Violence Against Women and Girls and Learning Disabilities Virtual Event – speech by Equalities Minister Christina McKelive
Thank you very much for having me, and thank you Michelle and Roxanne for speaking so bravely about your own experiences. Listening to the voices of survivors is crucial to us as we develop policy; and it is only by listening to these experiences that we can implement policies that effectively meet the needs of women and children affected by violence and abuse.
I’m glad to see so many different fields of expertise at this event. We know that when it comes to addressing the needs of women and children that one size cannot fit all and that we must be cognisant of the varied and complex needs of women with learning disabilities who we know from research are twice as likely to be subjected to domestic violence and abuse; and for longer periods of time.
To respond effectively we must work together, and with such a wealth of knowledge and experience in the ‘virtual room’ here today, I’m looking forward to us building on what we already know and working towards better outcomes for women and children.
Covid-19 Funding and Services
The UN 16 days of Activism is an opportunity for us to come together, to give new momentum to our ambitions, and to celebrate just how far we have come. However, I don’t think any of us could have predicted or foreseen the climate in which we currently find ourselves; and the impact of this pandemic across our society cannot be understated.
I have been both saddened and shocked that the risks to women and children affected by violence and abuse have increased during this period and I am sure I speak for all of us in saying that this is absolutely unacceptable.
That is why as a Government we have been tirelessly focused on ensuring that women and children get the help they need and that tackling domestic abuse and all forms of gender based violence continues to be prioritised.
Since March 2020, we have invested over £5.5 million in services across Scotland to help rapid redesign and support for victims and survivors during Covid-19. This additional funding has helped to ensure women and children experiencing or at risk of violence and domestic abuse have continued access to vital help and support.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many organisations and services on the call today who have worked tirelessly to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic and to re-design their services and to keep their ‘virtual doors’ open so that women and children affected by violence and abuse have still been able to access crucial help and support.
We have worked hard to understand the impact of this pandemic and to ensure that local and national government has responded effectively. We worked with COSLA to develop guidance for local authorities and community planning partners, which aims to ensure that a sustainable, joined-up approach to safeguarding the needs of women, children and young people experiencing violence and abuse during Covid-19 is embedded at a local strategic level.
The Scottish Government has also produced guidance to highlight that public health guidelines or rules do not prevent anyone from taking measures to escape or keep themselves safe from domestic abuse and we continue to keep this Guidance up to date to reflect our route map to recovery.
Impact on women and children with learning disabilities
We also recognise that different groups in society will have been affected by this pandemic differently.
Autistic children and young people, and/or children and young people with learning/intellectual disability have faced and responded to a wider range of challenges than the general population; and have worked throughout the pandemic to ensure people with learning disabilities are safe and informed.
The Scottish Government has worked with the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability and People First to create Easy Read versions of all Coronavirus guidance and information, which is available on NHS Inform.
We have also worked with the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability and People First to create Domestic Abuse Easy Read documents and publish them on our website.
Despite the hugely challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves, our commitment to tackle violence against women and girls has not waivered.
On 24 November we published our Final Progress Report for Equally Safe. which details some of our key actions and achievements and gives you an idea of just how far we have come. We continue to emphasise the importance of our primary prevention agenda and are making progress with important whole system initiatives in schools, workplaces and further and higher education institutions.
We have also published a suite of resources to support learning around important issues like consent and raising awareness of what a healthy relationship should look like; including the key messages on healthy relationships and consent for all professionals working with children and young people; and an updated Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) online resource.
This year, we worked with Young Scot to develop an online resource for children and young people on gender based violence and where to go for support. The resource, called ‘That’s not OK,’ launched in September 2020 and Young Scot are working directly with young people to co-design and refine the content.
We have also scaled up work in respect of women with learning disabilities and have created a working group in the Scottish Government in recognition of the fact that disabled women and girls are at greater risk of violence than non-disabled women and girls and women with a learning/intellectual disability are more likely to experience sexual abuse than other disabled people.
However, the current climate has also highlighted that we must act here and now, to ensure that those experiencing violence and abuse get the help and support they need.
In addition to the funding I mentioned earlier, over £12 million from the Equality Budget is being invested this year to support services and tackle the underlying issues that create the conditions for violence.
And next week we will relaunch our Delivering Equally Safe Fund, inviting applications from organisations who are delivering work which directly contributes to the objectives of Equally Safe.
Despite the progress that has been made, I recognise there remains more to be done and we will continue to keep up the pace.
As we make the transition into the next phase of recovery from the pandemic, this marks an opportune moment for us all to reflect on progress so far but also think about what Equally Safe might look like in the future, both in terms of strategic ambition and plans for delivery; and I look forward to working with you all to shape our future plans.
Undoubtedly a key part of our focus as we move forward twill be to better understand the experiences of women with learning disabilities affected by domestic abuse and to use this knowledge to form a more coordinated and joined up response.
Unfortunately I am unable to stay for the entire event but I look forward to feedback and working with you all more closely to progress this agenda.