The weather keeping you indoors? Write a letter to your MLAs for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

It is currently Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. The half way mark is here and we have already secured support from a number of female MLAs who are committed to publicly reading out the case studies they were sent, showing solidarity with women who experience violence by letting their voices be heard. We also had some great conversations with the public in Belfast city centre last Saturday during our awareness raising activities handing out white ribbons and facts about violence against women on snowflakes. Not to mention the great turn out and rigorous questions to the brave panel of politicians who attended the event ‘What is the NI Assembly doing to tackle violence against women?’ hosted by QUB Feminist Society.

Now there is just one important job for YOU to do to help bring this campaign to a great conclusion. To really show our politicians that the public demand they take action and prioritise violence against women, we need as many of you as possible to write to your own representatives and tell them what you think is required to make our communities safer places for women and girls. You may want to compose your letter based on the following suggested outline:

1. Why do you think this is an important issue?

Remind them about the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. We’ve already given them lists of statistics but what about the real lives beyond the figures? What kind of violence do women face in your community? What have you seen and heard that has impacted you enough to want to write this letter? (NB Please respect the confidentiality of individuals by not sharing stories with identifying details.)

2. Join us in making these important demands:

(Feel free to copy and paste any of these that you would like to include)

– Northern Ireland needs a comprehensive violence against women strategy. The ‘Tackling Violence at Home’ and ‘Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse’ strategies are important but fail to address the more complex and diverse problem of violence against women and girls. It is an internationally recognised issue which the UN states is “a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” If we do not produce policy that addresses violence against women in all of its forms, as both a cause and consequence of gender inequality then we will fail in our obligations under CEDAW to provide women full access to their human rights. We would like you to recommend a cross-departmental group to progress such policy.

– In the ‘Tackling Sexual Violence and Abuse’ strategy, we were assured that a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) would be open at Antrim Area Hospital by the end of 2010. This has not happened and we would like to know when this vital service will be available? In England these centres are a vital part of supporting victims of sexual violence as well as ensuring the best evidence to pursue convictions through the courts.

– There are many women who have experienced or who are experiencing violence who do not have access to Legal Aid. The initial ex-parte cost in seeking a non-molestation order is £400, and within two weeks the pursuit of a full non-molestation order can cost a further £400 or more. These extremely high costs could prevent women from seeking justice. We are asking you to support an immediate amendment to the Legal Aid rules to provide an automatic right given to all victims of gender violence to have access to legal protection and justice free of charge.

– Some of the most at risk women in Northern Ireland are those who have an insecure immigration status. Due to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy, when these women face violence or abuse they are often trapped by the lack of financial support available as well as their fear of deportation if their immigration status is dependent on their husband or partner. We would like to know what will be done to ensure a long term solution for women in this situation.

3. What would you like to see in your own constituency to keep women safer?

Is there a domestic violence refuge facing closure? Is the poor street lighting putting women at risk of attack? Do you have concerns that illegal brothels are trapping women in cycles of sexual violence through prostitution? Your representative needs to know about the issues specific to the community they serve.

Don’t forget to finish by thanking them for their time and asking for feedback on the questions you have raised.

Contact details for all MLAs listed by constituency are available here: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/members/constmap_res.htm

Feel free to email them or send a real life letter. One of our members who has some lobbying experience has suggested that MLAs are particularly prone to respond to hand-written letters due to the obvious amount of personal effort involved. So if you have a bit of spare time in the next week why not give it a go!

Please try to get your letters sent before the 10th December as this marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism. Good luck and please keep us posted about any responses you get either through the Belfast Feminist Network facebook group or by emailing belfemnet@yahoo.co.uk

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