THE WELSH Assembly today passed a historic bill at the Senedd designed to put Wales at the forefront of the prevention of violence towards women.
The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill focuses on implementing provisions and education to highlight the disproportionate suffering of women and girls from different types of violence.
The bill also calls for a National Training Framework for health and local government professionals to look out for and act upon signs of abuse and a requirement for public sector workplaces to introduce domestic and sexual abuse policies, with promises of statutory guidance for Welsh schools in the future.
Since the bill’s introduction in July 2014, it has taken on several amendments and name changes as it stuttered through four stages of scrutiny at the assembly. The original Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill was criticised by the Wales Violence Against Women Action Group (WVAWA) for both failing to mention women and adequately address changes they had been campaigning for.
WVAWA called for the bill to be gender specific and recognise the disproportionate levels of abuse facing women from men, to implement provisions to tackle the issue in schools, and to appoint an external adviser to hold public bodies and the Welsh Government to account.
Last Tuesday, attempts to include a ban on smacking children in the bill was rejected by ministers, and there have been tensions over desires to implement domestic abuse awareness training for school staff. Though the latest face of the bill doesn’t include education on healthy relationships, something women’s groups and opposition ministers called for, commitments have been made to campaigners that statutory guidance will be issued to that effect.
A 2005 Teen Abuse Survey found more teenage girls in Wales reported being forced into having sex than in any other area across the UK. A 2009 YouGov poll of 513 women aged 18-21 found 90 per cent had not learned about domestic abuse in school, but 70 per cent would have liked to.
Another YouGov poll in 2011 concerning 16-18-year-old girls in the UK indicated almost one in three girls had experienced unwanted touching at school, close to one in four said teachers had never said unwanted sexual touching, sharing of sexual pictures or sexual name calling were unacceptable, and 40 per cent said they didn’t receive lessons or information on sexual consent, or didn’t know if they did.
Despite strong support across the country for the bill, there were concerns before today that it could be blocked by opposition AMs. Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas claimed women’s groups “were being held hostage” by ministers, who had forced them to support a bill that didn’t meet the needs of women.
But hours before the vote, Leighton Andrews AM, who had championed the bill, tweeted he had come to an arrangement with Swansea east AM Jocelyn Davies. Addressing the assembly before the vote, Andrews said: “Many organisations have campaigned for legislation on this for years. We should all be proud that Wales is leading the way on this issue.”