Welcome to our blog! This is a platform where the rich diversity of women's voices can be heard and where we can come together to turn attention on the myriad of issues that affect a variety of women. We celebrate where things are good, and focus a spotlight on areas where they aren't. If you want to write something for this space please just get in touch!

Before sending us your blog, please note: We publish articles that are written by women, pro all women & not for profit in their intention. We welcome lighter pieces as well as articles on more serious issues. There is no specific word count, but most pieces are around the 700 word mark.

Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.

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Why it is Time for a Criminal Offence of Domestic Abuse

- Rachel Horman

On the 1st April 2013 the Government amended the definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control”.  This was an issue that I have spoken about previously on the BBC website in September – and is an initiative that I very much welcome. 

Changing the definition of domestic violence however is useless without there being a corresponding change in the law.  It sounds fantastic to say that domestic violence now includes coercive control but how on earth are abusers going to be prosecuted for it?

The only tools the police have to fight this type of behaviour are the laws against harassment and stalking.  These laws are massively under-utilised as it is and require repeated patterns of behaviour.  These laws were not devised to deal with coercive control within the setting of a couple living together and would be very difficult to use in many of the cases I deal with on a daily basis.

The Government has already committed itself to creating a criminal offence of forced marriage later this year so why not domestic abuse which is a far more common occurrence?

Coercive control can be just as terrifying as physical violence and there are very few cases of physical abuse where coercive control is not also present.  Coercive control is often the precursor to physical abuse so surely it makes sense to have the means to bring a criminal prosecution before the abuse becomes physical?  A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in the UK every 3 days so this is a huge problem we are dealing with. 

Coercive control is often used to grind down the spirit and confidence of a victim until they are so submissive that they do not fight back or dare leave when the violence begins.  I have many clients who will say that this cycle of coercive control followed by violence is a constant feature of their relationship and that the psychological terrorism is so terrifying that they are often relieved when the violence eventually comes. Worse still the cycle will usually begin again in an increasingly short space of time.

I have heard people object to a criminal offence of coercive control on the basis that they might find themselves “being arrested for arguing with my wife”.

Coercive control involves humiliation, degradation and intimidation which is not something that can happen – even during arguments – within a loving relationship.

I deal with women being subjected to the psychological terrorism of coercive control on a daily basis, let me give you an idea of what this is like.  Alison was woken in the middle of the night by her partner Stephen, who had been out drinking, and ordered by him to go to the local garage to buy cigarettes for him.  He gave her the money to pay for the cigarettes as she was not allowed to have her own money or bank account.  She was told by him that as usual he would be timing her as he didn’t trust her not to have sex with other men ’on her way to the garage’.  She knew that there would be violence if she was more than a second longer than the agreed time.  When she returned he immediately demanded the change from her and the receipt.  In the rush to get back within the time limit she forgot to pick up the receipt.  Stephen began shouting sexual obscenities about her in her face with his forehead almost touching hers.  He then ordered her to get down on her knees in front of him to beg for forgiveness which she did straight away knowing that it was the only way to try to avoid violence and in the terror of the ordeal wet herself in fear.

Most people would immediately agree that the above example is abhorrent and could not be confused for a “normal argument”.  It would however be very difficult to fit this type of behaviour into the current range of criminal offences as the law stands and therefore the abuser would not be prosecuted.

A fair and humane society surely cannot tolerate this type of behaviour of itself and deserves to be punished in its own right but when you then consider that this type of behaviour often builds up to physical violence and sometimes murder it is imperative that action is taken to stamp this out before it escalates.  I am confident that if this was to become the case dozens of women’s lives would be saved in the UK each year.

Rachel Horman is a Solicitor and the head of the Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage Department at Watson Ramsbottom Ltd Solicitors in East Lancashire however she practices throughout the North West of England.  She is an advanced Resolution accredited specialist in the areas of Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage and recently received that National Family Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award 2012 as recognition of her work in these areas. Rachel blogs at rachelhorman.co.uk 

Standing on the shoulders of giants…

- Karen Lynas

Seeing the petition by The Women’s Room to Keep A Woman on British Banknotes, it inspired me to write about our own homage to female greats.

I am deputy managing director of the NHS Leadership Academy and responsible for running a whole suite of new programmes developing caring and compassionate, skilled leadership in health services. The NHS is of course a universal service providing care to all of our diverse communities. And women play a very central role to what we do. They are represented in every profession in health, in every sector and in all our patient and community groups – though they are still not represented well or equally at senior levels in health leadership.

I have been invited to join the Health Service Journal (HSJ) panel to judge the 50 most influential women in health recognition awards and I know you don’t have to look far to find inspirational women, there are great examples everywhere.

In fact, at the Academy we have just launched four core leadership development programmes named after people who provided great inspiration to health services including Edward Jenner the immunologist whose work saved countless lives and Nye Bevan whose passion inspired the creation of the NHS.

But our two most populous programmes are named after women.

Our entry level programme is named in honour of Mary Seacole, a black woman who fought against prejudice to become a nurse and provided the kind of compassionate care many nurses still exemplify today. And our mid-level programme is named after Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, the first woman qualified as a doctor in England: a feminist, a suffragette, an inspirational woman also called on to fight ignorance and prejudice about the role and contribution women could make to society. Our challenge of course is to ensure that we also have current role models of influence, power and impact to inspire future generations.

There are some amazing women in senior positions. There are also women whose personal success and influence does little to inspire, encourage or develop other women. They might not see that as their role, but the ripple effect of their impact is broad and wide. I often have very challenging conversations with women leaders who shirk the limelight, exposure and personal presence their roles could provide for them. Their motivations lay elsewhere: in deference to their organisations, their teams, their patients; a purpose which is much bigger than their own self-promotion. The problem that creates for us though is continuing to have to fight for recognition, for equal influence and power; to create an environment where the norm is progression based on merit not prejudice. We hold some responsibility for that, however painful it feels, to make sure as successful women we work to make ourselves visible, to recognise and promote other successful women, to constantly speak out against imbalance, inappropriate behaviour and prejudice.

It may feel self-serving but the reality is that it really is in service to others – shining a light that provides inspiration for others to follow.

To take the lead from people like Seacole and Anderson and stand proud and have your role in society recognised and rewarded for the powerful impact you make. Recognising the contribution women make – whether it is on banknotes, in the media, or just an equal voice in any room you are in, sends a significant message. The brighter your light becomes, the greater visibility, impact and influence you have, the clearer the path is lightened for others to follow.

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Check out our latest Storify! About Women and Science Fiction...and some tangential conversations about what we think about being called 'feisty'!

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18) An invitation to Sky News

19) Why it is Time for a Criminal Offence of Domestic Abuse

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