Friday, 26 November 2010

Bristol City Council let down women survivors

Nearly a week later and Councillors Poultney and Janke have not replied to my letter. They have also not responded to other letters from other women who were that day.
I do not believe my letter was aggressive or unfair. Neither was my behaviour towards the councillors on the day. Either they are ashamed and embarrassed by their own behaviour, or they simply don't care. They don't care about survivors, they don't care about the women in their city. They care about photo calls in the newspaper.

 yesterday i attended an exhibition of art work by women survivors of male violence. it was beautiful and moving, and gave female survivors of violence a voice.
i was shocked then by the blatant 'what about the men' attitude of two of the councillors in attendance. i have written about the experience below, and hope to outline why responding to the UN's day to eliminate violence against women and girls by asking why no male survivors were represented was inappropriate and callous.

domestic violence against men is awful, a tragedy, just as all gender bases violence is. if there was an exhibition of work by male survivors i would support it whole heartedly. i would wear a ribbon and support a UN awareness raising day. but the 25th November was about women. And the council appeared to want to silence those women, by refusing to acknowledge their experiences and invalidating an attempt to give women a voice.

Here you go:

I was really pleased that the council had chosen to host this moving and important exhibition that gave a voice to the women survivors of violence of Bristol. I assumed that the council understood that yesterday (25th November) was the UN International Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls day ( Therefore I was shocked by the hostility from the leader of the council when she realised that the art and writing on display came from women only workshops, and were recognising, remembering and offering a voice to women victims. Rather than paying respect to the women who had bravely told their stories, the exhibition was instead criticised for being 'exclusive'.

The UN dedicates the 25th November to recognising violence against women and girls, and the need to combat it. This is not a Bristol Feminist Network or Bristol Fawcett or Rape Crisis Centre or Avon and Somerset Police or Women's Forum initiative, but an international event that says to the world that violence against women and girls is one of the 'greatest human rights violations of our time' (Amnesty International). It is not about being exclusive or ignoring that men are victims of violence too (as was intimated by the councillor) but about recognising that violence against women and girls is an issue, a gender based issue, and one that needs to be treated as an issue on its own. It is recognising that the scale of violence against women and girls is so huge, and pledging to do something about it. There are 100 million women missing in the world, as a result of male violence against women and girls (Half the Sky,, 1 in 3 women internationally will be subject to sexual assault or rape, 1.5 women a week in the UK are killed by a former or current partner, 100,000 women a year in the UK are raped and 6500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM. The 25th November is the one day when this is internationally recognised. To try and make out that there was something wrong with this international UN led initiative showed a troubling lack of understanding about the issues of violence against women and girls. It also left me very concerned about the council's commitment to tackling gender based violence, and supporting victims.

Women are too often left to suffer in silence. This exhibition gave the women of Bristol a voice. It gave them a chance to speak out about what has happened to them. To draw attention away from this, in order to criticise its 'exclusivity', did a great disservice to the women in the exhibition and the women in Bristol. It showed a refusal to engage with the art on display and the issues that are so relevant to the women of this city every day, not just on the 25th November. Furthermore, I felt the tone of the conversation was rude and disrespectful towards the time, effort and money that the organiser of the exhibition had invested in running the workshops, printing the zines and creating the event.

It seemed to me that the Bristol City Councillors were more concerned about having their faces seen and their voices heard in the local press, than listening to the voices of women survivors, on a day dedicated to ending the humanitarian crisis that is violence against women and girls.

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