Western Mail, 26th March 2010

A million-pound expansion of Assembly Government efforts to prevent violence against women will clamp down on forced marriage in Wales.

The new strategy, announced yesterday, was welcomed by campaigners and will work to stop honour-based violence and end female genital mutilation.

Training will also be provided so staff working in refuges will be able to help women take control of their finances. In addition, new efforts will be made to ensure the safety of women on trains and at stations.

Social Justice minister Carl Sargeant unveiled the six-year Right to be Safe strategy in Llanelli and acknowledged “more needs to be done”. Each year in the UK 80,000 women experience rape or attempted rape.

The action plan states the Assembly Government will “not shy away from tackling culturally sensitive issues such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation which are not acceptable in our society”.

The Wales Violence Against Women Action Group – which includes Amnesty International and Welsh Women’s Aid – applauded the strategy but wanted it to go further.

Its demands include:

  • A comprehensive strategy to assist perpetrators and reduce re-offending;
  • the inclusion of the full range of issues relating to violence against women in the school curriculum; and
  • a stronger emphasis on helping black women and those from ethnic minorities.

Naomi Brightmore, chair of the action group, said: “Clearly, there are areas where we would have liked to see more progress, and we will be working with the Assembly Government to continue to press for extra services to tackle real gaps.

“We want to see real action that will impact on the lives of women in Wales, and ultimately reduce the level of violence faced by women in Wales. We are also concerned about the confusion created by the separation of domestic abuse and violence against women issues, and the lack of a gender-specific strategy that could hinder services to both men and women.”

Across Wales and England, 4.8 million women have had experience of at least one incident of domestic abuse. Kate Edwards, a solicitor at Cardiff’s Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice who regularly lectures on violence against women, said: “Working on the frontline of these cases and dealing with victims and their children in crisis makes you realise not only how valuable the services we have are but also how limited their resources are.”

A total budget of £4.4m to tackle violence will be in place this year. Annual reports will measure the incidents of forced marriage and subsequent prosecutions.

There will be an expansion in the services offered by the Wales Domestic Abuse helpline to support victims of sexual violence and a new project will be launched to tackle prostitution and trafficking in North Wales. A national training strategy will also be developed to ensure professionals working in different sectors know how to deal with violence against women and the impact on children.

Labour’s Mr Sargeant said: “We have come a long way in tackling violence against women but I recognise more needs to be done and by working with our partners we will make women and their children safer.”

Nerys Evans, a Plaid Cymru AM who has fought in the Assembly for greater attention to be given to violence against women, said: “It is clear from the strategy published today that the Welsh Government listened to the responses to the consultation stage and has taken these on board and has made several appropriate changes to the draft strategy. There is a massive amount of work to be done on this issue.”

She said that for progress to be made it was essential that education, health and housing departments played a full role and that the Assembly Government worked with London-based based bodies, the courts and the police.