Author Archives: Rachel Conner

About Rachel Conner

Rachel Conner is currently a postgraduate newspaper journalism student at Cardiff University. She graduated in 2010 from the University of Durham with an LLB.

Domestic Abuse [Wales] Bill

The Welsh government announced this week plans to introduce a Domestic Abuse [Wales] Bill as part of the new legislative agenda.

The Bill, the first of its kind in the UK, will introduce a statutory requirement for all local authorities to have a violence against women strategy in place on a local level.

The Bill will be introduced during the 2013/14 legislative year.

Addressing the National Assembly on Monday First Minister Carwyn Jones said:

“This Government wants to do more to tackle the social problems of domestic abuse. We will introduce in the next two years the Domestic Abuse (Wales) Bill, designed to place a duty on relevant public sector bodies to have a domestic abuse and ‘violence against women strategy’ in place.  The Bill will not seek to address criminal justice issues.  Rather the purpose of the provisions will be concerned with social welfare and the prevention, protection and support elements of a domestic abuse and violence against women strategy.”

[Statement in full]

A representative from the Wales Violence Against Women Action Group said:

“We are also absolutely delighted that the First Minister announced a Domestic Abuse Bill, and hope that it will seek to tackle all forms of VAW and ensure that all main VAW services are statutory at a local level.

“Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Local Government and Communities has clearly taken on board our representations that services to help women who suffer violence are a postcode lottery in Wales. He clearly agrees with us that these services must be protected, even when finances are difficult.

“His support is very welcome, and we look forward to working with him over the next year or two to help deliver better services and a new bill to better protect women in Wales.”


Steps to Safety: snapshot of progress made in Wales to tackle violence against women

In 2010 the Welsh Government launched a six year strategy, called a Right to be safe, to tackle violence against women. A progress report,  Steps to Safety, has been published by the Wales Violence against Women Action Group [Wales VAW] to give a snapshot of progress made. 

 

Among the positive steps taken, the action group welcomes  the campaign launched by the WG last year to challenge attitudes towards violence against women [started in June with the One step too far campaign and followed by the Stop Blame campaign at Christmas] .

They also welcomed

  • better services for trafficked victims and improved co-ordination
  • a booklet for health professionals on FGM and some training provided on forced marriage

But while many of the aims labelled as tackling policy and prevention were in progress or completed, for many  of the “protection” and “provision” aims were labelled as having “no progress” made.

There was a lack of progress in areas including;

  • tackling the postcode lottery
  • providing secure funding for key services
  • ensuring someone in every school is trained to advise young women
  • working effectively across all Welsh Government departments and with the UK Government

Naomi Brightmore, Chair of the Wales VAW Action Group said:

“Carl Sargeant has demonstrated his political commitment to tackling violence against women, but turning a government strategy into real impacts on the ground is proving tricky.

“Though we can see that there are areas where progress has been made, the strategy contains no measureable targets or outcomes, so we cannot say that women in Wales are safer in 2011 than they were in 2010 – and that is surely what we are all working towards.

“Our member organisations tell us that the squeeze on public finances is making service provision on the ground even more patchy – so we are calling on the Minister to put even more pressure on the relevant public bodies.”

According to Ms Brightmore, in one month in Wales,

  • 150 women enter refuge following abuse, with 160 turned away.
  • Some 35 sexual assault cases will be taken to court.
  • Over 150 victims of rape or sexual abuse will seek counselling, help and support from the voluntary sector.
  • Five women will be victims of trafficking and 3 will report forced marriage.
  • It is quite likely that a woman will die this month at the hands of a family member or partner.

Paula Hardy, CEO of Welsh  Women’s Aid, said:

“We have seen some excellent progress over the past year, including the delivery of two innovative publicity campaigns, the expansion of the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline (which WWA manages) to also support survivors of sexual violence, and publication of new guidance for teachers to deliver PSE lessons on domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women.

“We have welcomed the clear commitment to ending gender-based violence from the Minister of Communities and Local Government,  including the protection of the violence against women budget within his department.

“However, it is disappointing that this commitment is not matched across all Welsh Government departments, despite The Right to be Safe being billed as a ‘cross-departmental, integrated strategy’. Domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence affect all areas of a woman’s life, and all departments need to be engaged.

“Changes to vital funding streams in other departments, such as Supporting People funding in the Housing department, could have a detrimental impact to our 31 member groups across Wales, who provided refuge-based support for 1761 women and 1421 children and young people last year. We are also concerned at the lack of funding available for vital work with children and young people affected by domestic abuse.

“We are also concerned that there remain significant gaps between national policy and local delivery in this area. We need local authorities to understand that tackling violence against women is a national priority – and this should be enforced by legislation if needs be.”

There will be a debate in the Senedd on the issue of domestic violence at about 5pm this afternoon.


The curse of Mills and Boon

As reported by the Daily Telegraph earlier today Mills and Boon apparantly cause marriage break-ups, adulterous affairs and unwanted pregnancies.

The reason: women are unable to distinguish between real life and romantic novels.

The research, published by the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, claims the romantic novels, famously published by Mills and Boon, promote values which run counter to the aims of family planning clinics.

Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist and author of the article, told the Telegraph:

“What we see in our consulting rooms is more likely to be informed by Mills & Boon than by the Family Planning Association.”

So can it really be true?  Are modern day women so easily confused? Or is this research more akin to something which might be published by Mills and Boon themselves?

Comments are welcome!

 

 


Slutwalkers take to Cardiff Streets

More than 200 people took to the streets of Cardiff today to protest against a culture of rape and victim blaming.

This was the first Slutwalk, a trend which started in Canada and the US in April, to take part in the UK.

Chants of “two, four six, eight, love sex, hate rape” and “Yes means yes and No means no” rang out as the march progressed from the city hall to St John’s church, where Cathy Owens of Amnesty International, Helen-Mary Jones of  Plaid Cymru and Dr Emma Renold of Cardiff University made speeches.

Helen Mary Jones said:

“I thought we had done all this in the seventies and eighties, I thought we had got the message across.  It breaks my heart as an old feminist to see a third of young Welsh people, including women think it is ok for a woman to be hurt or abused because of what she is wearing.

“No must mean no and we must get that message across.  This is an issue for us all.”

A survey of Welsh students by NUS Wales and Amnesty International in 2008 revealed more than one third [36 per cent] of people questioned believed a woman is responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted if she had acted in a flirtatious manner, while a quarter [23 per cent] thought a woman is responsible if she is wearing sexy or revealing clothing.

In another survey by the Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centre, 23 per cent of men questioned thought even a women said “no” right from the start, sex from that point was not rape.

Here are some of the social media responses to today’s walk.

[View the story “Cardiff Slutwalk: 4th June 2011” on Storify]


Cardiff Slutwalks: saying No to victim blaming.

Photo: Anton Bielousov

Slutwalking may have got itself a controversial reputation but organisers of the Cardiff march are keen to emphasise there is much more to this latest trend than fishnets and short skirts.

The slutwalking movement, which has spread over several continents in just over a month, is meant to tackle attitudes towards rape and victim blaming culture.

Women worldwide, angry at comments made by Canadian police officer Michael Sanguinetti that “women should avoid dressing as sluts in order not to be victimised”, have taken to the streets to challenge rape myths and reclaim the word slut.

More than 650 people have already signed up on Facebook to take part in the Cardiff walk, which will take place on June 4.

The Cardiff organisers, Beccy Pert, 20, Leah White, 25, Hannah Caddick, 21, and Lemon Cottrell, 21, have been overwhelmed by people’s responses.

From Left, Lemon Cottrell, Hannah Caddick, Leah White, Beccy Pert.

Hannah, an English Literature finalist at Cardiff University, said:

“We saw an article about it and I thought it was really inspirational and made me want to organise our own march.  We started an interest group on Facebook and within an hour we had fifty members and so many responses.  It really just snowballed.”

But not all the reaction has been good.  Leah said:

“The reactions we have had proves how important it is.  Victim blaming is a massive problem and so many people have reacted against it saying things like ‘what do women expect?’  It makes it obvious what a big problem it is and why we need to have the march.”

A survey of Welsh students by NUS Wales and Amnesty International in 2008 revealed more than one third [36 per cent] of people questioned believed a woman is responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted if she had acted in a flirtatious manner, while a quarter [23 per cent] thought a woman is responsible if she is wearing sexy or revealing clothing.

In another survey by the Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centre, 23 per cent of men questioned thought even a women said “no” right from the start, sex from that point was not rape.

Images of women marching in bras and fishnet stockings on marches in places such as Toronto and Boston have dominated the media but the Cardiff organisers are keen to make it clear women do not have to dress up to take place.

“The really extreme images aren’t really representative of the movement as a whole,” Leah said. “We are not encouraging people to dress up or behave like sluts, we want people to be comfortable.  We do not have the right to tell people how to dress and neither does anybody else.  That is what this is all about.”

The controversial name of the walks has been one of the main talking points in the media.  The idea of reclaiming the word slut has caused a lot of debate, not least among feminists.

Beccy said:

“Reclaiming the word slut is definitely a secondary to our main aim but I do think it is quite important.  There is no real male equivalent of the word.  Words like seducer or womaniser are used but they have this sense of admiration, while women who are sexually promiscuous are made to feel shamed and degraded by being called a slut.”

Cardiff Feminist Network [CFN] member Molly Zacharias, 27, of Alma Street, Treherbert, said:

“I think reclaiming the word is either really brave or really miscalculated but personally I think it’s really great we are trying to reclaim the word, like gay people did with the word queer.  I don’t think a lot of people are going to get it though.

“I think this is a great opportunity for feminists but it might be wasted because people are spending too much time debating whether or not the word slut needs reclaiming instead of getting together a more positive campaign.”

But not all supporters of the walk are so keen to reclaim the word.  Deputy director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs [IWA] and Llandaff councillor Kirsty Davies, who will be attending the walk with her daughter, said:

“I would hesitate to call any woman a slut so I don’t think the name is very helpful, though at the same time is has been useful in getting the attention of the media.

“While I am not interested in reclaiming the word I do think the message of the walk is very important.  It is an issue which doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, really because it happens so often.”

The focus on attittudes towards rape was heightened recently as Ken Clarke, Minister for Justice, faced controversy over comments he made suggesting there are different types of rape, some of which are more serious than others.

The Welsh Government has already made its position on rape and blame culture clear and in December launched a Stop Blame campaign to tackle attitudes.

At the time of the launch last December former Social Justice Minister Carl Sargeant said:

“Victims or rape or sexual assault are in no way responsible for what happens to them. Apparent justification such as ‘she was too drunk’ or ‘she was asking for it’ just doesn’t wash. This attitude can be extremely damaging for the victims and we must put an end to it now.

“There is absolutely no excuse for committing rape or sexual assault and the blame should never be placed on the victim.”

In stark contrast to the reaction to the slutwalks campaigns like Stop Blame and other events focussed on eliminating violence against women like Reclaim the Night have struggled to reach a wide audience.

Cardiff Feminist Hannah Austin, who also works for Welsh Women’s Aid  said:

“I have worked with government campaigns and it is really, really difficult because they hardly get any media attention.

“All the feedback has suggested the Stop Blame campaign has been successful but it is difficult to know if it has changed attitudes.”


Art in Cardiff to celebrate International Women’s Day

As part of the Breaking the Waves feminist festival, there are a number of women-centric art exhibitions in Cardiff this week.

The celebrations for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day are focused around women and art, and festival organisers are holding events such as life drawing workshops, craftivism and art exhibitions.

One of the exhibitions, Bodies and Selves in Milgi’s in City Road, shows work from both male and female artists and is an exploration of gender through various art forms.

The curator, French artist Emilie Collins said: “It was important for me not to exclude male artists, they can be feminist as well.  We should not exclude anyone or limit the scope people can reach.”

One of the main artists, Tomasz Zawistowski has produced a number of pieces which explore sexuality and the boundaries between what is considered erotic and what is considered pornographic.

Exploring the boundaries: work by Tomasz Zawistowski

His beautiful images show  various body parts in unusual ways.  Though portrayed in quite sexually, they are often not parts of the body generally considered erotic, and the boundaries between male and female are blurred as it is not always possible to tell which body is which.

Spike Dennis has also explored gender themes through a series of images called humanimals.  His merging of male, female and animal characters means the result is an interesting exploration of the bestial nature of human sexuality.  The use of Welsh mythological animals such as frogs, wolves and rabbits add an extra dimension to the work.

Iranian artist Diba Mehrabi uses her culture in her art to explore issues of gender and freedom.  Her work, Can I have freedom please?, uses textiles in a moving way to show the plight of many women in the Middle East.

Other featured artists are Lauren Foulkes, Paul Avis, Edel Cronin and Marielle Hogg.

The Exhibition opened on Friday and will run until March 29.

The Off the Wall contemporary art gallery in Llandaff is also showing an exhibition for International Women’s Day, in conjunction with the Women’s Art Association and features more than 20 female artists.

One of the most striking pieces, Girl in red corset by Sue Rowe, is a painting of almost photographic quality and shows a wonderful balance between confident yet awkward female sexuality.

Contemporary art by Emma Coyle

Girl in Red Corset by Sue Rowe

Irish artist, Emma Coyle uses more of a pop art style and her pieces are certainly eye-catching.  Her bright colours and stylised images instantly attract interest.

On Saturday another exhibition opened in Milkwood Gallery in Lochaber Street, Cardiff which presents a group of contemporary women artists working in a diverse range of media, from the traditional to the digital.

The opening night included a performance based on the brownies by Welsh group Ffaf.


International Women’s Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and in Cardiff the first ever feminist festival to celebrate was launched with a “join us on the bridge” event in Bute Park.

I wrote this article for the Cardiffian:

The Cardiff Feminist Network is expecting more than 100 women to participate in their Breaking the Waves festival.

This will be the first ever feminist festival to celebrate International Women’s Day in Cardiff, with organisers hoping to make it an annual event.

Though the theme for the day is a celebration of women’s achievements over the last 100 years, the Cardiff group has decided to focus on women and art, and is organising events such as life drawing workshops, craftivism and an exhibition of contemporary women’s art.

Organiser Meg Kissack said: “We want to celebrate the achievements of women, including local artists and musicians.

“We decided to focus on creativity as one of the main themes of the festival as it can be used to explore feminists issues and encourage activism on an everyday level.”

The aim of the festival is also to celebrate the achievements of local feminists. Ms Kissack said: “Not only do we want to celebrate feminist achievements as a whole, we wanted to draw attention to the experiences, opinions and achievements of local feminists.

“We have an oral history evening where many women will speak about their involvement in the feminist movement across a span of decades.
“The festival is an intergenerational event, where we plan to break down the three feminist waves and focus on gender equality. We plan to continue and encourage dialogue between feminists of all ages and ethnicities in Cardiff.”

The festival started today with a “join me on the bridge” event in Bute Park. This event originated in Africa, where women from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda would meet on a bridge between their countries to stand up for peace and end violence against women.

Today, women gathered on more than 200 bridges worldwide, including 33 venues in the UK.

Candice Black, 26, who was at the event said: “It’s a great privilege to be part of something really big.”

Nina Langrish, 49,  who has been a feminist for 35 years, said: “I was quite active in the 80s but there was very little political activity in the 90s.

Now there has been a re-emergence of interest in feminism, especially from young women, which is really inspirational.”

The main event of the festival will be a conference held this Saturday, which will include an address by leading feminist Catherine Redfern, author of Reclaiming the F Word and a discussion of third-wave feminism.

Look here some of the events going on during the Breaking the Waves festival

Also going on:

  • the Daily Telegraph published some photos of women celebrating from around the world
  • The Guardian published a list of its top 100 women
  • The equality and human rights commission released a report called Who runs Wales? which shows the gender representation in Wales’ governing bodies.