Rhoda Grant MSP, is Shadow Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism in the Scottish Parliament and a long standing campaigner against violence against women.
Introductory Note from For Our Daughters:
On a recent visit to Scotland in May 2012, we were unfortunately unable to meet with Rhoda Grant. However, she has kindly sent For Our Daughters some of her thoughts and a fascinating account of recent activity within the Scottish Parliament.
It’s interesting to see how much progress has been made in Scotland in a relatively short time. In fact, in respect of legislation on such issues as forced marriage and stalking, Scotland can be said to have taken a lead which Westminster has followed. It is also clear that it has been individual deeply committed MSPs, often of differing political parties, working with other campaigners, who have made the difference.
For Our Daughters is watching with interest current moves to combine all Scottish police forces. In our view, this is likely to provide Scottish politicians and others campaigning for better preventative and criminal justice responses to sexist crime with unique opportunities for innovation, change and development.
Our grateful thanks to Rhoda. We’d be interested to publish a response by the SNP – and representatives of other parties.
Rhoda Grant Writes:
“There are many facets and many campaigns regarding Domestic Abuse, Violence against women. All come from the same premise. Those who seek to coerce or harm another person because of their gender.
The use of language is also important – the term Domestic Abuse is chosen to ensure that all types of abuse, not just physical violence, are also taken into account.
However, sadly in practice, the law appears to recognise only violent crime, not other forms of abuse against women just because they are women.
Much of this goes on in the home, the use of power to control what women can and cannot do, who they can see, what they can buy etc.
Those of us who are privileged to be elected to Parliament must use this position to deal with this hateful crime.
The Scottish Parliament has taken the issue seriously, however much of the legislation that deals with this has been pushed forward by members rather than government.
Government have provided increased financing to groups who tackle violence against women, however, like all public spending this is falling in the current economic downturn. Rather than “ring-fence” violence against women funding the SNP Government have allowed decision making to be at the discretion of Councils, at a local level– there is a real threat that this could be a backward step.
Powers regarding Domestic Abuse were devolved to the Scottish Parliament at its inception in 1999. My friend and colleague Maureen Macmillan had been an active campaigner regarding violence against women and a member of her local Women’s Aid group.
When she was elected in 1999 she was determined to move the legal protection forward. It was a new parliament and in order to gain cross party support she prevailed upon the Justice Committee to take forward the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001.
This was the first Committee Bill to go through the parliament and to date the only one.
As with all legislation, especially non–government legislation – there needs to be compromise. Maureen knew her Committee Bill was not the last word. When she retired in 2007 she asked me to take up the challenge. With her help, and the help of many others, I promoted the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2011.
During that process I met Ann Moulds who persuaded me to amend the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill 2010 to make stalking an offence. The UK Government have now recognised the benefit of this legislation and have agreed to implement it at UK level.
After I finished my Domestic Abuse Bill I was approached by Trish Godman, she had consulted on a Prostitution Bill, but was retiring and was unable to progress it. She asked me to take it forward in this session. Again this will be a member’s bill rather than a government bill.
This Scottish Parliament allows members to promote their own legislation and it is a simpler process than at Westminster. This has allowed the Scottish Parliament to address the agenda regarding the abuse of women and further address the equality issue.
There has also historically been a better gender balance in the Scottish Parliament – it hit a high of 39.5% but is falling away again – is this the reason why members are more likely to deal with the agenda around violence against women? In truth many men within that parliament have been vocal supporters too.
Maybe the biggest cause for change is that women’s group and others have taken the lead in making sure that the issue reaches the public consciousness.
However, there is much further to go. The justice system still lags way behind. The Domestic Abuse Court in Glasgow has shown the difference that can be made when those presiding over our justice system are properly training and aware of these issues. This is however; the minority position and we all too often hear well-meaning but badly informed judges making crass statements regarding abuse and violence against women.”
7th June 2012