Wearing orange will not solve the problem of domestic violence

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 25th November 

Becci Heagney Socialist Alternative – CWI in Britain

If it’s true that you can judge how civilised a culture is based on how it treats women, then capitalism would not be considered so. Globally, women aged 15-44 are more likely to die or have serious ill health issues as a result of domestic abuse than because of cancer, car accidents, war and malaria combined, according to the World Bank. However, on 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, the UN will just ask people to wear orange – something that would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

In Britain, Theresa May, while prime minister and claiming to be a feminist, promised changes in the law to help victims of domestic abuse back in 2016. In reality, this was a cynical attempt to boost her popularity alongside claiming that the Tories were the real workers’ party! 

The Domestic Abuse Bill was ‘lost’ as a result of Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament. It was then re-introduced again as part of the Queen’s Speech on 14th October but is no more likely to be enacted by a government with no majority than the various other ‘reforms’.

It has been reported that it will place “a legal duty on councils to offer secure homes for those fleeing violence”. If this were true, it would represent a major improvement in the lives of many women and children. Women’s Aid estimate that on average 400 women a week are turned away from refuges due to lack of space and 1 in 8 known homeless people are women fleeing domestic abuse. However, if passed, the Bill would only mandate councils to give survivors a ‘lifetime tenancy’ when already housing them in social housing. In other words, there will still be no guarantee that people will be given the housing they need.

We need properly funded refuges and the reversal of the £8m cuts that have been made to domestic abuse services since 2010. The ‘Commissioner’ who will be appointed as a result of the Domestic Abuse Bill will be given a meager annual budget of £1.1m.

We also need rent control on the private rented sector to make sure it is affordable and a mass council house building programme. There needs to be a reversal of the draconian attacks on benefits – universal credit, the benefit cap and the two-child limit on child tax credit need to all be scrapped. Benefits need to be enough for people to live on. 

Domestic abuse is a workplace issue. As well as the necessity for the trade unions to fight all attacks on pay, contracts, flexible working and on public services, there also needs to be a demand for the statutory right for survivors to be able to take paid leave from work. 

The Domestic Abuse Bill will define domestic abuse for the first time. This would include, importantly, financial abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour. Contrary to the image that is often portrayed of the ‘battered wife’, much of the abuse experienced is actually not physical. It is the process of grinding down a person over a long period of time by isolating them from their friends and families and making them feel inadequate. It is estimated that women will attempt to leave a violent partner several times before leaving for good. 

Leaving a violent partner is dangerous but a Women’s Aid survey found that 24% of survivors had been directly cross-examined by their perpetrator in court. 61% had no access to ‘special measures’ such as being able to give evidence on a video link and separate entrances, exits and waiting rooms to the court. The Domestic Abuse bill will ban cross-examination by perpetrators in criminal courts but not in civil and family courts. 

Domestic abuse can be triggered by difficult living conditions such as poverty and alcohol or drug addiction. In austerity Britain, the number of people killed as a result of domestic abuse has increased since 2016. 173 people were killed in 2018, three quarters of them women.

It’s no accident that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of domestic abuse. There are deeply ingrained ideas of women being submissive to men and, despite the progress that has been made on women’s rights, they will exist as long as we have class society. 

We can trace it back to the development of private property, the need to know who children belonged to, to trace lineage and therefore the need to control women’s sexuality. Engels described in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State the idea of marriage and women’s monogamy came alongside the evolution of class society and inequality. The family under class society is not about who we are related to but is an economic unit and method of control.

Capitalism benefits from this arrangement. Women as carers – of their husbands, children, parents and the home – do work worth £1.24 trillion in the UK alone. This has increased by 80% since 2006, showing the effect of austerity on the unpaid work women do, saving the state a huge amount of money. 

Societal pressure such as gender roles help to keep the status quo. Women are expected to be caring and maternal, appreciated for the way they look rather than what they can contribute, whereas men are expected to be strong providers. These norms are so entrenched that they appear to be human nature – but this is far from the truth. 

In a socialist society, not only can the economic issues – access to services, housing, benefits, pay – be alleviated by proper funding, but we could also begin to tackle the reasons for violence against women and girls. A genuinely equal society that is not based on power relations can end divisions between men and women and allow the development of healthy human relationships.

On 25th November, rather than wearing orange, we need to look to the mass movements that are developing across the world. From Argentina to Sudan, women are at the forefront of struggle. It is through these methods, mass protests and strike action that women and men can unite together to demand the funding for services we need but also to challenge the system that perpetuates violence.