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Violence Against Women

Volume 804: debated on Thursday 25 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to work with faith communities to address violence against women.

My Lords, I welcome the important role that faith communities have played, and will continue to play, in tackling violence against women and girls in all its forms. Alongside our ongoing engagement with faith groups, Home Office officials are working on the next phase of the Government’s plan to end violence against women and girls. As part of our stakeholder engagement work, we will be reaching out to faith leaders and communities to seek their views.

My Lords, I lost part of the Minister’s response but I thank her for her mention of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Will she commit to publishing guidance alongside the Bill, specifically explaining how domestic abuse can be prevented and addressed in and by faith communities? Will the Minister commit to requiring local authorities to work proactively in partnership with faith communities?

Guidance will certainly be provided alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill as it will assist with the provisions in the Bill. I will have to check on specific guidance for faith communities. We will continue, as we always do, to engage with faith communities in this endeavour.

The reported rise in domestic violence and abuse during the lockdown is truly horrific. I accept that the initial lockdown could not have been predicted, but can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what concrete lessons have been learned and what specific changes will be introduced so that vulnerable women and children, in particular, are better protected in the event of a second, or indeed third, wave of the virus?

I join my noble friend in her horror at how much domestic violence has risen during lockdown. Of course, we may not know the true picture until we come completely out of lockdown. The government hashtag #youarenotalone has had a huge number of views—some 180 million, I think. The things that we have been doing in anticipation of what might happen have, I believe, been the right interventions. On the back of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about campaigns, we are currently working with the retail sector and with pharmacies to advertise some of the help that people can get, as well as working on the code word that people might use if they are in trouble.

My Lords, I appreciate how difficult this is to deal with during lockdown. But the two ways that abuse in children is detected—through social workers or by their teachers when they get to school—have both obviously been absent. Campaigners tell me that there has been an enormous rise in violence and abuse against children. What will the Government do as schools come back and lockdown eases to try to catch these extremely vulnerable youngsters in our society?

We have been very worried about children during this lockdown period, including children who are perhaps witnessing their parents in a domestic violence situation. The noble Baroness will probably know that we gave £1.6 million to the NSPCC so that adults could be aware of some of the things that children might be facing online. There is also the double issue of children witnessing things in the home. Multiagency work is clearly more important now than ever in ensuring that children who may be suffering are brought to the attention of the authorities.

Is the Minister aware that there is no reference to women in faith communities in the Domestic Abuse Bill? These women can experience multiple forms of violence and abuse, including FGM, forced marriages and so-called honour-based killings. The Minister will be aware that while some of these are already crimes, there is no specific crime of honour-based violence. Does the Minister have any plans to get domestic honour-based violence included in the Domestic Abuse Bill?

Honour-based violence is, in and of itself, a crime, as is FGM—so laws already exist to tackle that. She is right that there is not a specific mention in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I am not sure that it needs to be in the Bill, but that is not to say that it does not need tackling; we have measures in place to tackle it.

How will the Government ensure that ending violence against women and girls is taught in all faith schools?

The noble Baroness will know that from September relationships and sex education will be compulsory in secondary schools, and I am sure she will welcome that. Part of it will be about teaching children what respect for other children looks like, not just some of the quite warped things that they might see on the internet.

School interventions are more difficult and more complex with those communities that are more self-reliant and where that reliance is underpinned by religious observation. Does the Minister agree that we therefore need to build up a bespoke national expertise to be able to intervene when necessary?

The noble Lord is right that there is a way to go on this with regard to some of those self-reliant communities that he talks about. We have more to learn about them and therefore some of the interventions that might be necessary to deal with some of the hidden harms that occur in them.

A multiagency approach to combating violence against women is obviously fundamental. What are government departments doing to come forward with a joined-up strategy so that women can feel safe in coming forward?

My noble friend is right that without a multiagency approach—in other words, government departments coming together—it will be very difficult to tackle this issue. She will know about the troubled families programme, which brings together a lot of different agencies; indeed, through that programme we have unearthed far higher levels of domestic abuse than we first thought. I can also tell her that the Home Office, the MoJ and the MHCLG have all announced funding to support victims. We must work together as a whole Government to tackle this issue.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. Will the guidance suggested set out that violence to women includes those in forced-marriage situations, some of whom are under 18 and may need rather different help?

The noble and learned Baroness is quite right: if they are under 18, they are still children, which makes the issue of forced marriage all the worse. I shall go back regarding the issue of guidance. I cannot say today what will be in it, but I will get some information from my colleagues and will certainly come back to the noble and learned Baroness on that.

We cannot hear him, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Lord Palmer of Childs Hill? We cannot hear him either, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of UN Women UK. Will my noble friend look at the work that we are doing for women and girls in safe spaces and the discussions around women in minority communities where it has been quite difficult to extrapolate the difficulties that they face, given that English is a barrier and they are very often not able to leave their homes at all?

My noble friend and I had a brief discussion about this just before Questions. I totally understand and agree with her point. If you are in lockdown, not able to speak a language and not able to leave the house, life must be very difficult for you. I am very happy to speak to her further about this issue.