Equally Safe 2023 - preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls: strategy

The Scottish Government and COSLA's commitment to preventing and eradicating this violence and addressing the underlying attitudes and systems that perpetuate it.

Our approach

Our approach recognises VAWG as a major public health issue. We are committed to adopting a public health approach to tackling VAWG, which focuses on preventing VAWG before it occurs.

Recognising the impact of societal, community and relationship factors on women and girls’ lives is key to preventing and addressing VAWG. Gender inequalities at every level of society have a profound influence on VAWG. These factors are connected and can influence and impact on each other, reinforcing the need for a comprehensive approach to prevention across all levels.

In recent years, and reflected in the engagement to refresh Equally Safe, we have heard from people that they wanted to see a commitment to taking a public health approach to preventing and eradicating VAWG. A public health approach uses evidence to prevent or to reduce VAWG, and emphasises the importance of collaborative effort from diverse sectors including health, education, social services, justice, policy, and the private sector. This will improve the safety of everyone.

To apply that approach, we’ve drawn on WHO’s public health approach to violence reduction. The four steps of this approach have been used successfully to implement violence prevention activities across the globe. We will adopt a gendered approach to applying a public health approach to preventing and eradicating VAWG, including implementing strategies to hold to account, and change the behaviours, of men who perpetrate and condone VAWG. This approach recognises that preventing VAWG is not the responsibility of victim/survivors, but requires a broader societal effort.

The four steps are:

1. What is the problem?

Define the VAWG problem through systematic data collection. For example, data shows that despite work undertaken to date, significant numbers of women and girls across Scotland still experience VAWG.

2. What are the causes?

Conduct research to find out why VAWG occurs and who it affects. For example, research shows that women’s unequal status in society is a cause and consequence of VAWG. While all women are affected by this, factors like race, age and socioeconomic status can place some women at greater risk.

3. What works and who does it work for?

Design, implement and evaluate interventions to see what works.

4. Scaling up effective policy and programmes

Scale up effective and promising interventions and evaluate their impact and cost-effectiveness.

This whole-society, preventative approach also provides a chance to strengthen the connections between tackling VAWG and tackling women’s inequality. Without this understanding, interventions tend to focus on these separately and miss the opportunity to address the root cause. We commit to delivering this strategy in a way that is underpinned by this approach to achieve the greatest impact.


To create a Scotland where women and children are safe from the harm of VAWG, we need to prevent it from happening in the first place. VAWG is avoidable. Prioritising primary prevention challenges the notion that VAWG is inevitable or acceptable.

To achieve this, we need a fundamental change in the societal attitudes, values, and structures that give rise to and sustain VAWG. This strategy reaffirms our commitment to this and aims to achieve the collective challenge of ensuring that the prevention of VAWG is given prominence. This does not mean that support for victim/survivors will be reduced. It means expanding the focus to minimise the chance of women and girls experiencing violence in the first place.

Our approach in this strategy is to consider how we promote protective factors and address the underlying causes of VAWG. This includes exploring how we tackle the systemic societal and economic disadvantages and circumstances that can foster all forms of VAWG. With an understanding of underlying causes, risk factors, and protective factors, we will then design and implement actions to prevent VAWG across three key stages. Applying this framework to VAWG has shown that it’s an effective tool for supporting change.[51]

Primary prevention aims to prevent violence before it occurs; secondary prevention aims to provide an early response to violence; and tertiary prevention focuses on preventing further violence, harm, and trauma.


Primary prevention

Preventing VAWG before it occurs

VAWG occurs

Secondary prevention

Early interventions to respond earlier, more safely and more effectively when VAWG occurs


Tertiary prevention

Preventing reoffending, longer term harm and trauma, and intergenerational violence

Top level policy framework

The changes we want to see through the implementation of this strategy are wide-ranging and cross into multiple policy areas throughout national and local government.

We want considerations of VAWG and the wider impact of women’s inequality incorporated into all policies. Throughout the lifetime of this strategy we will work across spheres of government to prioritise actions that will improve outcomes for women, children, and young people.

This, alongside the broader commitment to incorporate additional international human rights treaties into Scots law within the limits of devolved competence, will help to achieve the vision of Equally Safe. The proposed Human Rights Bill will incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), among other treaties. This will help to ensure that, when duty bearers are giving effect to the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Bill, they carefully consider specific protections for women, children and young people in delivering these rights.

As well as ensuring there is coherence across national policy and practice, the local implementation of this strategy is reliant on the work of VAWPs and wider community planning structures and processes. We continue our commitment to local planning and implementation.

A strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation and the attitudes that help perpetuate these.

The vision is framed within the context of:

Upholding human rights

Reducing the prevalence of trauma and adversity

Public service reform

Reducing poverty and inequalities

It is underpinned by our six public health priorities:

A Scotland where we live in vibrant, healthy and safe places and communities

A Scotland where we flourish in our early years

A Scotland where we have good mental wellbeing

A Scotland where we reduce the use of and harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

A Scotland where we have a sustainable, inclusive economy with equality of outcomes for all

It is reinforced by current and forthcoming legislation and treaties, including:

Human Rights Bill

Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021

Online Safety Bill

Health and Care Act 2022 (in respect of virginity testing and hymenoplasty)

Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill

Council of Europe Istanbul Convention

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016

Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Scotland Act 2009

Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act 2023

UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination

Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018

The Children Scotland Act (1995)

Race equality framework for Scotland 2016 to 2030

Equality Act 2010

Lanzarote Convention – protecting children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse

Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011

National Care Service (Scotland) Bill

Misogyny Bill

Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005

Children (Scotland) Act 2020

Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007

Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015

A Scotland where we eat well, have healthy weight and are physically active

It is supported by Scottish Government and COSLA strategies and action plans to help tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for all including (but not limited to):

Best start, bright futures: tackling child poverty delivery plan

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC)

Creating Hope Together: suicide prevention strategy

Fair Work action plan

Women’s Health Plan

Whole family approach

Improving the lives of Gypsy/Travellers: 2019-2021

Self-Harm Strategy and Action Plan

The Promise

Housing to 2040

Rights, respect and recovery: alcohol and drug treatment strategy

Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy

First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG)

A Culture Strategy for Scotland (2020) and Culture Strategy Action Plan refresh (forthcoming)

Family Justice Modernisation Strategy

Mental health and wellbeing strategy

Ending Homelessness Together

New Scots: refugee integration strategy

Gender Equality Taskforce on Education and Learning

Adult Support Protection guidance

National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 – updated 2023

No One Left Behind: delivery plan

The Vision for Justice in Scotland

Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation

Challenging men’s demand for prostitution: policy principles

Domestic Homicide Review Taskforce

Incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 Code of Practice 2022

Anti-Racism Observatory for Scotland

National Strategy for Community Justice

Violence prevention framework

Ending destitution together: strategy

Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan

Feminist approach to International Relations

Victims, Witnesses and Criminal Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill

Non-Binary Equality Action Plan

The impact on outcomes will be measured in line with our National Performance Framework, in particular:

We grow up loved, safe and respected so that we realise our full potential

We are healthy and active

We respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination

We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe

We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally

We have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy


Email: ceu@gov.scot

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