Violence against women doesn’t happen in a vacuum

The government's predilection for prioritising effect over cause has consequences - we must focus on prevention as well as cure.

The International Development Secretary has trumpeted her work on Violence against Women and Girls. And of course any focus on this vital matter is welcome, but look below the surface and there’s obviously a problem: It’s still treated throughout government as a 'women’s issue'.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Given that one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime; that, in some countries, violence against women is near-universal; and that the World Bank identifies gender-based violence as one of the biggest health risks facing women – more of a threat to their wellbeing than either cancer or car accidents; given all these issues - it’s clear - one day will never be enough.

The government have succeeded in raising the status of this vital issue, tackling the often collusive silence that surrounds the debate. This commitment must be applauded. But their approach is fundamentally flawed.

In June this year, Parliament’s cross-party International Development Committee highlighted DfID’s bias towards support services for the victims of violence rather than programmes aimed at tackling the underlying cultural beliefs and social structures thatperpetuate this savage trend. Of 117 interventions listed by DfID, just 16 were aimed at changing social norms.

Take a glance at the Department for International Development’s (DfID) list of projects aimed at tackling violence against women. Of the 69 projects listed, 'women' and 'girls'mfeature 81 times. 'Men' and 'boys'? Not once. Placing the burden for tackling violence solely on women’s shoulders is not only a route to more stress and risk, but (crucially) it won’t actually tackle the core cause. And in doing so, implicitly allows violence to continue.   

All too often, gender inequality, reproductive and sexual health, childcare, and violence against women and girls are defined (and dismissed) as women’s issues. Men are the primary perpetrators of violence, and committers of risky sexual and drug-taking behaviour – risks that are all-too-often passed onto their unknowing or powerless wives and girlfriends – but they’re habitually missing from the debate. Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Since the Tories have come to power, gender activists have become alarmed at a shift in the programmatic approach to supporting women – warning of short-termism and hollow-gesturing. As I wrote recently, the duplicitous nature of a government which promises violence against women and girls is "at the heart of everything they do", whilst devoting tokenistic pots of money to the cause is failing to effectively integrate gender inequality into wider development programmes.

It is crucial that we shift the focus onto prevention as well as 'cure': not only are the mental (and sometimes physical) scars of being a victim often 'incurable', but living with the fear of violence can be just as damaging, psychologically and physically, as actually experiencing it.

That is the challenge today, as it should be every other.

Gavin Shuker MP (@ShukerOffice) is the newly appointed shadow minister for international development, with specific responsibility for tackling violence against women and girls

Street children look on as Indian social activists take part in a rally on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Kolkata on November 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here