From Jean Calder at For Our Daughters
FOD wrote to David Cameron on 18th August 2014 asking him, in the months before the 2015 general election, to declare the fight against homicide and life threatening violence towards women and girls a national political priority. Similar letters have gone to all other party leaders.
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
18th August 2014
Dear Mr Cameron ,
Violent Death of Women and Girls: National Priority for Action or Unfortunate Fact of Life?
I write on behalf of For Our Daughters, a charity which works to end homicide and other violence against women and girls – and to commemorate those who have died.
We are conscious of the work your own and previous governments have done to counter violence against women and girls. We are grateful for the commitment of the present Home Secretary to this issue – along with that of the Shadow Home Secretary and other individual politicians at Westminster and in the devolved governments.
We are also grateful for your personal commitment to support strong families – though we suspect you do not yet realise the full extent to which contempt for and violence against women and girls undermines those families and our communities.
We are confident that your own and other political parties share a desire to end violence against girls and women. Our doubt, however, is whether you and your fellow party leaders are prepared to make this the national priority it needs to be.
Most politicians are aware of the familiar statistic that in England and Wales two women die each week at the hands of partners and ex-partners. However, across the UK, at least 3 to 4 women and girls die each week as a result of all forms of male violence. This is higher than the total annual death rate during the Northern Ireland conflict and exceeds annual troop losses in Iraq and Afghanistan – and certainly terrorist-related deaths in the UK – yet is barely publicised or debated. In the first 7 months of this year alone at least 87 adult women died.
The way in which government statistics are collated and presented – usually gender-neutral and compartmentalising different forms of violent assault – seriously obscures the extent to which females are victimised. Notwithstanding this, it is clear that the rate of life-threatening assaults, torture, mutilation and rape experienced by female victims in the UK exceeds that suffered by civilians in many theatres of war – and is increasing.
Official government reports of the annual homicide statistics regularly highlight the fact that the majority of homicide victims are male and a minority female. Every violent death is tragic and it is true that more males than females die violently (around two thirds to a third). However, male homicide victims are rarely if ever targeted because of their male gender and overwhelmingly die at the hands of other men.
The majority of female victims are killed by men, usually in their own homes and workplaces by partners or ex-partners – or die during sexual or physical assault by male family members, acquaintances or strangers. Girls and women are the only social group regularly targeted by serial killers – almost certainly due to their relative powerlessness and subordinate status – and form the
majority of victims of so-called ‘honour’ killing.
Although women are at greatest risk of domestic homicide, it’s important to avoid too exclusive a focus on violence by partners and ex-partners. There is little difference between the brutal ‘domestic’ murders of women like Cherylee Shennon, Holly Gazzard or Ahdieh Khayatzadeh – all of whom were killed by abusive ex-partners – and the sexual homicides of small girls such as April Jones and Sarah Payne; the murder of teenager Georgia Williams, who rejected her killer’s advances; multiple homicides of females by serial killers; and the rape and murder of frail pensioners such as Rosina Sutherland or Margery Gilbey. Whatever their age and circumstances, all these women and girls died because men whom they encountered held them in contempt, believing they had the right to control and injure their bodies – and ultimately take their lives.
We believe that if any other physically identifiable social group was so consistently targeted for murder, rape, torture and other human rights violations – in effect if a small war were being waged by a significant part of one section of society upon another – it would be an acknowledged national scandal at the top of any government’s agenda. There would be national strategies led by the prime minister of the day, cross party agreements, inter-departmental co-operation at the highest level of government, security service involvement and generous budgets. Every organ of the state would be expected to co-operate to end the killing and atrocities and achieve a lasting peace.
However, the victims in this case are female and women have born this burden for centuries. There remains an assumption, these days rarely openly asserted, but still widely held, that male violence towards women and the social attitudes which underpin it are a fact of nature or an aspect of entrenched culture – and therefore incapable of political change. This is a betrayal of women, deeply insulting to men and something our organisation absolutely refutes.
We do not understand why, when most political parties accept that the family is the bedrock of our society, greater attention is not paid to ending life-threatening violence within it – not least because this lies at the root of so much child abuse (of girls and boys) and other violence and social damage. Homicide is its most extreme form and yet – unlike say racist, youth, knife, gun or gang killing – is rarely discussed as a social problem demanding and capable of political solution.
In our view, there is no greater threat to the nation than this violence at its heart. Certainly, there can be no true peace, justice or freedom within it until it is addressed. As we approach the forthcoming general election, we call on your party and others to make this issue central to both your manifesto and your planning for future government and promise to:
- develop a UK-wide strategy to end violence against women and girls and challenge the sexism and attitudes of contempt which foster it
- set up cross-party and inter-departmental structures to progress this work requiring the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to report regularly to Parliament
- set clear time-limited targets to reduce and then end domestic and sexual homicides
- require all police, health and social services to record, monitor and publish gender-specific data about violent crime, in particular homicide and assaults in which there is potential threat to life.
- designate domestic and sexual violence as a sixth National Policing Priority
We know this is an intractable problem, but so too was sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. A time came when politicians called time on that conflict. We ask you to do the same in respect of homicide and life-threatening violence against women and girls.