We’re Feminist Book Society, a group of feminists who love books and want to give feminist writers a platform to discuss ways of creating real-world changes, no matter how big or small. What started as a sell-out events series has now found physical form in a book, This Is How We Come Back Stronger, which we’re proud to publish with And Other Stories and Feminist Press. 20% of UK cover sales for the book go to domestic abuse charities Women’s Aid and Imkaan, and to give a bit of context we wanted to talk to Women’s Aid about their work and our book. Keep reading to find out more!
Thanks for agreeing to chat to us ahead of the publication of This Is How We Come Back Stronger. In a year where domestic abuse statistics have made the headlines and womxn have been disproportionately affected by the crisis, we’re really proud that we can support you in some small way via the 20% donation from cover sales of the book. We thought it would be good to give readers a bit of context on why this is so necessary.
- What challenges has the past year presented to survivors of domestic abuse?
Although Covid does not cause domestic abuse, only perpetrators are responsible for their actions, survivors and their children face escalating abuse and complex barriers to support during Covid.
Over 90% of respondents in our report, A Perfect Storm, currently experiencing domestic abuse said the Covid-19 pandemic had negatively impacted in at least one way. Of those women living with their abuser during lockdown, 61% said the abuse had worsened. More than two-thirds (68%) said they felt they had no one to turn to during lockdown.
On top of this, perpetrators have been using the pandemic as a tool for abuse to increase fear and anxiety. Survivors talked about perpetrators disregarding concerns about the virus and ignoring restrictions whilst other survivors talked about their abuser exploiting the lack of available support to increase control.
- Jess Phillips talks in her piece ‘Domestic Abuse: An Epidemic in a Pandemic’ about how lockdown made her rethink her stance on the Domestic Abuse Bill. What do you think the Bill will mean for your work?
The Domestic Abuse Bill has been an opportunity for the government to deliver a step change in the response to domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). Despite welcome changes made by the government to the Bill, we remain highly disappointed by the government’s failure to guarantee equal protection and support for migrant women through the law and deliver the wider changes that survivors and their children need.
Improvements to the criminal justice response to domestic abuse are needed, and this is what the Domestic Abuse Bill has predominantly focused on. However, we know that survivors’ priorities for change are housing, the welfare system, the family courts and protection and support for children. It’s also concerning that the statutory definition in the Bill does not take a gendered approach. There is clear and established evidence that women escaping and recovering from abuse require women-only services, nevertheless these services continue to be undermined and put at risk by ‘gender neutral’ funding and commissioning decisions. Women will continue to be at risk of violence, and fail to access the support they need, if the government and statutory services fail to acknowledge its gendered nature.
- What new challenges emerging as we come out of lockdown?
Whilst not a new challenge we remain highly concerned about the additional strains on specialist support services for women. The Domestic Abuse Bill includes a statutory duty on local authorities to fund accommodation-based services, which is set to be in force and underpinned by funding in April 2021. But there remain major gaps in the funding that specialist services for women need – the government’s commitment of £165million for 2021-22 falls far short of the £393million Women’s Aid estimates is required. This is particularly urgent as lockdown measures finally begin to lift, and survivors can reach out for help more easily – as demand is likely to rise even further. All services urgently need clarity about funding arrangements if they are not to lose staff, or in some places collapse altogether.
The government also need to address the barriers to refuge that disproportionately impact survivors facing multiple forms of discrimination who are seeking to escape. As housing costs of refuge services are largely met through housing benefit, many women with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NPRF) due to their immigration status were unable to access refuge. Most refuges are unable to cover housing costs without other funding in place; only 4% of refuge vacancies in the year 2019-20 could support a woman who had NRPF. The options facing women with NRPF unable to access refuge – homelessness, destitution or being forced to return to the perpetrator – were shocking before the pandemic and will only intensify without action.
- How has the pandemic impacted marginalised groups of women living with domestic abuse?
The pandemic has shone a light on both the existence of structural inequalities in the UK and the impact these inequalities have on the experiences of the people they discriminate against. Sector experts have released reports looking at the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and minoritised and disabled women during the pandemic and highlight the role played by structural inequalities, which we recommend looking at.
Imkaan’s position paper, The Impact of the Two Pandemics: VAWG and COVID-19 on Black and Minoritised Women and Girls (Imkaan, 2020), emphasises that violence against women and girls (VAWG) and Covid-19 are intersecting with racial inequality. The paper highlights that “During the two pandemics [VAWG and Covid-19], violence against women and girls is increased but for Black and minoritised women and girls, racialised discrimination and the disproportionate impact of structural inequalities also become exacerbated”.
As stated in our report A Perfect Storm: The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Domestic Abuse Survivors and the Services Supporting Them, women with a long-term illness or disability are at higher risk of domestic abuse, and their disability or healthcare needs can be used by perpetrators who also act as “carers” as part of the abuse. In our April survivor survey, we heard from women whose abuser had withheld medication from them and instances where the abuser had blamed women for being unable to get hold of required medication.
Sisters of Frida, an unfunded disabled women’s collective, released a report in April 2020, The Impact of COVID 19 on Disabled Women. Also in April 2020, the Fawcett Society published a briefing, Disabled women and Covid-19, jointly with Women’s Budget Group, Queen Mary University of London and the London School of Economics. These reports highlight the impact of Covid-19 on disabled women’s experiences including access to health and medical care, social isolation and the impact on their healthcare and employment rights. They also highlight that women who are reliant on support through social care are disproportionately impacted by the challenges that sector has faced during the pandemic, such as staff shortages and lack of PPE.
- How will donations from This is How… help the work of Women’s Aid?
Donations from This is How We Come Back Stronger will help support all of our work for women and children experiencing abuse. Our combination of campaigning, research, training and direct services creates real change in the response to domestic abuse and can be life-saving for survivors. Whether it’s through our direct services such as our life-saving Live Chat Helpline and Survivors’ Forum, or our ground-breaking research or influential campaigns, these donations will contribute to our work towards a society where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated. Rather than going towards a specific project, we will use it wherever the need it greatest to make the biggest impact.
We are particularly concerned for women experiencing abuse at the moment. For many of these women, home has not been a safe place, and being isolated with a perpetrator has greatly increased the risk to survivors of domestic abuse, as well as limited the times when they have been able to seek support.
Our Impact Report highlights some of the achievements that we were able to make over the previous year. With your support we will be able to make even more progress over the year to come.