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Making change happen for women and girls

Last week I was present at the launch of a report prepared by Plymouth Commission for Violence Against Women and Girls.

Making change happen for women and girls

Alison Hernandez at the launch of Exeter's Safety of Women at Night charter

It is poignant that the document was published soon after the funeral of Bobbi-Anne McLeod, whose tragic murder in January led to the commission’s establishment. along with an horrific mass shooting by a man with questionable views about women. 

The Commission, I believe the first in the country to be created, comprises specialists in domestic abuse, health improvement and child protection as well as key partners such as the police, the university, and city council among others.

Since March members considered evidence from over 1,300 local people and spent many hours listening to feedback from individuals and organisations and reading dozens of written submissions from those who work with victims.

They reviewed issues such as the role of men and boys, children and young people, places, spaces and culture, as well as innovation and best practice.

Now, the final report, entitled Male Violence Against Women and Girls, is published and the work begins to ensure that the recommendations are actioned across the city.

Sadly, this is the second time a city in Devon has needed to take much needed action following the horrendous murder of a young woman by a man.

In March, Exeter University launched the city’s Safety of Women at Night (SWaN) charter. This came in the wake of the city’s response to the murder of Lorraine Cox in 2020.

The crimes that took Bobbi-Anne and Lorraine from their families, and a series of very high profile cases where women have been the victims of shocking violence, have shone a light on society’s need to think about its response to violence against women and girls.

Never has it been more important to listen to the voices of women and girls across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, so we can get a very clear picture of what is expected of those of us who can make change happen.

The report makes 15 key recommendations – supported by clear actions – to ensure that Plymouth drives a culture change that challenges male violence against women and girls, better supports women and girls who have been subjected to male violence and creates safe places and spaces for women and girls.

 Amongst its recommendations the Commission says Plymouth should:

  • Commit to being a city that does not tolerate sexist or misogynistic language and behaviour full stop;
  • Support men and boys to be ‘active bystanders’ who feel confident to challenge inappropriate behaviour and language;
  • Create a culture where it is safe to have open and honest conversations about sexism, misogyny and male violence and its impact on women and girls;
  • Ensure that women and girls are empowered to speak out against harassment and supported to report violence and abuse;
  • Ensure that women and girls who have been subjected to male violence get the support they need at the right time and place and only need to tell their story once.
  • Driving the culture change needed to challenge male violence against women and girls  
  • Creating safe places and spaces  
  • Ensuring the building blocks are in place to enable real change to happen.

The report is a starting point and gives us more ammunition to lobby for fundamental change on a national stage and in our homes, which is vitally important because, what we're doing now isn't working well enough and women still don't feel safe on our streets, in our open spaces and often in our homes.

We all need to step up to the plate.

It is no longer enough to say ‘I’m not sexist.. but’ the time has come for us all to say we want men to hold their male friends and family to account for views that dont belong here anymore.

Those who behave in this stoneage manner must be called out and know that it will no longer be tolerated.

They must know we will not turn the other cheek, there will be no hiding place.

It is my job and the job of those in local authorities to better help those men who often are perpetuating a cycle of violence and abuse, who feel disenfranchised with society and all it can offer. 

You can find more information about the Commission or to see the report findings here: https://www.plymouth.gov.uk/newsroom/plymouthnews/violenceagainstwomenandgirls

Useful contacts for women and girls:-

If you are in danger call 999. In a non-emergency use the webchat facility on the police website here Home | Devon and Cornwall Police (devon-cornwall.police.uk), email https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/contact/contact-forms/101-non-emergency/ or ring 101

For more details about the Sexual Assault Referral Centre visit Get help - Devon & Cornwall SARC - NDHT NHS (sarchelp.co.uk) or call 0300 3034626