Councillor Maureen Chalmers, COSLA's Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, made an address to the COSLA Community Wellbeing Board on Friday 8th December 2023, to mark the closing of this year's 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign.
"As we come to near to 2023’s close of 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence on Human Rights Day (Sunday, December 10), the international theme, 'Unite and Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls,' resonates deeply in Local Government.
This campaign urges us to fund diverse prevention strategies, challenging gender norms. It sheds light on the global prevalence of violence against women and encourages organisations to commit to meaningful and robust investment in prevention.
This doesn't imply neglecting specialist services; rather, it emphasises the need to broaden our perspective. To address the roots, we must confront systemic gender inequality embedded in our culture, society, institutions, and systems. For COSLA and across local government it's time to ask, "How does our decision-making impact women and girls' access to equality and human rights?"
The local theme, 'Imagine a Scotland without Gender-Based Violence,' was chosen by our National Violence Against Women Network. It prompts us to confront the harsh reality faced by women and girls daily through sickening statistics. These cover domestic abuse, forced marriage, child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation, FGM and forced marriage, 'so called' honour-based violence and sexual violence and rape. All inflict harm on individuals and communities alike.
Echoing our President's words at November’s Leaders’, we can't keep treating symptoms; prevention is the key. A whole-system approach, focused on gender equality and harm prevention, is the solution.
Imagining a Scotland where everyone feels secure requires persistent efforts and collaboration to eliminate gender-based violence. We must recognise it as a significant public health and human rights concern. We must shift our focus to primary prevention. We must align what we do with the commitments laid out in the joint Scottish & Local Government refreshed Equally Safe Strategy that launched here in Verity House yesterday.
Local Government must embed gender equality into every aspect of thinking and planning, particularly given the constrained finances. Scottish Government investment in Local Government's capacity is crucial.
This is all the more so as the three vital Ps - prevention, protection, and provision - reside in our workforces, local spaces, and services. They extend to education, community safety, mental health support, and more.
Investment in community development, political engagement, and cultural services creates safe spaces. This includes supporting those at risk, embedded in public protection functions.
Without resources for local systems and community centred services, our nation risks much. Communities are where people live, belong, and have the right to “live well” with respect and equality. Prevention and support are relational; accessible services are crucial for maintaining relationships, supporting intervention, enabling recovery, and holding to account those who perpetuate harm on others.
Every day, women and girls in Scotland face violence and abuse. The repercussions extend beyond individuals to communities, causing substantial harm to health and well-being.
Realising a Scotland where everyone feels secure in their communities is possible through persistent efforts and collaboration to eliminate gender-based violence. It's imperative to acknowledge this as a significant public health and human rights concern, shifting our focus to primary prevention to make substantial progress in preventing violence against women and girls.
To conclude I want to hand over my power and step away from my platform so that space can be given to the voice of a mother of a young daughter in Scotland today, to close this statement.
This poem has been specially written and recorded for 16 Days this year by Myra Ross who is the Highland Violence Against Women Partnership Training Officer.
It is called Imagine and says all that is needed to say. Apart from that I look forward to continuing to work with you all to oversee delivery and implementation of the newly refreshed Equally Safe Strategy. As elected political decision makers and as part of the collective voice of Local Government in Scotland I know we will continue to drive our work forward together to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls from Scotland.
Councillor Chalmers also played the poem 'Imagine' by Myra Ross, which can be watched / listened to on YouTube here.