is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”. I again thank Pam Gosal for allowing us to do just that here, in the chamber.

As the motion says, violence against women and girls continues to be one of the “most pervasive” human rights violations worldwide. The statistics are damning:

“it affects more than an estimated 1 in 3 women ... it is estimated that on average a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes across the globe”.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports from people on the front line have shown that all types of violence against women and girls—particularly domestic violence, as we have heard—have intensified.

Each woman who is a victim of violence must be treated equally and fairly by an establishment that understands, or at least seeks to begin to understand, why they have gone through it. We need a global collective effort to prevent it, and we need to understand that everyone has a role to play. That begins with accepting that the problem is a serious one around the globe and that we do not have it under control. That means more honesty from Governments, and it means direct engagement with grass-roots organisations, health and recovery charities and global institutions. It means having prevention strategies focused on early education, respectful relationships and working with men and boys, especially through and in the media, the sports industry and the world of work. As my colleague Pauline McNeill has mentioned, the social media aspect is coming much more to the fore. We must tackle the issue in Scotland and right around the globe.

As parliamentarians, we must push to ensure women’s representation at all levels in politics, economic development, governance and planning—the list is endless—but, until women and girls have full and equal representation, it is unlikely that we will change what are dreadful statistics.

There is so much to be done, but I thank my colleagues here today, who have raised some really important issues about violence against women and girls from right around the globe. I know that we can unite in the Parliament to end this outrageous blight on global society, ensuring that we tackle violence against women and girls.

18:48  

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I am grateful to Pam Gosal for securing the debate, and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this topic, two days before the international day for the elimination of violence against women and the 16 days of activism. I also thank all those organisations and agencies that work day in and day out to support survivors. I refer colleagues to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

The existence of this official day is perhaps a sign of progress—that the reality of violence against women and girls is being recognised by institutions and decision makers—but how much of a picture are we really seeing? What image arises when we think of gender-based violence? Is the woman cis and straight, with all her papers in order, dressed and behaving appropriately? And her attacker: is he a stranger to her, a man without authority and not in uniform, visibly unreliable, criminal or monstrous? We know that not all violence against women follows that pattern; yet, the more it deviates from that image, the less sure we are of how wrong it is.

The UN web page for the day recognises that and identifies women who are particularly likely to be attacked—not the meekly respectable but the outsiders, including

“women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, migrants and refugees”.

It is no coincidence that people with such identities suffer societal prejudice and oppression, for the problem of violence against women is not one of isolated incidents that are perpetrated by individual men of intrinsic evil; such incidents are symptoms of a deeper disease, which is a disease not just of misogyny but of homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and a visceral fear of difference and of sharing privilege and status. Worse than that is that such incidents are in reality a harvest—the expected outcome of seeds that are planted, watered and fed not only by men, not only by the tabloid press, not only by populist demagogues and not only in countries that we think of as regressive or repressive.

The UN recognises that violence against women is not perpetrated only by strangers. We know that it comes from intimate partners, families and lawfully constituted authorities. The women, including trans women, who are more likely to experience violence generally are also more likely to be survivors—or, tragically, not survivors—of these embedded, disguised and often hidden attacks.

Trans women are as likely as cis women are to be attacked, in any context, because they are women, but they are also highly likely, as are trans men and non-binary people, to be attacked because they are perceived as trans or as gender nonconforming. Domestic abuse in all its forms, including coercive control, is experienced by many trans women, and transphobia is yet another weapon in the abuser’s armoury. Trans women are not only more likely to be in precarious financial situations, unemployed or underemployed, and in legal limbo regarding their gender status; they also face huge barriers in accessing support and shelter, whether that is from medical, law enforcement or third sector agencies.

Those vulnerabilities, those precarities and those barriers are—make no mistake—the direct result of false and misleading narratives that are still being constructed and disseminated by mainstream media and by elected politicians. Those narratives do not have to be openly transphobic to be deeply damaging to all trans and non-binary people and to many cis women who do not conform to gatekeepers’ ideas of what a woman should look and sound like. While lip service is paid to the idea of a “genuine trans person”, the underlying message is that trans women are intrinsically unsafe and untrustworthy. There is, indeed, a danger, but it is one existing for, not created by, our trans sisters.

The theme of this year’s UN day and the 16 days of action that follow it is “UNITE!” During these weeks of our parliamentary business, my most heartfelt hope is that we can, indeed, unite in distinguishing reality from rhetoric and in recognising and combating both particular and structural forms of violence.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

As I said earlier, there is a lot of interest in the debate. Given the number of members who still want to participate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3 of standing orders, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Pam Gosal]

Motion agreed to.

18:53  

Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

It is a pleasure to follow Maggie Chapman’s speech. I am pleased to speak in this debate to recognise the international day for the elimination of violence against women on 25 November and the 16 days of activism that follow it. The United Nations declares—rightly—that

“Violence against women and girls ... is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today”

and that it

“remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.”

The theme for 2022 is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”. The theme makes it clear that supporting and investing in strong and autonomous women’s rights organisations and feminist movements is key to ending violence against women and girls.

In preparation for my speech and in recognition of the main theme, I took time to speak to one of the women’s aid groups in my constituency. Clydebank Women’s Aid has been providing emotional and practical support and refuge for women, children and young people subjected to domestic abuse for 41 years. I asked what it wanted the Parliament to know. The group is clear that dedicated days of action extend beyond 16 days of the year. Women, children and young people who experience abuse need more than 16 days of action. They live with male violence 365 days of the year. Some of them will live with lifelong implications and several others will be murdered.

The reality for women, children and young people remains unchanged, with barriers limiting women’s options. Clydebank Women’s Aid points out strongly that we need to ensure that enough refuge spaces are available for women. Refuge is vital when women flee domestic abuse and a lack of spaces might mean that they have no option but to stay. The group is keen that we recognise that the current cost of living crisis will impact on a woman’s ability to flee. The more economically deprived that women are, the fewer the financial choices that they have available to them.

Women deserve specialist women’s aid services that are underpinned by feminist analyses of domestic abuse, and the cost of living crisis might impact upon that. To support that, Clydebank Women’s Aid calls on the Scottish Government to guarantee ring-fenced funding for the women’s aid network in Scotland.

During my 19 years as a councillor, I formed a good relationship with Clydebank Women’s Aid. It is a strong part of a strong partnership and policy platform that aims to support women and change societal attitudes. As part of that approach, West Dunbartonshire Council became the first social landlord in Scotland to introduce a zero-tolerance policy on domestic abuse in its properties. The council introduced measures that ensure that victims have immediate access to practical help and specialist legal assistance and support following any incident of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse can have a devastating and long-term impact on a woman’s life. It can result in homelessness, isolation, loss of earnings, physical and mental health problems, injuries and even death. Living with domestic abuse can seriously affect a child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, undermine their relationship with their mother and have other negative consequences.

Research by UN Women showed that 45 per cent of women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence against women and girls. Seven women in 10 say that they think that verbal or physical abuse by a partner has become more common. Those statistics are unacceptable.

There are a number of welcome initiatives in place that are making a difference, and important legislative changes were made by the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. Those are all important to the aim of eliminating violence against women and girls but, as the “UNITE!” campaign points out, uniting with groups such as Clydebank Women’s Aid will be key to the success of that aim. The silencing of women through violence must end.

18:58  

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

Like others, I extend my thanks to Pam Gosal for bringing the motion before the chamber. It is a powerful motion that talks about some of the most horrendous activities that happen around the world.

I was immediately caught by the statistic that one woman in three has experienced violence. As the UN has pointed out, it is probably the most pervasive of human rights violations that occur around the world. That figure of one in three struck me because of debates that I have had the privilege to listen to in the past.

Of course, 25 November is the anniversary of the death of Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa, the Mirabal sisters, in the Dominican Republic. Those three sisters stood up against a dictatorship and the violence that was being directed specifically at women. They paid the ultimate price in their murder, but then there was the horror of the dictator and his henchmen trying to cover it up to make it look like an accident. I recall the powerful words of Minerva, who said:

“If they kill me, I’ll reach my arms out from the tomb and I’ll be stronger.”

She was stronger, and women are stronger for this day and because of the experiences that they have lived through.

Pam Gosal spoke about the role of education. I am extremely concerned that we are failing the women who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence within our higher education institutions, as was so accurately described by Beatrice Wishart. We must do more to prevent sexual assault in all forms and we must support victims. In January, the Scottish Government said that universities should be places where students can study free from sexual harassment and gender-based violence. We must see more action on that.

The motion, which refers to the coming 16 days of activism, talks about work that can be done. Heriot-Watt University is participating in the White Ribbon campaign. At Edinburgh Napier University, staff have pocket-sized cards giving information about how to respond to a disclosure of gender-based violence, equipping staff and empowering students with the knowledge that they need. At the University of Edinburgh, the Consent Collective is working to get that community talking about consent, sex, gender, sexual harassment and relationships, using supportive language in a supportive environment. At the University of St Andrews, there is a compulsory orientation module that requires students to learn about consent and sexual assault before matriculating. That is an important step, given the childhood experiences that we have heard about and the mental health challenges that those cause for young people who have seen sexual violence.

I pay particular tribute to the work of EmilyTest. That project, born out of tragedy, is doing incredible work to tackle gender-based violence in education. There is now a gender-based violence charter for colleges and universities. Educational establishments must be safe for everyone. We must make them safe for our women and girls, because, at the moment, they are not. We have heard sufficient evidence in this debate alone to say that more must be done.

I end—harking back to the quote about reaching from the grave to become stronger—with a recent quote from East Lothian Councillor Colin McGinn, who recently said something that speaks to where every man should be and is an idea that I hope that we can take forward in the next 16 days:

“It is appalling that in our modern and enlightened times, violence against women and girls remains a reality for so many. It’s not a remote issue, it’s not something that happens elsewhere, to other people that you don’t know. It’s happening right here, in our East Lothian communities, right now.”

19:02  

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank my colleague Pam Gosal for securing this important debate.

I am currently dealing with the case of a man who assaulted multiple partners and traumatised his own children so much so that he was given a permanent no contact order. He was also given community service, probation and counselling but no jail time. None of that had any impact on his behaviour. He breached his probation by entering into a relationship with my constituent and becoming a step parent to her children. It was not long before his campaign of abuse escalated: he began throwing the children along hallways, grabbing them by the throat or hair and dragging them upstairs by their ears. He received a non-harassment order and was told not to contact the mother or children. He ignored that, getting accomplices to stalk her and break windows in the family home. They had to flee to a safe house.

Although little to nothing happened to that abuser, the trauma for the family continues. The experiences that they suffered have changed them. The family spoke about how that person’s actions have affected the children, and it is clear that the domestic violence that the children endured has severely traumatised them. The situation has not improved. The woman says that her son has changed beyond recognition, going from being a youngster who gave everyone hugs, had a great sense of humour and looked out for his younger sister to being one who recently attacked and seriously hurt his younger brother.

The family talked about burying their heads in their hands and crying over what has been taken from them by a serial abuser who has no remorse and who mocks Scotland’s justice system while going about his daily business.

Regrettably, that family is just one of many in Scotland who are affected by domestic abuse daily. I am therefore pleased to see Pam Gosal’s proposal for a domestic abuse register bill.

Violence against women and girls has no place in our society. Ultimately, we want to create a society that eliminates violence against women and girls. It is also our responsibility to establish a system that effectively deters and punishes potential abusers and unconditionally supports victims.

To finish, I will touch on the need to support victims of domestic violence. Reem Alsalem, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, has written a letter on the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, about which she has raised a number of concerns. She said:

“For persons identifying as women, the certificate would create a legal presumption that they have the right to access women-only services, across Scotland ... such proposals would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process”.

She continued:

“a failure to provide single sex spaces to female survivors of male violence”

leads to

“self-exclusion from support and refuge services.”

She also said:

“While I commend the Government for listening to the voices of transwomen, including organizations that represent them, I am concerned that the consultations for this proposal do not appear to have been sufficiently inclusive of other groups of women, most notably female victims of violence. It has been reported that five survivors of male violence approached”

the Scottish Parliament Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee

“to speak in a private session about their concerns in relation to the Bill and their own experiences of self-exclusion. The convenor reportedly informed the group that the Committee did not have time to see them and to put their objections in writing.”

If the Government truly wants to help victims, it needs to listen to all parties; when introducing new bills, it needs to listen to all points of view; and when members of its party raise concerns with it, it needs to listen. Otherwise, we will bring in bad law, with untold unintended consequences.

19:07  

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Pam Gosal on securing the debate and all who have contributed to it. The purpose of the debate is to recognise and bring focus to the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls, which takes place on Friday, and to the following 16 days of activism, which run until 10 December, which is human rights day.

As has been said a number of times, the World Health Organization estimates that, globally, almost one in three women are subjected to partner violence. It is perhaps more shocking that the statistic is similar for Scotland: one in three women and girls in Scotland experience the threat and the reality of physical violence. Those are statistics, but they are about real people and real women.

However, many of those victims are hidden. I will speak about one of those women, who has already been referred to by Beatrice Wishart: Adrienne McCartney, whose experience was recounted in an article on 3 October 2021 in the Sunday Post by Marion Scott. On that occasion, Adrienne McCartney spoke in her own words about a series of failures by the police and the prosecution service that she said had shattered her trust in Scotland’s justice system. She described an on-going campaign of abuse and harassment from her estranged husband, and she claimed that officers had dismissed her fears for her family’s safety. Eventually, her husband was charged and received a £450 fine and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service apologised for errors.

More shockingly, however, Adrienne is no longer with us. She was found dead as a result of taking drugs that she had initially been prescribed—powerful painkillers that she was taking as a result of injuries to her arm, which her husband had caused in a violent outburst—and alcohol. Her family are of the clear view that her death was a direct result of her treatment by the police and prosecution services. Unfortunately, Adrienne was only one of many women who can recount similar experiences. Members of this Parliament have to reflect on the fact that, despite all our debates, we continue to fail women and girls in Scotland.

Last week, an inquest in England found that the police had made errors that contributed to the deaths of Raneen Oudeh, aged 22, and her mother, Khaola Saleem, aged 49, in Solihull in 2018. Many of us will have heard Raneen Oudeh’s call to the police asking for help, as it was widely circulated in the media.

I congratulate everybody who contributed to the debate today, but we all have to reflect that, despite these debates, the threat that we face is probably getting greater. Both Martin Whitfield and Pauline McNeill have spoken about the experiences of girls and young women. Over the coming period, and particularly during these 16 days of action, we need to reflect on what we can do to ensure that we truly take the action that is required to eliminate violence against women and girls in this country and, indeed, worldwide.

19:11  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I congratulate my colleague Pam Gosal on securing this members’ business debate.

Every year, we mark the start of 16 days of activism against violence against women and girls. This year, the campaign theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, to ensure that girls and women are supported. It will also promote the leadership of women and girls, to increase their participation in democracy around the world. Initiatives along the lines of the ask her to stand campaign have a role to play in that promotion. However, it is clear that much more needs to be done to increase the number of women in positions of power.

There are many risk factors associated with violence against women, including poverty and isolation, which have been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, women are already reporting significant increases in violence against them in countries around the world.

The sad truth is that Scotland has not been immune from the effects of the pandemic in that regard. We know that domestic abuse charges are at a five-year high. Alarmingly, organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have reported huge increases in demand for their front-line services. Funding is crucial, and given the need at present, as we go through the cost of living crisis, more and more people will be requiring support.

Projects in my region such as Fife Women’s Aid and the Kingdom Abuse Survivors Project have received funding in the past but will require more to maintain and sustain their services. I look forward to hearing assurances from the minister that that funding will be made available in the coming months and years. Many such organisations will say that the effects of the pandemic are being felt across the sector.

We also know that there is a court backlog of thousands of domestic violence cases, of which a high percentage involve allegations of sexual violence. Currently, some victims are waiting up to three years between reporting their abuse and seeing their case come to court. Scottish Women’s Aid has warned that that risks undermining women’s confidence in our justice system. We cannot allow that to happen. Women should not be fearful of the length of time that cases will take. I hope that I am wrong in thinking that that situation will continue, but I fear that I will be right about that unless urgent action is taken to tackle the backlog.

Violence against women is not just an issue for Scotland; it is a global one. For me, it is also a personal one. My mother was subjected to violence from my father for many years, which I witnessed as a young child. She accepted the abuse for years and blamed herself, before she had the courage to take her three small children out of the situation and became a statistic herself. However, many women and girls do not have the courage to leave their abusive partner, and much more needs to be done to support them to have the courage to leave an abusive relationship.

Few issues are more deserving of parliamentary time than the topic of this evening’s debate. I regret the fact that the debate has to take place at all, but it must, because we need to speak up, and we must ensure that voices are heard and that people sit up and listen.

I pay tribute to Pam Gosal for the work that she is doing on her member’s bill, and I hope that that will have the success that it deserves. It is only through society acting as a whole that we can finally eliminate such violence and ensure that women can live without fear, wherever they find themselves.

19:15  

Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank Pam Gosal for securing the debate. As we approach the international day for the elimination of violence against women 2022, it is a sad reality that gendered violence is still widespread. In Scotland, as we have already heard in the chamber today, one in three women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and an average of six rapes are reported every day.

Women are often subjected to gendered violence from an early age, and a report from the University of Glasgow revealed that sexual harassment is common in Scotland’s secondary schools. That is not only deeply upsetting, or even traumatising, for young girls, but it can mean that generations are growing up with the view that gender-based violence is somehow normal or inevitable. We cannot allow that to continue.

Violence against women is an epidemic. Most women have—or know someone who has—experienced misogyny, assault or violence at the hands of men. It is particularly prevalent among women from minority groups: disabled women in the UK are twice as likely to experience gendered violence; 83 per cent of trans women have experienced hate crime; and black and minority ethnic and migrant women face higher levels of domestic homicide and abuse-driven suicide.

Every one of us, not just in this chamber but across our country, has the responsibility to do everything that we can to end it. That means challenging misogyny when we see or hear it, rather than looking away, as well as educating ourselves and reflecting on our internalised views and perspectives.

In particular, men have a responsibility to do and be better. In order to end the violence, the behaviour and attitudes of men must improve. Of course, that is not to say that all men are violent towards women, but we need male allies to fight the battle with us.

It also means tackling relentlessly the inequalities in income, power and wealth that also drive misogyny. Countless incredible organisations across Scotland are working tirelessly to end gendered violence and support its victims, and I give thanks to them today, especially those in the Glasgow region—such as Glasgow Women’s Aid, the Daisy Project, Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis and Wise Women—for all the invaluable work that they do.

However, that vital work is impacted by short-term funding arrangements, because the funding that many of those organisations receive is due to end by September 2023. That means that they are in a constant cycle of applying for, receiving and reapplying for funding, while operating with standstill or reduced funding from the Government or local authority. That not only means that too much of those organisations’ time is consumed with worrying about funding but distracts from service provision and is costly.

The harm that violence against women and girls causes in Glasgow costs more than £1.18 billion a year to public services and the wider economy, through loss of output. However, the Glasgow standing group on violence against women estimates that properly funding women’s services would save £6.5 million for the public purse each year. The Scottish Government has the power and responsibility to ensure that those organisations are funded properly, and I hope that it will do so.

The Scottish Government and Parliament also have responsibility and authority to act, through the creation of legislation, to protect women and girls and enshrine their rights in law. I support the recommendations of the Baroness Kennedy report and I welcome the Government’s commitment to hold a public consultation prior to introducing a bill to Parliament, which I hope will include a new statutory aggravation of misogyny.

However, the law alone cannot end violence against women. Much more must be done to challenge the misogyny that has become ingrained in society and institutions. Therefore, I support the calls in Baroness Kennedy’s report for the Government to invest sufficient resources in training across the criminal justice system and in front-line agencies, such as schools and colleges, to improve technology and police capacity for recording and reporting, as well as measures to help men and boys to understand misogyny.

Every one of us has a responsibility to do everything in our power to end violence against women and girls. Let us use this international day for the elimination of violence against women and the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to redouble our efforts and work to eliminate gender-based violence and inequality once and for all.

19:19  

The Minister for Equalities and Older People (Christina McKelvie)

I thank Pam Gosal for securing the motion, which recognises the international day for the elimination of violence against women, and for recognising the vital role that men must play in challenging and eradicating violence against women and girls.

I start by picking up on a point that Beatrice Wishart and Katy Clark spoke about. I convey the Scottish Government’s condolences to the family of Adrienne McCartney. As we give our condolences to that family and to Adrienne, I reflect that that gives us the reason why we are all here today—again—hearing, at the outset of our debate, about another woman who has died at the hands of a man.

I also pay tribute to women and girls in Iran and Afghanistan, as did Pam Gosal, Michelle Thomson and Beatrice Wishart. We look at those women in awe, and we send our solidarity and support to them. Next week, there will be a further opportunity during the wider Scottish Government debate to reflect on what more we can all do to ensure that gender-based violence is tackled head on.

Beatrice Wishart and Pauline McNeill say that the root of violence against women is misogyny. We have just heard Pam Duncan-Glancy describe eloquently why we all agree with Baroness Kennedy’s report and why the work to advance legislation on the relevant aggravations is incredibly important. However, the plain fact is that this is not a women’s problem; it is a men’s problem. Men have to step up, and they must play their role in eradicating this blight on our society. Violence against women and girls has no place in our vision for a safe, strong and successful Scotland.

White Ribbon Scotland, the campaign to involve men in tackling violence against women, says that, although most men are not violent to women, many ignore the problem by simply remaining silent. They unwittingly create a conducive context for violence to continue, and that must stop—they must take responsibility.

That is why the initiatives by White Ribbon Scotland that Martin Whitfield described are so welcome and needed. As I look round the chamber, I know in my heart that we all acknowledge that men must recognise that violence against women is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights. Maggie Chapman eloquently gave us many examples in her speech.

The international day for the elimination of violence against women on 25 November marks the launch of the 16 days of activism, and the theme this year is “UNITE!” Over that period, we will come together and unite many times and at many venues across Scotland, including in the Parliament, to recognise the work that is being undertaken day in, day out to tackle and eradicate violence against women. We will also talk about the challenges and about what more we can and must do, individually and collectively, to tackle this failing in society. I know that these are challenging times and that the pandemic and the cost crisis make the lives of victim survivors harder and place enormous pressure on the life-saving services on which many rely.

Let us take this opportunity to reflect on what we still wish to achieve. Let us do that with openness, respect and recognition that others look to all of us to meet the challenges head on. Most importantly, let us acknowledge differences of opinion. We should not let the matter become an opportunity for political point scoring; we should seek common ground. I know that that is the spirit in which the debate is being undertaken.

Tackling and eradicating violence against women is a key priority for the Government. I have championed the issue since the first day that I stepped into this building, and I will continue to do so. We will continue to deliver the societal changes that are needed to ensure that every woman and girl in Scotland lives free from abuse. I therefore echo the sentiment in the motion and all the contributions from everyone today, as we recognise the opportunity to come together with a call for an end to gender-based violence. I would go further, by saying that that is something that all of us should be doing daily. I agree with the workers at Clydebank Women’s Aid who Marie McNair spoke with: this is not just for the 16 days; it is for every day.

We will do all that we can on funding. An independent review of the landscape for women’s services across Scotland is on-going right now, with the aim of making them more sustainable and ensuring that they have the strength to carry on. If members have not yet seen the report on the first six months of the delivering equally safe fund, they should go and look at it. They will be inspired and motivated, and I hope that they will see the difference that the organisations are making, especially when they take an intersectional approach to their work.

Only last week, I met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other key partners to look again at our equally safe strategy, and at how we can galvanise our approach by working collaboratively. As always, I am happy to speak with members about the development of equally safe. I am also aware of the ideas from many members in the Parliament—we have heard many of them this evening—on what we need to do to make a difference. Those ideas can influence policy and our approach as we move forward.

People with lived experience must form the backbone of our policy development. As Carol Mochan said, we must “amplify” their voices. Equally, we need to look at how young people are embedded in the discussion and are better enabled to play their part in developing solutions to the challenges that we face. Pam Duncan-Glancy and Pauline McNeill spoke about schools; I hope that they will be interested in the work of the gender equality task force in education and learning, which I met just today. I am working with the group on that area, so I ask members to look at that. In addition, I pay tribute—as I do at every opportunity that I get—to the work of Fiona Drouet and her charity EmilyTest.

My door is, and will continue to be, open, and I will listen to any ideas about initiatives that further our collective aspiration, just as I am prepared to respond to constructive criticism on what we could be doing better. I await the details of Pam Gosal’s proposed bill with interest—as she knows, because we have discussed it previously.

The debate has highlighted yet again what the Parliament does so well. Members on all sides of the chamber are able to come together in solidarity, with a renewed commitment to tackle violence against women and girls. I acknowledge the appetite for further action to tackle the root causes, and I renew my offer to listen to any views and ideas—many of which have been articulated tonight—about how that might be achieved. It is important that we all leave the chamber with that goal clear in our minds, and that we, as politicians, work together and lead by example.

As many members have done, I, too, take the time to pay tribute to the front-line organisations, the survivors and the campaigners on violence against women and girls, both in Scotland and globally. As we approach the 16 days of activism, we rightly recognise that this is a daily fight that we must win. In the spirit of the women and girls in Iran, therefore, we unite in our cry: “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 19:27.