“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” (Brené Brown)
How do you start a conversation about domestic violence at a fashion college, in a room full of people that may or may not know each other, and who may or may not have experienced/be experiencing it?
It’s a sensitive and difficult topic.
But as a college that is largely run by women, is led by a woman Professor Frances Corner, and is educating mainly women to work in an industry where mainly women produce things for women, it is vital that we discuss issues that effect women’s lives. And it’s why last week Dilys Williams was joined by Céline Bonnaire from the Kering Foundation and Lucy Lord from Women’s Aid to discuss violence against women, what we can all do and what it means for the society in which we live. The event was important in bringing what is perceived to be a private issue into the public domain.
Briefly, we must understand what is meant by domestic violence and domestic abuse. The first internationally agreed definition of violence against women was introduced in the 1993 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (Article 1), which states that:
“ ‘violence against women’ means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” There is more information on the Women’s Aid website but it is important to state here that domestic abuse is not only violence.
Statistics can never fully describe the complexity of an issue, but they also remind us of how central an issue this is to gender inequality and to a more just and equal society:
- On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales (ONS 2015)
- 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes
- Half (50%) of 16-21 year olds say it is hard to spot the signs of controlling behaviours in others
These distressing statistics not only show how important the issue is but how prevalent it is across society. It is a largely hidden crime, and is very difficult to record the context and the impact of those who experience it. Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, sexuality, class, or disability, but some women who experience other forms of oppression and discrimination may face greater risk and further barriers to disclosing abuse and finding help.
To break down the shame and to unmask domestic abuse as gendered violence and a sign of gender inequality, and issues of power and control takes courage, sensitivity and belief (when abuse is disclosed). Discussions during the event focused on this as a wider issue and where the fashion industry intersects – how are women portrayed in the media? What of the commodification of feminism through slogan t-shirts? And how there is hope that while the current political landscape seems bleak there is opportunity for the role of women/feminism to gain great media attention.
This was the first step in important work but we know that it is only the beginning.
0808 2000 247 is the Freephone 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline