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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 26, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 26 November 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Independent Review of Grouse Moor Management, Violence against Women, Tied Pubs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Violence against Women

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23481, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on making Scotland equally safe: marking the annual international day for the elimination of violence against women. I invite members who wish to take part in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.


Violence against women and girls is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. It has to stop and we have to take meaningful action to stop it. This debate marks the annual 16 days of action to tackle gender-based violence across the world, and it is taking place in unprecedented and exceptionally challenging times in the form of the Covid pandemic.

I am happy to accept both amendments to the motion. I am supportive of all the efforts in our communities to encourage increased awareness of domestic abuse and promote an improved understanding of the needs of those experiencing violence and abuse. We agree that community pharmacies have a potentially very important role to play in that—coincidentally, the Minister for Older People and Equalities chaired a discussion this morning around how models to support access to information and help for those experiencing domestic abuse are being utilised in community pharmacy settings.

We recognise the increased risk posed to women and children affected by violence and abuse during this time and the crucial role that refuge and support services play. We also acknowledge that, unfortunately, women continue to lose their lives due to that violence. We are taking forward work to improve multi-agency risk assessment processes for the most at-risk and vulnerable women in our society. We will also shortly commence work to explore domestic homicide reviews in Scotland.

The United Nation’s 16 days of activism is an important opportunity for us to come together, to give new momentum to our ambitions, and to celebrate just how far we have come. However, I do not think that any of us could have predicted or foreseen the climate in which we currently find ourselves. In recognition of the impact of the pandemic, the theme for this year’s UN 16 days is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”, with a focus on Covid-19 response, recovery, and renewal.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has posed—and continues to pose—huge challenges for our society. The economic and social harms being caused by it cannot be understated. We have published regular reports on the impact of Covid-19 on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during phases 1, 2 and 3 of Scotland’s route map. The most recent update was published this month. Those reports make it clear that a number of relevant impacts and risks have emerged since March, including greater risk of domestic abuse due to lockdown; challenges in access to safe housing; constraints in relation to safe spaces; challenges for front-line services in offering support; increased risk of sexual exploitation; and perpetrators being more hidden.

However, it is important to remember that, at its heart, that violence continues to be underpinned by women’s inequality and the attitudes and structural barriers that perpetuate that inequality. Covid-19 has both exacerbated and shone a light on what was already there. I have been saddened but, sadly, not surprised that the risks to women and children affected by violence and abuse have increased during this period, and I am sure that I speak for us all in saying that that is absolutely unacceptable.

That is why we, as a Government, have been tirelessly focused on ensuring that women and children get the help that they need, and that tackling domestic abuse and all forms of gender-based violence continues to be prioritised. At the outset of the pandemic, we were absolutely clear that none of the public health measures introduced should prevent women and children who are experiencing violence from accessing much-needed help, advice, and support. Since March, we have invested £5.5 million in services across Scotland to help rapid redesign and support for victims and survivors during Covid-19. That additional funding has helped to ensure that women and children who are experiencing or who are at risk of violence and domestic abuse have continued to have access to vital help and support.

I take the opportunity to pay heartfelt tribute to all the front-line organisations that have kept their virtual doors open; to our partners in local government, who had to adapt rapidly in response to the needs of victims and survivors; and, indeed, to the breadth of public services that have worked tirelessly to redesign services and ensure that they can respond to those in need of help during this exceptionally challenging time.

As I said, we have undertaken to understand the impact of the pandemic across the sectors. We have used the information and knowledge to ensure than both national Government and local government have instigated arrangements to help co-ordinate a strategic and measured response. The Scottish Government produced guidance early to highlight that public health guidance or rules do not prevent anyone from taking measures to escape or keep themselves safe.

We have worked closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to help develop guidance for local authorities and community planning partners, which aims to ensure that a sustainable, joined-up approach to safeguarding the needs of women, children and young people who experience violence and abuse during Covid-19 is embedded at a local, strategic level. The guidance is intended to support the strong leadership that local government and other key community planning partners across Scotland already demonstrate in ensuring effective protection and provision of support.

Let me clear however, that effective tackling and challenging of that behaviour is not just a responsibility of the Parliament; it falls to everyone in our society to take action to prevent such behaviour. We must work together to achieve success.

Our equally safe strategy has a decisive focus on prevention, seeks to strengthen national and local collaborative work to ensure effective interventions for victims and those at risk, and contains a clear ambition to strengthen the justice response to victims and perpetrators.

In November 2017, we published a delivery plan of practical steps that will take us towards ending that type of violence for good, which sets out 118 actions that we intend to take until 2021. We have already made progress in taking forward many of those steps and I draw members’ attention to the “Equally Safe: final report” that we published on the eve of the 16 days of activism, which details our response to the Covid-19 pandemic and many of our key actions and activities to date.

We continue to emphasise the importance of our primary prevention agenda and are making progress with important whole-system initiatives in schools, workplaces and further and higher education institutions.

We have published a suite of resources to support learning around important issues such as consent and to raise awareness of what a healthy relationship should look like. Those resources include the key messages on healthy relationships and consent for all professionals who work with children and young people and an updated relationships, sexual health and parenthood online resource.

This year, we worked with YoungScot to develop an online resource for children and young people on gender-based violence and on where to go for support. The “That’s not OK” resource launched in September 2020 and YoungScot is working directly with young people to co-design and refine its content.

To educate children and young people and challenge outdated stereotypes is important, but perhaps the biggest challenge is to deliver a societal shift, wherein women no longer occupy a subordinate position to men.

We need to make progress in the advancement of women’s equality in a range of spaces—economic, civic, social and cultural. The work of the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls has made a vital contribution, and a key priority remains engagement with, and response to, its 2018 and 2019 recommendations.

The latter focus of the council has been on the improvement of intersectional gender architecture—the structures that are designed to advance women’s equality and rights such as ministries, regulators, equality laws, duties, indicators, and so on—and to ensure that they actually work for all women and girls. That work should deliver a real step change in how we make gender-competent policy that has a real and tangible impact on the lives of women and girls.

The current climate has also highlighted, however, that we must act here and now to ensure that those who experience violence and abuse get the help and support that they need. In addition to the funding that I mentioned earlier, the Scottish Government is investing more than £12 million from the equality budget this year to support services and tackle the underlying issues that create the conditions for violence. We will also relaunch our delivering equally safe fund next week and invite applications from organisations that deliver work that directly contributes to the objectives of the equally safe strategy.

Nevertheless, and despite the progress that has been made, I recognise that there remains much more to be done, and we will continue to keep up the pace.

As I mentioned, our delivery plan is due to run until 2021, and it marks an opportune moment for us all to reflect on the progress that has been made so far, and think about what equally safe might look like in the future, in terms of both its strategic ambition and plans for delivery. We will be taking forward further engagement on that in 2021. In the meantime, we will continue to progress a number of important actions. Over the next period, we will progress through Parliament legislation on domestic abuse protection orders. If passed, it will provide the police and courts with the power to make emergency notices and orders on a victim’s behalf. The powers are intended to provide protection for people who are at risk of domestic abuse, and remove some of the barriers to a victim staying in their own home.

The pandemic has also brought to the fore the importance of sustainable service provision, and we will progress a review of the funding and commissioning of front-line specialist services with a twin focus on domestic abuse and sexual violence.

A lot has been achieved, but a lot more can be done, and we cannot rest until violence against women and girls is consigned to history. I will end with a quote from the President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden. He said:

“When violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.”

I urge us all to continue to take that stand, which is a stand on which we as a Parliament have been united in the past, and, I am sure, will be united in the future. We must all speak out to challenge the acceptability of such violence in our society until we have ensured that everyone in Scotland lives equally safe.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and the Annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women; is concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in referrals to services for domestic abuse and violence against women and condemns violence against women in all its forms; commends the work of frontline support services that have worked tirelessly to redesign services during the pandemic and ensure that women and children can still access support; encourages anyone experiencing violence to access the support that they need; notes the effective local response and collaborative approach between national and local government on this issue; reaffirms its support for Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls; reflects on the advancements made and key achievements to date and welcomes the publication of the last progress report for Equally Safe; calls on communities everywhere to stand shoulder to shoulder in sending a clear message that violence against women and girls is never acceptable and that now more than ever people must stand together against it, and urges everyone in Scotland to continue to challenge violence and abuse, hold perpetrators to account for their behaviour and work together to build a Scotland where everyone can live equally safe.


I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation: that must underpin everything that we do to tackle every cruel form of it. No woman or girl should live in fear of abuse, so we must root it out wherever it occurs, at home and abroad.

Two years ago, we welcomed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and we welcome now the latest Scottish Government strategy, “Equally Safe”, which underpins the debate with its focus on eliminating systemic gender inequality through a relentless focus on prevention.

However, it is a fact that, even in 2020, when many people believe that society has come on in leaps and bounds with regard to equality and fairness, discrimination and violence against women are rife in many countries across the world.

As we mark 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and the annual international day of the elimination of violence against women, we must all redouble our efforts to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. Scottish Conservative members fully support the efforts of both the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government as they work to eradicate violence at home and abroad.

In Scotland, domestic abuse continues to be a horrible reality for many. Last year alone, nine women were killed by abusive partners, which is utterly unacceptable. It is bittersweet news that domestic abuse is on the rise in Scotland. The latest domestic abuse statistics show that the number of incidents recorded by Police Scotland has risen in the past three years, from 58,108 in 2015-16 to 60,642 in 2018-19. One explanation for that rise might be that survivors feel more confident to report that they have experienced domestic abuse, which is encouraging.

However, the trend is still worrying—frightening levels of this hidden crime are being revealed, including the increase in online blackmail, known as sextortion, whereby individuals obtain indecent images of a person and threaten to share them with others unless they are paid money.

We can match the previous figures to the number of domestic abuse charges, which is also increasing, and is at a four-year high. In 2019-20, the number of charges stood at 30,718, which is the highest number since 2015-16. Women must feel empowered to report domestic abuse in all its forms, but we must recognise that it is rising across Scotland, and that it affects women predominantly, although we must not forget the effect on men, too.

Given the difficult circumstances that have been brought about by the Covid pandemic, which Shirley-Anne Somerville talked about, I fear that we will see a greater rise in the months to come, exacerbated by a second wave and, possibly, a third. The latest “Equally Safe” report notes:

“Although reports and evidence suggested that initial referral rates dropped during the first few weeks of lockdown, reports from services suggest that referral rates ... gradually increased in later weeks.”

We know that the pandemic does not cause, or ever excuse, domestic abuse, but the pandemic has escalated abuse and has closed down escape routes to safety for women. It is of concern that, during the pandemic, two thirds of women in abusive relationships have suffered more violence—[Inaudible.]—per cent more than in the previous 12 months.

The amendment in my name reflects the importance, as we continue to fight this awful virus, of understanding the emerging trend and the increase in abuse. That is why I feel that it is important to thank Rhoda Grant for Labour’s amendment, which acknowledges the need to introduce a special alert system in pharmacies, to cope with the rise in that abuse. It is an interesting concept that we feel builds on the need to have new systems, in light of the pandemic. Scottish Conservative members will therefore support Labour’s amendment at decision time.

For a woman in lockdown with her abuser, there are few opportunities for breathing space or to meet for support from friends, family or support services. More and more people are working from home during the pandemic. Close the Gap has rightly pointed out that perpetrators may interfere with the work of women who are working from home, and may prevent them from doing their job through coercive and controlling behaviour. That has led to laptops and phones being removed from the victim by the perpetrator, which has inhibited their ability to work effectively, or risked them leaving their job. We need to recognise not only the importance of the immediate public health response, but the impact on the lives of the people who are abused. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and horror that many women have faced over the past few months.

As we face extended restrictions, I urge the Scottish Government to really consider providing greater support for women during the pandemic, so I welcome the extra support that Shirley-Anne Somerville highlighted.

Sadly, close to home in my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, according to Police Scotland more than 800 women reported domestic abuse. I know that Borders Women’s Aid goes above and beyond to help those in need across my constituency and the wider region, so I thank it for that hard work and the vital service that it provides. I was delighted that, in January, Borders Women’s Aid received national lottery and Robertson Trust funding, which is absolutely invaluable in order for it to serve the community. Last year, it saw an increase in the average length of occupancy of its refuge, from around 40 to 55 days in previous years, to 88, which highlights just how vital the service is in the community.

As we mark the annual international day for the elimination of violence against women yesterday, and the 16 days of activism, we do so in a year that has the backdrop of the Covid pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, domestic violence will be far more pronounced and widespread because of greater isolation and reduced social contact outside the home. As policy makers and politicians, we must recognise that there is more to be done, in the light of the circumstances and evidence, to bolster our efforts to tackle violence.

We will support both the Government’s motion and Labour amendment tonight. I urge members also to support the Conservative amendment in my name, which highlights the impact of Covid-19, and to ask the Scottish and UK Governments to make the appropriate provisions available to support more women and girls through these very challenging times.

I move amendment S5M-23481, to insert after “still access support”:

“; notes the important work of women’s refuges, which continued to help women during lockdown; understands that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of women in abusive relationships have suffered more violence, 7.6% more than in the previous 12 months, and that, tragically, nine women were killed by abusive partners in 2019".

I call Rhoda Grant to speak to and move amendment S5M-23481.1.


We must debate action against violence against women and girls throughout the year. However, it is right that we have an annual debate to review progress on what we have achieved, and what we need to achieve, in order to create a totally equal society that is free from violence against women and girls.

I start by acknowledging that, this year, the Government has held the debate in its own time, marking the 16 days of activism.

As the cabinet secretary said, the theme for this year’s 16 days of activism is “Fund, Respond, Prevent and Collect!” Its aims are to fund services for victims of gender-based violence, to respond to the needs of survivors, to prevent gender-based violence and to collect data to inform programmes and policies.

I will take a minute to wish Shetland Rape Crisis and its youth activist group, BEE, well for its walk on Saturday to mark the 16 days, and I thank it for the #WisToo mask. BEE stands for “bold, equal and empowered”; it is wonderful to hear about young people taking that stance.

The Scottish Labour amendment asks for some simple measures to be put in place to protect women better during the pandemic. We have seen throughout the lockdown that violence against women and girls has grown, which is highlighted, as we have heard, in the Conservative amendment, which we support. People who are locked down at home with an abuser are much more vulnerable. The Conservative amendment highlights the work of organisations, including Scottish Women’s Aid and others, that provide refuge accommodation. I understand that many councils have made more accommodation available to Women’s Aid groups to enable them to provide more refuge space, which is good because people need refuge space.

Alongside that, we need to put in place steps to protect women and girls who face violence, especially in their own home. In the Scottish Labour amendment, we are asking the Scottish Government to consider interventions such as the “Mask 19” code word that is used in France and Spain. It is like the “Ask for Angela” code word that is used in pubs and clubs to engage the assistance of bar staff when people find themselves in a difficult or dangerous situation; the “Mask 19” code word is used in pharmacies to enlist similar support. If the Scottish Government adopted that, it would need to ensure that pharmacies knew where to direct people to find assistance; most pharmacies have consulting rooms that they could use to provide a place of safety immediately.

We also believe that the Scottish Government should fund other safeguards, including GPS panic buttons to alert the police when someone is in danger and to ensure a quick response, and safe rooms in houses to buy time for people who are facing attack. That is important if we are to encourage victims of domestic abuse to stay in their own homes. Those are not expensive interventions, but they would provide safety or assistance to people who are in abusive situations, who must feel very alone right now.

While we put in place assistance for people who face violence against women, we have to focus on prevention, which is a theme that runs through many of the briefings that we have received for the debate. Violence against women is caused by the cultural inequality that women face, which is even worse for women who have a disability and for women who are black or from an ethnic minority background, as Zero Tolerance highlights in its briefing.

Inequality is predominantly about status and pay. Last Friday marked equal pay day, which is the day in the year when women who are on average earnings would stop earning—if their income was compared to the average salary that is earned by men, which is equivalent to women working unpaid for six weeks in every year. That is not about unequal pay for the same job, which is illegal—although we know that it goes on, especially in more senior posts in the private sector. It is wrong and illegal.

The gender pay gap means that jobs that are predominantly done by women and which require equal levels of skills and knowledge to jobs that are done by men are paid markedly less. Take, for example, the key workers whom we have depended on during the Covid-19 pandemic. We should value them highly, but care work is among the lowest-paid professions that we have. Despite having had an equal pay act since 1970, we have stubbornly gendered pay. That needs to change; it damages the status of women, creates the impression that women are of less value than men and leaves them open to violence and discrimination.

Sweden has criminalised the purchase of sex and recognises, as we do, that prostitution is a form of violence against women. That protects women from exploitation and from being seen as commodities to be bought and sold. As expected, that has impacted on sex trafficking, with Sweden having markedly lower levels than neighbouring countries. However, what was not expected was the impact that it has had on women’s overall equality. Sweden’s gender pay gap closed and caring responsibilities are more equally shared, because women are more equal. That is an unforeseen benefit of taking a stand on women’s equality and status in society.

We need to tackle inequality, not only for the women who are damaged now, but for future generations. We know that a child’s life chances are directly impacted by their mother’s life chances; her wealth and education relate directly to her children’s life chances. If we want to end child poverty, we first need to eradicate women’s poverty, which breeds inequality and is caused by the gender pay gap and the status of women in society.

Close the Gap is doing that now, by working with several councils, including two in my region, to collect data on the violence that women workers face. They are piloting the equally safe at work programme, which recognises that inequality at work breeds violence against women. Those councils recognise that they have a key role to play in supporting their workers and ensuring that their employment practices are gender and survivor sensitive. They are gathering data and developing policies that combat the occupational segregation that lies at the heart of the gender pay gap.

Those are practical steps to deal with women’s inequality. We need to meet head-on the inequality that causes violence against women in order that we can prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place, and we must challenge cultural and social norms. We must create a new culture in which everyone is equal and cherished, and in which discrimination and violence are things of the past.

I move amendment S5M-23481.1, to insert at end:

“, and believes that the Scottish Government should consider whether a special-alert system in pharmacies should be introduced in Scotland, similar to other European states, as well as other concrete safe-guarding measures to help protect women and children from all forms of violence.”


Rhoda Grant is right that we need a new culture, and I would like to live in a culture where such a debate was not necessary on an annual basis.

The Scottish Greens will support the Government motion and the Conservative and Labour amendments. I thank all the organisations that have provided briefings for today.

The “Femicide Census”, which was published yesterday, examines the killings of women and girls from the age of 14 to 100, at the hands of men, between 2009 and 2018. It reveals that, on average, a woman was murdered every three days in the United Kingdom. That is horrifying but, what is more, that figure shows no sign of reducing. It represents a decade of avoidable deaths, and each one is a tragedy. The report reveals that

“The killing of a woman, especially in a domestic setting, is often reported as an ‘isolated incident’ and ‘giving no cause for wider public concern’.”

However, as the figures that I quoted painfully illustrate, there is every cause for wider public concern. Those deaths frequently represent the failure of authorities to protect women from violence at the hands of men. As the report states, most femicides

“are committed in similar settings, similar weapons are used, and similar relationships exist between the perpetrators and victims.”

Those patterns belie the dismissal of women being killed as isolated incidents. They are predictable and therefore preventable. The report also states:

“Frequently, the killings are committed by perpetrators with a history of violence in circumstances in which the victim has told others of the violence she suffers and sought help.”

It is appalling that, in 2020, women are still not being listened to or taken seriously. Women who ask for help are still not being protected and many will not get that far.

Femicide has been identified globally as a leading cause of premature death for women but, tellingly, there has been limited research on that issue until recently, and that speaks volumes about how we prioritise the safety of women. Reports such as the “Femicide Census” reveal the extent to which violence against women permeates our society. It must be a priority. We cannot shy away from that, no matter how distressing the figures and the stories behind them are, and that is why debates such as this one are so important.

The “Femicide Census” highlights the need for awareness of the abuse of older women, on which the collection of data is often lacking. It states that care homes, adult social workers, general practitioners and other services working with older people need better training on and awareness of elder abuse. We need greater recognition and understanding of such issues. During the pandemic, the spotlight has been shone on care homes. The independent review of social care is an opportunity to examine whether there is more that we can do to prevent the abuse of older women.

Covid has had other implications for women experiencing domestic abuse. The United Nations is calling violence against women “the shadow pandemic”. It is often the most vulnerable who are the worst affected. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that the second wave that is currently sweeping much of the globe is increasing violence against refugee women and girls, with displaced and stateless women and girls suffering from being confined with their abusers. As well as worsening poverty, there have been sharp increases in the risk of gender-based violence, including trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage.

We need a no-wrong-door policy for women who are seeking help. Engender has highlighted that interactions with healthcare professionals often present vital opportunities to identify cases of domestic abuse, but such opportunities have been limited during the pandemic. Rhoda Grant’s amendment refers to the important role of pharmacies. A quarter of pharmacies in the UK now provide a safe space for people affected by domestic abuse. That is a positive development that I hope will improve access to support for those who are most vulnerable during the pandemic.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about such an important issue. So much violence against women is hidden away behind closed doors, which masks the great extent of the problem. By discussing the issue honestly and publicly, we can bring it out into the open.


I declare an interest as a current board member of Shetland Women’s Aid. The Scottish Liberal Democrats will vote for the motion and both amendments.

I, too, pay tribute to Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and other services across Scotland. I look forward to taking part in the #WisToo walk at the weekend—although I hope that the weather is better than it was last Saturday. Marking the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and the annual international day for the elimination of violence against women, gives us an opportunity to reflect on the global problem of violence against women. The event began in 1991 and, although it demonstrates that things have improved, we also have a long way to go.

Street harassment of a sexual nature is experienced the world over. In too many countries, women and girls are not just undervalued but not valued at all. Closer to home, there have been reports of women being too scared to go outside and exercise in the dark during the Covid lockdown. No one should live in fear. The societal mindset needs to change. How violence against women is reported in the media is also important. Men can help by calling out other men’s misogynistic behaviour.

Domestic abuse is a hideous, controlling and often life-threatening crime. There will be many statistics read out in the course of today’s debate, and I will add a few more. Across the UK, three women a week are killed by men. In Scotland, one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Over 60,000 domestic abuse incidents were recorded by Police Scotland in 2018-19—84 per cent of the victims were women. In 2019-20, we saw the highest number of domestic abuse charges for the past five years. The high number of charges recently may partly be a result of the new legislation that put controlling and coercive behaviour on a par with physical abuse. The effects of such behaviour can be just as damaging, and that must be properly understood and recognised. The impact is not only on the abused woman, as children and young people who experience domestic abuse against their mother are not simply witnesses—they are harmed by it and that harm can be lifelong, impacting on their ability to form relationships and concentrate at school and, ultimately, on their life chances.

Domestic abuse is a major cause of women’s homelessness in Scotland. A violent or abusive dispute within the household was given as the main reason for homelessness by more than 4,000 applicants. Of the applications in that category, 78 per cent were made by women, more than half of whom noted on their application that they had children. More women make an application for homelessness under that category than for any other reason, yet experts still believe that the real figures are likely to be higher.

Women who have had to scoop up their children from their beds and flee their homes in the middle of the night to escape an abusive partner give up everything, but why do they have to leave the family home? Staying in the family home should not mean staying with an abuser. The Scottish Liberal Democrats have long sought policy changes that would address that blatant inequality through the provision of emergency protection orders. The last thing that victims need is to be inundated with paperwork to prove that they are homeless or to be left to fend for themselves in finding a new place. I am glad that legislative moves are now being made to make that policy a reality. Scottish Women’s Aid describe such orders as a natural progression to follow the groundbreaking recent Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. People need legislation to back them up. The Scottish Liberal Democrats and I look forward to continuing the work that will help to make the orders a reality.

In Shetland, there are no firms that offer the legal aid service. Equity of access to the legal system for domestic abuse survivors, wherever they live, is essential, as lives are rebuilt on the road to recovery.


Presiding Officer,

“If I’m not in on Friday, I might be dead”.

Those are the words of a mother of five who was beheaded by her husband of 30 years. It is also the subheading of “The Femicide Census”, which was published recently, as Alison Johnstone mentioned. It is full of truly shocking facts, one of which is that, as we have heard, one woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. That sounds unbelievable, but it is true.

Last year, I led a members’ business debate to mark the global 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and the annual international day for the elimination of violence against women. It was a chance to feature the amazing work of Dr Emma Forbes and her creative art installation “GlassWalls”. Then, as now, we highlighted the horrendous incidence of violence, in all its forms, against women and girls. Such violence simply has to end.

We have heard that the theme of this year’s 16 days of activism is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”, with a focus on Covid-19 response, recovery and renewal. The stark and depressing truth is that, in 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, women have suffered even more violence. The terror of women and girls who have been locked up with an abuser during this terrible year is imaginable.

Additional investment has been provided by the Scottish Government to help to respond to an increase in demand from victims of abuse for support services during the pandemic. As always, Scottish Women’s Aid and other support agencies are doing an amazing job in finding alternative ways to support victims. Their message is, “Help is always there. Do not suffer in silence.”

Violence against women and girls is a fundamental violation of human rights. All of us—women and men—must stand against it. The UN states:

“Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today and remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.”

That is shocking.

The UN Women’s website states 10 ways that we can all make a difference. The list is:

“Listen to and believe survivors ... Teach the next generation and learn from them ... Call for responses and services fit for purpose ... Understand consent ... Learn the signs of abuse and how you can help ... Start a conversation ... Stand against rape culture ... Fund women’s organizations ... Hold each other accountable”


“Know the data and demand more of it”.

All the details behind those vital messages can be found on the UN Women’s website, so please take time to visit it.

As the Government, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to protect women and girls, so we are investing significant levels of funding in front-line services and introducing new legislation to tackle gender-based violence. The cabinet secretary spoke about the equally safe initiative, which will try to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. The initiative has a strong focus on advancing gender equality and tackling the underlying attitudes that create the societal conditions for gender-based violence to flourish. I agree with Rhoda Grant that poverty and inequality are at the root of much of that.

Legislative progress has been made through domestic abuse protection orders, which will be a game changer for abuse victims when passed. I would like to see similar protections for victims of stalking, and I hope that that can be done through my member’s bill for additional legislation, which I will progress if elected next year.

Other initiatives include improving forensic medical examinations for victims of sexual assault, consulting on challenging men’s demand for prostitution and taking forward the Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Act 2020.

The new world-leading Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which criminalises coercive control, has been highly successful. Nearly 1,700 crimes were recorded by police under that legislation in 2019-20, and more than 1,000 charges under the new legislation were reported to the Crown Office in 2019-20.

I simply disagree with anyone who thinks that marking this day is symbolic. It is a way of reaching out to abused women throughout the world and saying, “We hear you, we stand with you and we will not stop trying to make this world a safer place for you.”


It gives me no pleasure to speak in the debate. However, it is important that we speak.

Last year, the international day for the elimination of violence against women was marked in a debate that was secured by Rona Mackay, and it is an honour to follow her today. I welcome the Government’s motion, which reaffirms its support for “Equally Safe”, which is Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. I am also proud to support both the Labour and Conservative amendments.

Last year, I began by pointing out that the term “gender-based violence” is euphemistic and, in my opinion, potentially misleading. I make no apologies for restating that we should call it what it is: male violence against women. We should do that no matter how squeamish it makes some men feel.

I also highlighted the global scale of the violence. There are 87,000 deaths a year, and I am very sorry that we have to acknowledge that the situation has become worse because of the circumstances of the pandemic. I welcome the measures that have been taken by the Government to tackle domestic abuse and violence during the pandemic, and I join in with the praise for organisations that are supporting women at this time.

In the short time that I have in which to speak, I want to draw attention to the fifth UK “Femicide Census”—as other members have. The census was published yesterday. As others have said, it is an analysis of the 1,425 killings of women by men during the past decade. It breaks down the backgrounds and characteristics of all victims and perpetrators, including the latter’s past offences, use of pornography and history of abuse as well as the official response in each case.

The census found that the number of women killed by men has stayed distressingly consistent during the past decade, at between 124 and 168 women per year in the UK. No other protected group is killed at that rate or on that scale. Therefore, it is surely time that we acknowledge it for what it is: a hate crime.

Many of those deaths were preventable. In more than half of the cases, the brutality amounted to what we call “overkilling”, which is defined as the use of

“excessive, gratuitous violence beyond that necessary to cause the victim’s death.”

If anyone could stomach reading the articles that followed the death of Peter Sutcliffe recently, they will know that overkilling was a feature of his misogynist crimes. However, how many of us know that 56 per cent of female murder victims experience Yorkshire ripper levels of excessive violence at the hands of men—not notorious mass murderers, but ordinary men who hate women?

The census shows that the perpetrators were not only intimate partners but were sons, stepsons and grandsons. In 13 per cent of cases in which the victim was aged over 66, the killer was a male robber or burglar. Those who meticulously compiled the census included many different circumstances in which men kill women, because—as they pointed out—the revelations about common causes, methods and misogyny are the same. In a statement, the femicide census founders said:

“This report gives the lie to the standard press releases that these killings of women are ‘tragic, unpredictable, isolated incidents’ which ‘give no cause for wider public concern’”.

The term “femicide” was first defined by the feminist Diana Russell in the 1970s as the misogynist killing of women by men. In December 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on femicide. It urged member states to undertake a range of measures to address the killing of women and girls, including the enhancement of data collection and analysis.

The UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women cited the UK’s “Femicide Census” to the UN General Assembly in her 2016 report as

“a laudable example of best practice in this regard”,

and she recommended that states

“collect and publish data on femicide and on other forms of violence against women.”

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment that the Scottish Government is undertaking work on data to identify those women who are most at risk. I recommend that the unit looking into that should follow the rapporteur’s advice and should consult the UK “Femicide Census” and its authors as part of that work.

I encourage members to stick to the limit of four minutes.


I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the international day for the elimination of violence against women, particularly as a proud parent of three wonderful daughters and as a champion of women on the Scottish Parliament’s branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Violence against women and girls in any context must be recognised for what it is: a serious and personal attack on their human rights and dignity. I whole-heartedly join my colleagues in condemning such acts of violence, and I welcome the motion and the amendments.

Whatever form such violence takes—whether human trafficking, sexual harassment or child marriage—the perpetrators can exploit vulnerabilities and existing inequalities and the stigma attached to those issues. The 16 days of activism are therefore important in spotlighting the scale of the problem and the need for all of us—Governments, employers and communities—to listen, understand and advocate for change. That change seeks to redress the deeper power imbalances that continue to marginalise women and girls today.

Our focus this year has been informed by how the acute pressures of the pandemic have increased gender-based violence. The stark increase in domestic violence, which has been mentioned, is a special concern, and it is a growing shadow pandemic. Services have reported increasing referral rates and growing waiting lists, with many more first-time callers. The worsening mental health impact is stretching many of those organisations and their service users to the limit. The work that has been undertaken to tackle domestic violence might be unravelled by the pandemic, thus allowing those who are more vulnerable to slip under the radar. As it is, less than 40 per cent of women who experience such violence seek help, and it is usually from family and friends rather than from professionals.

Steps are being taken to address the alarming rise in gender-based violence. Earlier this year, the UN called for member states to incorporate the prevention of violence against women and girls into their national response plans for Covid-19, and that call has been answered across the globe. Essential support pathways have been enhanced, with a greater number of shelters and helplines made available to meet demand.

I welcome the actions that have been taken by the Scottish Government, which have been delivered in line with its plan, “Equally Safe”, and I look forward to the increased protections that should be guaranteed in the long-awaited domestic abuse bill. Similarly, the UK Government has worked to improve the reporting of gender-based violence and has pledged funding to tackle such violence through community programmes based in Syria.

To properly challenge gender-based violence, we must see greater funding commitments, coupled with a heavier emphasis on preventative measures. That requires a collaborative, multisectoral and global approach to gathering the data. The responsibility lies with every person to secure the wellbeing and protection of girls and to ensure that we leave no one behind.


Last week, I hosted an event at which we discussed how women have been particularly adversely affected during the Covid-19 pandemic. We spoke of the financial impact, the caring imbalance and the disproportionate health outcomes. We also discussed the devastating number of women who have been attacked or killed by their partners during periods of restriction and lockdown. There has been a surge in the number of calls to domestic abuse helplines, and the Scottish Government has quickly provided extra funds to our partners to enable them to meet the demand for support for those women.

Scottish Women’s Aid’s chief executive officer, Marsha Scott, has said:

“Covid-19 has given abusers more tools to control and harm women and children.”

Many have warned of the danger that women with abusive partners are in during this period. Most notable among them is my colleague Ruth Maguire, who amended the emergency coronavirus legislation to safeguard the human rights of vulnerable people, including women in abuse situations.

Swift reaction to the surge in violence against women is one thing, but what we do to address its root causes, through work such as equally safe, is another. So, too, is closing the gender pay gap. The fact of the matter is that from women’s economic disadvantage comes the opportunity for abusive men to coerce and control. Women’s disproportionate lack of wealth is still very much an issue. Financial dependency creates a power imbalance, and my worry is that, with the proven adverse economic effect of the virus on women’s employment, we might see that exploitation and imbalance worsen.

Like Alison Johnstone, Rona Mackay and Joan McAlpine, I read the “Femicide Census” report. It was one of the most compelling but difficult to read reports that I have ever read, with some of the most horrific information contained in it. It reports the number of women who have been killed at the hands of violent men and details the figures and backgrounds of cases between 2009 and 2018. It has three full pages, in very small type, of name after name. Reading it, I could not help but wonder how the 2020 census will look in comparison to those of other years.

The census highlights two areas in which the horror of the murder of women is diminished. One is how their murders are portrayed in the media, and the other is how men’s court defences often victim blame or put forward diminished responsibility on the part of the offender, which can also lead to sentences being reduced. Rough sex is becoming an all-too-frequent murder defence, and it easily feeds into a titillating narrative that is all too often seized on by tabloids. Those who report on such murders or write the headlines alongside the reports have a duty to call it what it is. Death by strangulation is murder; it is not a sex game gone wrong.

In four minutes, I cannot go into consent education or young men’s all-too-ready access to violent porn, but I firmly believe that having a lack of the former and too much of the latter is a root cause of male violence towards women. I also believe that the continued commodification of women’s bodies and the glamorisation of prostitution is a backward step in this battle. “When I grow up, I want to be a prostitute”—said no girl ever. Our cultural tropes, readily deployed in femicide reporting in the tabloids, enable the defence of, “I just snapped”—the man driven to violence by the behaviour of a woman. Loss of control or victim blaming accounted for more than a third of defences employed in femicide trials in the UK in the period of the census.

Can we reverse the trend? In the majority of cases in which a man has murdered a woman, he has committed violent acts before. The warning signs are often there. Empowering women to leave is a women-led solution, and I commend the Government on the work that it is doing, but a man-led solution is sorely needed. Violent men are the problem that needs to be solved. Toxic masculinity is the most stubborn and pernicious cause of femicide. What we do about that will take longer to discuss than four minutes in a debate.


It is a privilege to follow so many powerful speeches.

The debate, marking the international day for the elimination of violence against women, is an important part of our parliamentary calendar. I am conscious that, given that the election is next year, this will be the last time that I will have the opportunity and privilege to be part of the Parliament’s marking of the day, and the last time that I will add my voice to those in the Parliament who reflect on how seriously we, society and Government at every level take the reality of the global abuse of women by men—violence against women by men in every community and country in the world.

I am a woman—an adult human female—and my life, like the lives of many women, has been shaped by the fear and reality of male violence against women. When women such as me fought for 50:50 representation when the Scottish Parliament started, it was precisely because women’s voices—on their lives and experiences, and on the barriers to achieving their potential—needed to be heard. A huge part of that was to allow us to confront the truth of male violence in women’s lives.

We also knew then and remember now that the role of the Parliament is not simply about marking days. The test for us all is to understand the cause and consequence of male violence and take action to address it, step by practical step, in a rigorous, persistent, focused and determined way. We need to understand the spectrum of male violence, including domestic abuse, coercive control, prostitution, trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, among many other forms.

Of course, back in the day, there were voices who said, “Not all men present a risk. Men suffer violence and abuse, too.” “Prostitution is the oldest profession and will always be with us. We can’t do anything about men seeking to purchase sex; we can only manage harm.” We said then, and we say now, that of course it is not just women who suffer abuse, and everyone experiencing violence or abuse deserves the support that they require. If we do not look at the overwhelming pattern in domestic abuse, however, or in sexual abuse, violence and prostitution—if we do not name the crime—we cannot change the pattern. We cannot teach our children, our sons and daughters, how they might change the world if they do not understand that reality. My goodness, how much the world needs to change.

I have been a parliamentarian for more than 21 years. Women continue to be abused, raped and murdered by men who they mostly knew or were planning to leave. Women continue to be belittled, abused and controlled. We know that women are disproportionately suffering because of Covid and lockdown, and we will need to be prepared for the outpouring of trauma when the crisis ends. We see young girls increasingly under pressure with scarce regard for their understanding of consent. We also see the increased use of rough sex as a defence by men against the charge of murder. That is the modern version of the defence, “She was asking for it”. Women are literally being blamed for being murdered.

Today, we see and acknowledge the abuse of women by men in plain sight, but we are also seeing those who do not want to acknowledge what follows from that: support for women’s refuges; for women exiting prostitution; for action on commercial sexual exploitation; for women-only services; for women-only spaces; and for a justice system that is informed and alive to women’s needs. That emphasises the need to women-proof all our policies and legislation. Women are not just in one box.

We are hearing voices telling women to get back in their lane. The 20-year-old me, like many other sisters, refused to stay in my lane and persisted in demanding that the rights of women be addressed. For what it is worth, this 63-year-old me has no intention of getting back in the lane either.

Today is a time for reflection, remembrance, resolution and, yes, rage. Is it too much to hope that women’s lives can be changed, that male attitudes can be challenged and that the girls born today will be safer than all those who have gone before?


I wanted to speak in the debate, but the fact that it still needs to take place indicates that, although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

A couple of years ago at the Scottish National Party conference, Math Campbell-Sturgess and I co-authored a resolution and successfully got the issue of sex for rent on to the conference agenda. The resolution was passed, with an amendment by Ruth McGuire MSP and Ash Denham MSP.

The practice of advertising free rent with strings attached is appalling, but, sadly, the internet makes such activity more prevalent.

Another aspect of the net making things more challenging for women is in the area of pornography, which some members have already touched on. The issue of how young people access that, and how young girls and young boys might consider what relationships are all about as a consequence, has been spoken of many times before, including outside the chamber, in society. I am aware that the UK Government, because communications are still reserved to Westminster, is being pressured into acting on that issue.

The net is a wonderful tool when used wisely, but it can also be used in a more sinister fashion. That is not news to any of us, but it is important that we can all show leadership to help and make things better for present and future generations. As the father of two young girls, I am concerned about the negative aspects of what the internet can do and how it can influence others and their subsequent actions against women and girls.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s equally safe strategy and the resources that have been invested in it. With the Covid-19 pandemic meaning that women and girls in our society are spending more time at home, this year will clearly bring additional challenges for those who live in households with abusive husbands, fathers or partners. I commend the strategy’s main aims, which focus on advancing gender equality and tackling the underlying attitudes that create the societal conditions that enable gender-based violence to flourish.

I welcome the work that the Scottish Government is undertaking with stakeholders to raise awareness of all forms of gender-based violence at community and institutional levels. In particular, I welcome its aim for every child and young person in Scotland to develop mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults. Many activities will be required if we are to fully deliver that ambition, and the example that I provided a moment ago will play a part in addressing the issue.

As others have already touched on, yesterday was the United Nations international day for the elimination of violence against women. The theme for this year’s 16 days of activism is “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”, with a focus on Covid-19 response, recovery and renewal. The UN has set out why we must eliminate violence against women and girls, which it says is

“one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today”


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

In order to make the changes that society needs, it is incumbent upon us all to question not only ourselves but others about our actions. I am therefore pleased that the Scottish Government will later support the two amendments that have been lodged. This is not a party political issue.

This year has challenged everyone. As I said earlier, with more women and girls who are having to be at home also being victims of domestic abuse, it is crucial that safe places such as those provided by the special alert system in pharmacies can be utilised to help those who need them. We do not know what is ahead of us but, as a Parliament and as a society, we can help to shape the future and to make things better for women and girls.


Every three days in the United Kingdom, one woman is killed by a man. That figure has been unchanged for a decade. This afternoon, I have four minutes in which to contribute to our Parliament’s debate on making Scotland equally safe, marking the annual international day for the elimination of violence against women. With those murdered women and their families very much on my mind, I hope that members will forgive me if I do not use my time to highlight the good work that is on-going; instead, I will get straight to the point

Scotland is not equally safe, and four minutes is not enough time in which to do justice to all the women and girls who have been subjected to men’s violence in our unequal society. In Scotland, too many women still face the burning injustice of workplace sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, so-called honour crimes, sexual assault, rape, trafficking, stalking and prostitution. Globally, women and girls are being refused access to education and are trapped in conflicts in which rape is used as a weapon of war. The number of sex-selected abortions is rising, the number of deaths relating to pregnancy and childbirth is needlessly high, and women and girls are prevented from making deeply personal choices about their reproductive healthcare.

We know that inequality is both a cause and a consequence of those abuses of the rights of women and girls. We also know that to end such human rights abuses—to end the violence and the killing—there must be action and investment, legislation and policy, and action on the ground in all areas.

It is clear to me that we understand the continuum of women’s inequality and subsequent male violence, so we must never kid ourselves on that picking off palatable challenges to address bit by bit will be enough to address the problem. The truth, which I acknowledge is uncomfortable for some but it is the truth nonetheless, is that as long as female bodies are objectified, commodified and reduced to something to be bought and sold, used and traded, we will not have equality and we will not have justice. Prostitution is violence. Despite what a vocal minority might say, that is not a controversial position to hold. In policy terms, the Scottish Government’s equally safe strategy recognises that violence. It is unambiguous and it has been for years. The laws of our country must be equally clear; that they remain unaligned is wholly unacceptable.

I know that this is not easy; there is a vocal pro-prostitution lobby in this country. Men’s demand for sexual access to women is big business. However, the fact that something is not easy has not stopped us before. It should be to our collective shame that Scotland at the moment is a place where our legislative framework means that criminal gangs profiting from the sexual exploitation of women trafficked from outwith this country and within it to meet male demand can hide in plain sight, using so-called adult services websites.

Even a cursory glance at one of those sites would show you that in this city, right now, as we stand in this albeit quite empty but warm and comfortable chamber, there are women who have been trafficked here and who are being subjected to abuse, violence and humiliation to satisfy the demand of a minority of men who wish to purchase sexual access to women and girls. It is a minority of men but the damage that that minority of men do is pervasive, impacting our whole society and putting all women and girls in harm’s way.

This Parliament has all the powers that it needs to take legislative action and end, not mitigate, the serious harms and abhorrent abuses of human rights that commercial sexual exploitation causes women and girls. It is beyond time that we got on with doing just that.


Before I start, I will just say that I feel a bit embarrassed, if not ashamed, to be sitting here debating this, particularly after listening to the last four speakers—no disrespect to Stuart McMillan, but the three female members who have just spoken have, more than anything, highlighted the importance of women’s voices being heard on a regular basis, particularly on something that is so important to them.

When I decided to speak in the debate I reached out, once again, to my good friends at the Daisy Project—a Castlemilk-based organisation that deals with women and families who are victims of domestic violence—for their views. The first week of lockdown saw them move from a community-based service to a remote team working from home; they were able to provide a seamless transition and are still providing a full service. Unfortunately, they have seen a 40 per cent increase in referrals as well as an increase in the vulnerability of families.

The women who are seen by the team continue to experience abuse and harassment, much of which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. Delays in child welfare and criminal cases, increased financial abuse and reduced access to many support and advice services have all complicated and prolonged their traumatic experiences and some have just chosen to stay. However, many others have carried on reporting to the police, giving statements, fleeing to safe accommodation, attending court, schooling children, working and caring for their families.

Many of the women whom the organisation supports are front-line and key workers, which is just amazing, given what we are going through at this time. There is no doubt that the additional challenges of Covid bring additional costs in time and resources, so the Daisy Project was privileged to be able to access emergency Covid funding and receive generous donations. However, the team is aware that winter brings additional worries and concerns for women: the fear of not being able to feed their children and heat their homes is very real for many, and the dread of disappointing children at Christmas is equally distressing.

I want to read out a statement that was given to me for this purpose by my constituent and friend Fiona Drouet, of whom many members are well aware. I think that this is important as a reminder of why we are here today. Fiona also has two asks of the Scottish Government. She states:

“When our 18-year-old daughter Emily took her own life after being abused by a fellow student, we were shocked to find out how widespread gender based violence is.

Gender based violence is indiscriminate of age, class, background, or setting. It can happen to anyone.

Our daughter paid the ultimate price. Finding out what happened was agonising but our torment didn’t end there. We had to fight for justice for Emily and hear her abuser’s lawyers tear her apart in court, rewriting her life. They were free to say whatever they wanted as there was no burden of proof on them, as you cannot defame the dead. As the procurator fiscal, Chris Macintosh, said on the day of sentencing: ‘It is disappointing to see that the system which could not protect Emily in life is now unable to protect her in death’.

I know as a country we can do better, that’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to introduce protections for those who are sadly not here to protect themselves.

Leading up to her death, during an assault, Emily’s abuser put his hands around her neck until she saw stars and thought she was going to die.? Emily said to one of her friends ‘he’s done it again, put his hands around my throat. I can’t go on’.? Only minutes later, traumatised and scared, Emily took her own life.

According to a Submission made to the UK Domestic Abuse Bill Committee in May this year, research has found that a history of strangulation presents an eight-fold increase?in the risk of death. It also highlights how non-fatal strangulation is frequently used as a tool of coercion to instil fear, to show an ability to kill, leaving physical and psychological impacts that can often last a lifetime or trigger a stroke later in life.

Non-fatal strangulation is treated as common assault in Scotland. Our country leads the way with gold standard domestic abuse laws, and I know that we can do this again by making non-fatal strangulation a specific offence that acknowledges the dangers and long lasting impacts on victims/survivors.”?

That is the end of Fiona’s statement. I appreciate that neither of the suggestions that she raises relates to the cabinet secretary’s portfolio, but I thought it important to get them on the record and I hope that the cabinet secretary will take them back to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for consideration for our manifesto or to be put into law if we are returned in May. What better way to take on the sentiments of the motion than to attempt to do what Fiona has suggested?

I thank the Daisy Project and all other domestic abuse and violence against women organisations for everything that they do. I also thank the Scottish Government and local authorities for their support and funding, and I thank Fiona and her family for creating something good from the ashes of the worst thing that any of us could possibly imagine. I have no doubt that Emily will be proud.

We come to the closing speeches. I must ask the closing speakers to keep to their time, as we have no extra time.


We have had stunning contributions from women from across the parties, but Gillian Martin, Johann Lamont, Ruth Maguire, Rachael Hamilton and Joan McAlpine stood out. It has been one of the most stunning debates that I have been part of, and I am proud to take part in it.

Women and girls all over the world know very well the root of our discrimination and abuse. We have that in common across the parties and across countries, continents and the world. The issue is the same: it is men’s power and dominance. Our sisters have been killed by men within marriage, outwith marriage, at work and in every other part of their lives. It is their sex and who they are that makes life dangerous for them.

Therefore, our solidarity should be offered across the parties and across countries and the world. We will not be silent. That is why it is important to use our power in government and our voices in opposition to ensure that we can act in the 16 days of activism. I am pleased that the Government will support both amendments. It is important that we join together as parties.

The message to stay home and stay safe has been the opposite of the reality for many women during lockdown. The pandemic has sparked a plague of sexual violence. Unfortunately, for many women, their home is the most dangerous place. Close the Gap notes that one in four women in Scotland experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Women are subjected to not only physical abuse but coercive control, and those have intensified during lockdown. Perpetrators of abuse have, in effect, inadvertently been given the means to further restrict their partners’ freedoms and threaten their safety. For many women, that has been a side-effect of a pandemic that, by its nature, requires confinement and isolation.

Researchers identified spikes in abuse during the 2008 economic crisis and found that spikes also occur when major natural disasters hit and during things such as football tournaments. Women’s fate is interconnected to economic and social events. According to the charity Refuge, which helps to run the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline, on one particular night early in lockdown, messages to the helpline increased by 120 per cent and, over the past month, demand has steadily increased again.

Using statistics obtained from UK police forces under freedom of information laws, “Panorama” revealed that, in the first seven weeks of lockdown, there was one domestic abuse incident every 30 seconds.

Some of the abuse recorded by the police is staggering. The recorded calls include reports of violent offences, such as kidnap, arson, revenge porn and even poisoning. I was delighted that the Scottish Government accepted my amendment to the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No 2) Bill that allows the Government to review the figures and decide whether any additional action needs to be taken.

For many women, escaping an abusive situation is the hardest part. Many fear that their abuser will find them and harm them or their children. Sadly, the evidence suggests that they are right to be concerned. This week, ahead of the international day for the elimination of violence against women, the High Representative of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, issued a statement in which he said:

“Some Member States have introduced gender-sensitive response measures, such as special alert mechanisms in pharmacies, to protect women and children from all forms of violence.

We urge all Member States to develop and implement such measures.”

As other members have said, in Spain and France, victims can discreetly ask for help in pharmacies by using the code word “mask-19”. The UK might no longer be a member state, but we can follow such examples and consider implementing a similar special alert system in Scotland. I am pleased that the Government has said that we could look at that, because Refuge says that one of the biggest concerns is that victims might find themselves unable to report their ordeal. Refuge’s former chief executive Sandra Horley said:

“We know that ordinarily the window of opportunity for women with abusive partners to make a call and seek help is often very limited”.

The international picture is almost exactly the same as the one in Scotland and Europe, although the patterns are slightly different, depending on the country. UN Women has called it a “shadow pandemic”. For every additional three months that the lockdown continues, the UN estimates that an additional 15 million women are expected to be affected by intimate partner violence worldwide. The UN also estimates that, of the 87,000 women who were intentionally killed in 2017 globally, more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members.

We must act now, and we must use this period of worldwide action to do so. I am proud to have spoken in the debate.

I call Jeremy Balfour to close for the Conservatives.


Debates of this type can sometimes be rather stale, in that everyone knows what everyone else is going to say at the beginning, but that has not been the case today. Overall, there has been consensus across the chamber. The powerful speeches—particularly those of many of the lady MSPs—have highlighted the issues that we face. Violence against women and girls is intolerable and should have no place in a modern-day Scotland.

Like Stuart McMillan, I am a father of two youngish—I am not sure that they are young—daughters. I know what type of society I want them to be able to be brought up in and to flourish in. That is a place where they can feel safe wherever they are, whether at home, out or in the workplace. Sadly, too often that is not the case.

The UN states 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 silence, stigma and shame surrounding it.”

Violence against women is extremely harmful. Such abuse can cause severe and long-term physical and mental health problems and reduce participation in the workforce. Sadly, as we have heard from Ruth Maguire and others, it can result in death. That is why it is so important that we in this Parliament—men and women—use our voice to speak up for women who often go unheard and do whatever we can to keep them safe. However, as the cabinet secretary said in her opening remarks, it is not enough just for the Parliament to speak. As a society and as a nation, we need to speak and stand up for those who have no voice.

This year, the UN campaign is focused on the impact of Covid-19 on violence against women and gender inequality. As Alison Johnstone and others have pointed out, the outbreak of the virus has led to an increase in levels of domestic abuse and gender-based violence. In the UK, Refuge has highlighted an 80 per cent increase in calls to the domestic abuse hotline, and Scottish Women’s Aid has reported significant impacts on refuge accommodation, child contact and access to justice.

Governments and political parties must see domestic crime for what it is—serious crime, if not more serious than other crimes, because the victim often lives with a violent attacker, never knowing when the next attack might take place. That situation is made worse by lockdown.

In her powerful speech, Johann Lamont pointed out that such crime often goes unreported. Often, we are dealing with neither the crimes nor their root causes. For the past 18 months, my wife has been working in West Lothian, dealing with people who have committed domestic violence and trying to work through the issues in their lives and find out how to prevent them from committing crimes again. That is the kind of resource that we need to put in.

The Scottish Parliament has passed new laws and dealt with the subject in a very positive way, but despite the introduction of those and other measures, the data shows that domestic abuse is still going up in Scotland. The latest statistics reveal that the number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by Police Scotland has risen not just in lockdown but in the past three years, and the number of domestic abuse charges is at a four-year high.

There is still more that we can do, both collectively and individually. I hope that the Scottish Government will encourage the resumption of workstream 3 of the victims task force, which has been on hold due to Covid-19. It looks at sexual offences and gender-based violence. I hope that its work will resume so that it can provide solutions to gender-based violence.

The Scottish Government must do more to sign up willing domestic abuse victims to the victim notification scheme. Current proposals would mean that victims were able to register to find out that their abuser has been released from prison only if they are sentenced to 18 months or more. With respect, that time period still seems to me to be too long. We should look at the matter afresh.

As I said at the start of my speech, we have heard some very powerful speeches in the debate. What goes on behind closed doors is not acceptable in many circumstances and we need to call it out for what it is. As Ruth Maguire highlighted, we need to see what is going on in our society, and we need to come together across our party divides and say that it is unacceptable and that things need to change.

I hope that in 20 years’ time—or in a shorter time than that, but certainly in 20 years’ time—when, perhaps, one of my daughters stands in this Parliament representing who knows what, the subject will not be debated because we will have called it out and dealt with it. Scotland will be a better place for that.


Like Pauline McNeill and other members in the chamber, I feel that this debate has been an incredible and important one. I have been taking part in debates in the chamber on these topics for 13 years now, and they are always important. We always learn something new and there is always more to do, and we should never shirk from either that recognition or that responsibility. That was evidenced by many of the measured, thoughtful and powerful speeches that we have heard from members throughout the chamber, and I thank all the speakers for them, because they are incredibly important.

We have heard about many aspects of the subject including domestic abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, sex for rent, trafficking, rough sex, stalking, sextortion, prostitution, FGM and honour crimes, among many other things. That is why we have the 16 days of activism, which give us an opportunity to mark and champion progress and mark the accomplishments of not just this Parliament and the work of the parliamentarians in it but, especially, the work that is being done to change things on the ground.

I take the opportunity to echo all the sentiments from the cabinet secretary and members across the chamber by paying tribute to all the front-line services that have worked tirelessly to ensure that women and children still have access to the vital help and advice that they need.

Although we have that list and can mark progress, Alison Johnstone, Rona Mackay, Beatrice Wishart, Joan McAlpine and Gillian Martin all reminded us about the “Femicide Census”, which tells us a very stark story and demonstrates in the most horrifying way why we need to continue our work to tackle and prevent domestic abuse. Three women a week is a horrific statistic.

In the work that we have been doing across the piece, we have managed to continue to do our work around multiagency risk assessment arrangements. Early in and during the Covid pandemic, there was a clear commitment to the continued operation of MARACs, which were seen as business critical in our work and in many areas. That reflected a general commitment to MARACs and wider efforts to share information and to assess and address the risks to families affected by domestic abuse, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to comments about domestic homicide, members will know that we have been doing a review of domestic homicide over the past few years. That review has now been completed and an executive summary was provided to the equally safe joint strategic board on 29 October 2019. We have been taking forward further in-depth work with the internal review. The review was recently carried out by Police Scotland and the main findings will be shared in due course. I am sure that members in the chamber will welcome that bit of progress on that.

The Scottish Government has a strategic vision on this, which is called equally safe. Our response demands a decisive shift towards prevention and I commend all the on-going work to address gender inequality—including women’s economic equality—that has been raised by the cabinet secretary and others. However, I recognise that gender-based violence continues to exist—we all realise, know and see that—and that women and children who experience it deserve access to high-quality support and interventions. Our systems must be equipped to identify risk and respond quickly, which is why those MARACs are so important. That is as important as ever it was as we go from a focus on immediate response to a period of recovery and renewal.

As Minister for Older People and Equalities, I have responsibility for the cross-governmental co-ordination of our efforts to tackle violence against women and girls. I will take the opportunity in closing to highlight some of the important initiatives that are happening across Government in order to demonstrate those efforts.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I might be just about to answer the member’s question.

I appreciate the minister taking the intervention. We are, of course, agreed on this, but I want to ask a very specific thing. As the minister responsible for equalities in that cross-cutting role, will Christina McKelvie make a commitment to raise with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice the importance of addressing the question of rough sex being used as a defence? It has been addressed elsewhere and I wonder whether we could agree to look at it on a cross-party basis.

I am more than happy to address that. Jeremy Balfour also raised a few issues that I have committed to raising with Humza Yousaf. Members will not be surprised to hear that justice colleagues are involved with the equally safe board and that we consult all the time. Nonetheless, I am happy to take forward that specific issue.

Early on in the pandemic when everyone was going into the sanctuary of their home, we realised very quickly—within days, in fact—that, for many women and children in our nation, home was not a sanctuary. In those very early days, we very quickly met with the women’s organisations, provided additional funding for them to deliver their services, and got early intelligence on other ways that we could support that work.

The Labour amendment refers to pharmacies and how we could use code words and so on, and Rhoda Grant, Alison Johnstone and a number of others spoke about that. I am pleased to say that we have advanced work on both those areas. This morning, I chaired an event attended by the Home Office, Boots, Community Pharmacy Scotland and a number of other stakeholders to talk about it. Pharmacies across the UK have been providing safe spaces. For example, Boots told us this morning that it has 4,171 pharmacies taking part in the safe spaces project and that it expects another 800 to be doing so by the end of this year, which would add up to around 5,000 in total. It is rolling out training to all its staff, so that they understand how to accommodate somebody who comes in to ask for a safe space, and how to respond with both confidence and competence. Ten per cent of those safe spaces are in Scotland, so we are punching a wee bit above our weight. We obviously want to do much more and, this morning, Boots committed to working with us on that.

We considered the issue of a code word early in the pandemic, because we had heard about some of the work that had been done around it, which included the work that had been done in France. We had considered a Scottish-specific code word, but after our conversations with our colleagues across the other three nations and taking into account the work that the Home Office was doing on the issue, we decided to go with a four-nations approach. The Home Office has co-ordinated the “Ask for ANI” code word scheme—ANI stands for action needed immediately.

That immediate response project will run alongside the projects on safe spaces that Boots and other independent pharmacies run. If somebody comes in and asks for ANI, that person needs support immediately, so the police will be called and the person will be taken into a safe space. We will produce a report after today’s event and I will ensure that members get copies of it to understand how that work will be rolled out, because it is incredibly important.

Boots and independent pharmacies gave us a few stories today, in which there were examples of how to use a safe space to make a call: a young woman came into the pharmacy who could not use her home phone or devices at home because he was always there; she pretended that she was picking up a prescription and was able to get into the pharmacy and the safe space to phone for help. That is a practical way in which that scheme works, and the fact that that event happened locally shows that this incredibly important work is being done.

Members have raised so many other points. Beatrice Wishart and Rona Mackay raised the issue of protection orders, which we are obviously progressing really well.

Will the member take an intervention?

Yes, if I have time, Presiding Officer.

You will have to absorb it.

Okay—Maurice Corry can go for it.

The question of the victims who are not able to sign up or register if their offender is put into jail for less than 18 months is a concern, which is not included in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. Will Christina McKelvie talk to the cabinet secretary to see whether victims can register if the offender has been jailed for under 18 months?

That was a bit of a long one, but never mind. I will give you your time back.

I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice has listened to all opinions on that area, so we can ensure that he has a note of Maurice Corry’s comments and that he can take those into account when he makes his considerations.

I have so much to get through—there is so much to say. James Dornan raised issues to do with the increasing need for support, and he talked about the Daisy Project as well as about Fiona Drouet and her Emily Test campaign. I pay tribute to both organisations, as not to raise their profile and the profile of the work that they do would be a miscarriage of justice.

In her powerful speech, Gillian Martin reminded us who is responsible here: the man who perpetrates the violence. As well as the improvement of our response to victims, we must include an increased focus on robust and effective measures for perpetrators and prevention. The perpetrator must be visible in more than just a courtroom. They must be visible in case documentation, in local planning and in improved risk and safety assessments. As Johann Lamont has said, we need to name the crime and that is something that we can do through such work.

Nineteen local authorities now deliver the Caledonian system, which covers around 75 per cent of the population. We are building that system and working on it all the time because, although we want to focus on prevention when we can, when perpetrators are brought to the attention of the system and they can go through a programme such as the Caledonian system or the work that Jeremy Balfour’s wife does, we want to commit to rehabilitation.

You must conclude, minister.

I will finish up. Rhoda Grant and Ruth Maguire made a lot of points about prostitution and the consultation is currently open.

I know that everyone here shares the common goal to ensure that women and girls live free from all forms of violence, and from the norms and inequalities that create the conditions for that violence to happen. Today, I invite the Parliament to restate our collective ambitions. Like Rona Mackay, I want to say to the victims, “We hear you and we stand with you.”