As part of this year's 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, an annual campaign which runs from the 25th November to the 10th December, I had the great privilege of speaking at WRASAC (Women's Rape and Sexual Abuse) Dundee and Angus’ Reclaim the Night march.

The theme this year was to imagine a Dundee, a Scotland, a world without gender-based violence, and after the march there was an opportunity to hear from speakers, artists, and staff from many of the organisations supporting women across Dundee.

There was something profound and powerful about standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and sisterhood, with hundreds of survivors, supporters, and stakeholders from local and national government to share chants, a message of unity, and our hopes for the future.

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Signs held by those on the march spoke about institutional failures in the justice system, patriarchal attitudes, and sobering statistics of those we have lost. Every speaker acknowledged the melancholy juxtaposition of feeling honoured to be at an event advocating for an end to endemic violence against women, and how sad they were that such an event was necessary.

Reclaim the Night was an initiative which began in November 1977, when, in light of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, women were advised to stay in their homes after dark. Still to this day, safety advice is often targeted towards steps women can take to mitigate their own abuse, harassment and assault.

On a freezing November night in Dundee, the night we reclaimed together brought warmth, and joy, and so much pain.

Gender-based violence is a global issue, one which affects all of us, and to which we should all pay attention. At least nine women have died this year in Scotland as a result of domestic abuse, and in the 2022/23 period, police Scotland recorded 2,103 rapes or attempted rapes of women, which does not include the huge number which go unreported every year, the true total of which we will never know.

Part of the problem when it comes to discussions around gender-based violence is the fact that women are often unable to discuss the issues that disproportionately affect them without disclaimer, caveat or apology.

Whenever I attempt to discuss misogyny, patriarchy or structural inequality I am inevitably asked to acknowledge that these issues also affect men, and to admit that women can also perpetrate violence against men. Of course, they do and this cannot be denied, but to platform issues which affect women does not detract attention from those affecting men, we can and should care about all survivors and victims and create opportunities to hear all voices.

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Male survivors of abuse and assault, male murder victims, and men who struggle with their mental health deserve far more than to be a hastily proclaimed footnote in a discussion about women, and shouldn't be used to distract from issues being presented or to shut down discussions of societal misogyny and its impact on women.

The UN reports that one in three women will experience either “physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life”, and this number increases drastically when including sexual harassment.

If the UK government is genuinely committed to eliminating gender-based violence, they must do more than pay lip service. At least 13 MPs have been involved in allegations of either sexual misconduct, rape, drink spiking and sexual assault. The head of a watchdog that handles parliamentary complaints has admitted when asked if Westminster is safe for women that she “does not know”.

If the Westminster government cannot even ensure the safety of its female staff, how are we to trust them to carry out the necessary legislation for the safety of every woman in this country?

Women trying to escape domestic violence situations, many of them with children and many of them unable to access funds due to financial abuse and coercive control, find themselves facing the full force of the cost of living crisis.

We must do more to ensure there is a path for survivors to leave, and to rebuild their lives in a healthy and safe way. Faced with the reality of losing housing, and access to their children, many women are forced to stay in abusive relationships. Women’s Aid found that “73% of women experiencing domestic abuse said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it more difficult to leave.”

In an attempt to help alleviate financial barriers to leaving abuse, the Scottish government has just announced the “Fund to Leave”, a pilot scheme operating in Fife, Edinburgh, North and South Lanarkshire which sees a donation of £500,000 given to women’s aid organisations to distribute to survivors of domestic abuse to put them in a more stable position to leave by helping them to pay for things like clothing, food and rent.

This is a sorely needed investment to ensure the protection of vulnerable women as 1 in 5 women who suffer domestic abuse will also experience homelessness, and St Mungos states that, “Almost half of the female clients have experienced domestic violence.”

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It's never as simple as just leaving an abusive relationship, there are many barriers and problems which preclude someone from getting help, or getting out. A huge part of many domestic abuse situations is the isolation of the survivor from family and friends, and as a result of this isolation it can be incredibly difficult to have people to trust and to confide in.

Abuse often works in waves, which can result in trauma bonding (where you feel an emotional attachment to someone who is making you unsafe or causing you harm). Breaking this ingrained cycle of abuse can take years, and according to Refuge, on average it takes survivors 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship.

We cannot continue to fail survivors of gender-based violence, we can, and must, do better to protect women, to remove barriers which might preclude them from escaping dangerous or abusive situations, and to ensure they are able to feel safe, and supported.

Many people seem to be under the impression that violence against women happens somewhere we aren't, to someone we don't know. If we keep it at arm's length, if we don't think about it, it disappears, and becomes someone else’s problem to fix, and burden to bear.

In reality, it's in our communities, it's happening to our colleagues, friends, families and people we see every day, and we cannot ignore the rot permeating every facet of our society. You know someone, or you might even be someone who's gone through it or will go through it.

It can happen at any age, in any class, race, socioeconomic background. Of all the facts, statistics and information available the most important thing to remember is that abuse, harassment, and sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor, and that there is always free, confidential help and support available.

The eradication of gender-based violence must be on our minds not just for these 16 days, but every day thereafter. While we imagine and prepare for a brighter future without gender based violence, we mustn’t lose sight of the monumental changes needed on both governmental and societal levels in order to make these hopes a reality.