The United Nations defines violence against women as any gender based violence that leads to or is likely to result in sexual harm, mental harm or any other kind of suffering to women. This includes threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty either in private or public life (The UN Declaration on Violence Against Women 1992).
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Violence against women and girls is recognised globally as a violation of fundamental human rights that include the right to non-discrimination based on sex, right to not be treated inhumanly and degradingly, right to respect for private and family life and right to life (Bird & Westley 2011). The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action to which the United Kingdom is committed, states that violence against women is one of the major hindrances to the achievement of gender equality. Although the United Kingdom. The United Nations Committee and the European Court of Human Rights on the elimination of discrimination against women recognises violence against women as a form of discrimination. The United Kingdom has an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent violence against women under the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the Beijing Platform and the Convention, the country has an obligation to change stereotypes, cultures and attitudes that perpetuate gender inequality. In the UK the new public sector equality duty under the Equality Act of 2010 requires all public bodies to consider equality, discrimination and good relations between groups in the way they formulate policy, employ people, buy goods and services and deliver services. This means that all the public bodies have an obligation to prevent violence against women.
Violence against women voluntary sector
The voluntary sector provides important services to support and protect the victims of violence against women. The organisations in the voluntary sector working to end the violence directed towards women in the United Kingdom challenge the system that allows for violence and abuse to continue in the country and at the same time celebrate the women who have survived such violent. The voluntary sector mostly pursues proactive prevention measures that can be categorised into three major groups depending on the target population (Stark & Buzawa 2009). The first group consists of the general measures directed at certain population groups or the whole population. For instance some of the voluntary groups use study courses in preventing violence against women for students and media campaigns targeting specific groups of children. The second category comprises of targeted measures directed at specific high risk groups for instance educating the armed forces on the importance of respecting the rights of women and all other human beings. The last category consists of the measures directed at the individuals who have already been subjected to violence before with an intention of preventing them from committing the violence again. For example they provide rehabilitation programs for the perpetrators of violence to educate them on the importance of respecting the rights of women and human rights in general.
Educational institutions and schools have been supportive of the voluntary sector as they allow them to access the students and educate them on the adverse effects of violence against women. In addition to that, these institutions also pay special attention to violent behaviour as far as the welfare of the students is concerned. The voluntary sector organises awareness campaigns targeting women to inform them that men are responsible for all their acts of violence and that such violence is illegal and as such should be reported and punished. Such initiatives are aimed at encouraging more women to come out and report the violence that they suffer privately at home in order to protect them from repeated assaults which can end up costing their lives in the long run. The campaigns also encourage the men to examine and challenge any cultural orientations that perpetuate violence against women. The programs directed at the young people have particularly been rewarding as it has reduced violence in learning institutions although there is still need to do more (Hughes & Owen 2009). The voluntary organisations often target providing education to the young people to correct the system. Most of these organisations believe that it is the system to blame for the high rates of violence against women because the society is not sufficiently educated on the need for respecting the basic human rights thus leading to the violation of the rights of women through battery and sexual violence (Harne & Radford 2008). As such they direct a lot of their effort in educating the young people at an age where the identity of their gender is just starting to take shape and can easily be influenced. For example the 16-20 age groups are often persuaded to stay in love and respect their partners in order to reduce violent behaviour in partnerships. The emphasis is that if they really love their partners then they should always strive to make them happy and not engage in any acts that would harm them. Such programs are often conducted in different communities including youth associations, schools and sports clubs.
In terms of protecting the immigrant community, the voluntary organisations often pursue comprehensive integration as the best strategy for preventing them against violence. The aim of comprehensive integration is not just to help them find jobs and settle but to help them restore their sense of life control. One way of helping the immigrants achieve this is by giving them information, support and guidance in the early stages of integration. The voluntary organisations often do this with respect to their cultural backgrounds in order to ensure that they do not perceive the process as one designed to force them abandon their cultures. The intervention programs targeting the immigrant groups are normally well constructed in order to consider their cultural backgrounds as well as the different challenges that come with the process of immigration and integration. Some of the immigrants coming into the country are from countries with patriarchal and hierarchic social structures where the right of women with regard to equality is something that has never existed both in theory and practice. For instance the girls who come to the country from cultures that do not proscribe violence against women often live under several restrictions (DeKeseredy 2011). Such restrictions make the integration process very difficult let alone access to information on physical and sexual violence. In these groups some parents at times prohibit their daughters from using the internet, engaging in leisure activities, meeting boys or doing any other things that their peers are doing and they may also wish to participate in.
The voluntary organisations often dissuade the immigrant communities with such cultures from sending their girls to other countries in order to defend their sexual reputation. Although the gendered phenomenon is inculcated deep into their culture, these organisations target the parents from this group with an aim of informing them on the dangers they expose their daughters to by forcing them to move to the other countries. Incidences of forced or early marriages are also common among these people and this increases the risk of the women and girls being exposed to violence because they do not have free will since all decisions are made for them by other people. In order to stop such behaviour and protect the women and the young girls, the voluntary organisations often offer low threshold services and activities as well as peer support groups to inform the population on the availability of such services so that they know where to turn to whenever they need any kind of assistance. Marriage is a voluntary union under the UK legislation and all the marriage procedures are supposed to protect the freedom of choice of all the individuals involved. The voluntary organisations often give the immigrants information regarding gender equality, consequences of domestic violence and rape, and where to report such incidences whenever they are perpetrated.
Peer groups are one effective channel that the voluntary organisations utilise in passing information regarding aspects like welfare, wellbeing, life control and prevention of violence against women. These groups are efficient in that the members are in most cases free to discuss their personal challenges with their colleagues making it easy for the voluntary organisations to offer help and assistance to the victims of violence against women.
To the victims of violence, the voluntary organisations normally offer them support as well as therapy to help them recover from the trauma caused by the violence. The support is normally offered jointly with other health services in selected environments to help the victims recover in the shortest time possible and resume their normal life activities (Thiara et al 2012). In addition to this, the voluntary organisations also help the victims to make use of the legal system by reporting the offenders to the authorities so they can face the law and pay for the consequences of their unlawful actions. For instance they offer financial assistance to the women who are unable to raise the legal fees, file for divorce, social security, and negotiate for child custody among other things. Owing to the fact that child custody and visiting arrangements exposes the victims to the risk of further violence in the form of blackmail, threats or direct violence the voluntary organisations normally help the women with security arrangements like insisting that whenever such visits are made it should never be in private.
The voluntary organisations have managed to achieve this level of success because they devised strategies of reaching out to the women and men differently. Once they identified that the issue lies with the system, they embarked on educating the young people on the importance of respecting human rights and upholding high moral values. To the women who are currently at the risk of being exposed to violence, the voluntary organisations have made measures to encourage them to come out and report so that they can be assisted. They inform the women that the men should take responsibility for their actions and as such they should come out and report any incidences of violence early before they escalate to the level of interfering with the quality of their lives (Lombard & McMillan 2013). The men are encouraged to resort to other measures of conflict resolution without resorting to violence because violence is itself a problem and does not provide a solution to anything. This shows that different categories require different intervention mechanisms but all these efforts are aimed at achieving the major objective which is to protect women against gender based violence.
The response of the voluntary sector to the issue at hand is directed by both proactive and reactive approaches. These strategies are important as they are useful in helping the voluntary organisations achieve their objectives in the short and long run. The proactive approaches are used on the young populations with an objective of educating them on the need to uphold high moral values and respect human rights (Hughes & Owen 2009). They are encouraged to solve their differences in relationships amicably without resorting to violence because violence only leads to more problems. The reactive approach on the other hand is intended to help both the perpetrators and victims of gender violence. The victims are encouraged to report the perpetrators to the authorities, seek counselling and get out of the abusive marriages. The perpetrators are also offered counselling and educative services to ensure that they do not repeat the crimes again.
The response of the voluntary sector differs slightly from those of the statutory agencies because the latter mostly pursues the reactive approach while the former pursues both (True 2012). The statutory agencies help the victims by offering different services like healthcare, counselling, encouraging the victims to report, and helping the victims with the legal procedures among others. Their emphasis is twofold, one is to help the victims and the other one is to deter the behaviour. The sectors response presents a holistic approach as it aims to provide both short term and long term solutions. There is no evidence that the measures taken to control violence against women are working because the number of violence victims is still high in the country as already indicated in the country. There is also a possibility that the figures provided are still an underestimation given that many women still fear coming out to report that they are in abusive relationships (DeKeseredy 2011).
External factors particularly funding has affected the response of the voluntary sector because they have limited resources at their disposal. The devolution of funding for the voluntary sector from the central government to the local authorities has resulted into many inconsistencies in levels and types of funding. For example many local authorities in the country have stopped giving the grant aid and now prefer commissioning of services through tendering and other contract funding. This has led to instability within the voluntary sector and loss of essential services (True 2012). A perfect example is refuge accommodation where the authorities have resorted to support few large organisations providing services to communities that they do not have any previous connections or knowledge at the expense of strengthening the smaller local organisations that are well placed to cater for the needs of the local people. In other cases the housing associations and other providers are taking over the specialist services offered for the victims leading to loss of expertise and independence of the voluntary sector (Thiara et al 2012). With the limited funds the voluntary sector cannot do much and as such they should focus their energy and resources on services not offered by the statutory bodies. There is need for them to focus on the key areas that they can achieve maximum returns with the limited funds while exploring other means of raising more money to support their activities.
Summary and the key issues
The prevalence of violence against women is still high in the United Kingdom despite all the efforts made by the government to reduce the problem. The voluntary organisations present a good avenue of mitigating the problem although they face many challenges that hamper the effective execution of their services. These challenges range from inadequate financing to additional roles like caring for men too have destabilised the organisations. The national government should therefore help these voluntary organisations with adequate funds and support to help them reduce violence against women in the United Kingdom.
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