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Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls

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1. Introduction

"I can't believe how different I feel now. I'm so much stronger and no longer blame myself for the past."
Service user, West Lothian Domestic and Sexual Assault Team

1.1 Our aim

Our aim is to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, creating a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from such abuse - and the attitudes that help perpetuate it.

Ambitious? Undoubtedly. But to aspire to anything less is unacceptable. No woman or girl in Scotland should be subject to violence or abuse of any kind, physical or non-physical.

There are no quick fixes to this deep-rooted problem. Instead it requires significant social, cultural and attitudinal change over the long-term; change that calls for the sustained commitment not just of a wide range of partners but individuals and communities too.

In the drive to achieve our long-term aim we are clear about the importance of focusing on prevention but we must also be realistic and recognise that women and girls will continue to experience violence in all its forms today, tomorrow and for some time to come. Therefore, intervention services remain key. As a result both prevention and intervention will remain fundamentally important in our future work.

All forms, all women

Equally Safe is Scotland's strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls: domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault; sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in public; stalking; commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution, pornography and human trafficking; dowry-related violence; female genital mutilation (FGM); forced marriage; and so-called 'honour' based violence. We know that our approach is more developed for some of the forms of violence and abuse than others and this strategy will provide a framework for helping to address this as part of future work. The strategy recognises that women and girls are at risk of such abuse precisely because they are female and it aligns with the UN definition of violence against women that includes the girl child, reflecting that this risk is present throughout life. It is gender, rather than age, that predicts an individual's likelihood of experiencing inequality and the forms of violence described above, with girls, young women and adult women all at risk because they are female.

Clearly, boys and men can also experience violence and we are in no way diminishing the seriousness of that experience or proposing to alter the support on offer to them. What we are aiming to highlight however, is that being female in itself can lead to a range of discrimination and disadvantage, including experiencing male violence, and that this has to stop.

Not only that but violence against women can have significant consequences beyond those experienced by the individual. Children and young people growing up in the same family setting can be badly affected, whether as victims of violence directly or as witnesses to violence.

Strategic framework

Over the following pages, we set out our national strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, informed by engagement with partners and the experiences of service providers and service users.

It starts with a shared understanding of the causes, risk factors and scale of the problem. It highlights the need to prioritise prevention. And it set out how we will develop the outcomes, indicators and performance measurement needed to realise our aim and priorities. This will be done by working collaboratively with partners, across policy areas and with a wide range of interests; by making best use of available resources and with clear governance and process.

What the strategy doesn't do is list the specific activity required of each of the different partners involved. Because Equally Safe is not a delivery plan. It's a strategic framework to help organisations and partners - individually and within Community Planning Partnerships - align their work with one shared goal: a strong, flourishing Scotland where women and girls live free from violence and the attitudes that help perpetuate it. The relevant outcomes and indicators and the actions we need to take to deliver our aim and priorities will be developed with partners.

1.2 The wider context

Not only is it our moral duty to take action against violence against women and girls, it is also our legal duty as set out by several international treaties and human rights obligations.

Amongst them are The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2011)[2]; The Global Platform for Action (1995)[3] calling on governments to take integrated measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls; The Human Rights Act (1988)[4]; and The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an agenda for action to end discrimination against women.

Scotland is fully committed to meeting the benchmark set by each of these international treaties and obligations.

National Performance Framework

Preventing violence against women and girls is also essential to achieving the Scottish Government's overarching purpose: "to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth."

It contributes to the Scottish Government strategic objectives in particular safer and stronger, healthier, and wealthier and fairer - and to eight of the national outcomes contained in the National Performance Framework.

Equally Safe also provides a strategic framework for the delivery of the Scottish Government's equality outcome on tackling violence against women[5].

Wider policy

Work to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls is interwoven into several other Scottish Government strategies, programmes and frameworks. These range from Curriculum for Excellence (2002), Equally Well (2008), Early Years Framework (2009), Early Years Collaborative (2012) and National Parenting Strategy (2012), to the Strategy for Justice in Scotland (2012) and Getting Our Priorities Right (2013).

Adding to these, Scotland's first National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) 2013-2017 explicitly recognises that taking action to address violence against women and girls is needed to ensure we realise the human rights of all our citizens.

2. Strategic approach

"I feel more confident, like I'm getting my life back and I believe in myself again."
Service user, East Ayrshire Women's Aid