As Wales prepares to celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day, Sophie Weeks of Welsh Women’s Aid reminds us of the reality behind the story of the patron saint of lovers, and just how resonant – and inspirational – that story can be today.
January 25th is St Dwynwen’s Day, marked in the Welsh calendar for celebrating romantic relationships. As with Valentine’s Day, this is a time when couples exchange gifts – traditionally love spoons. St Dwynwen is the patron saint of lovers; she dedicated her life in the 5th century to promoting loving relationships. St Dwynwen was also a survivor of rape by her partner, and of attempted forced marriage by her father, to a man she did not love. St Dwynwen prayed for good wishes: to be safe from her lover, free from forced marriage and for others to be happy in love.
St Dwynwen’s legacy lives on in the thousands of women across Wales who experience domestic abuse and sexual violence and who still rise to hold families and communities together, build movements and change lives.
As many people may not know of the trauma behind St Dwynwen’s story, so many people may not know about the frightening reality many women across Wales live with.
- Too many women live in relationships dictated by fear, coercive control and abuse – physical, sexual, psychological and financial – at the hands of their partner.
- Too many women cannot go to work, attend school or enjoy leisure activities without experiencing sexual harassment or assault.
- Too many women have their rights to freedom, choice and bodily integrity taken from them through forced marriage, FGM, rape and coercive control.
In Wales it is estimated that 1 in 3 women experience some form of abuse or violence in their lifetime. Between 2018-19 in Wales, 20,205 survivors were supported by specialist services and 1,332 survivors received support from dedicated sexual violence services.
There is support available. Welsh Women’s Aid runs the national Live Fear Free Helpline, funded by Welsh Government. This provides 24-hour confidential support, a listening ear and practical assistance all year round, for anyone (women, men and children) who is experiencing or has been affected by sexual violence or domestic abuse in Wales. It can also provide advice to anyone concerned about a friend, family member or colleague. The helpline can link anyone to the network local independent specialist services across Wales.
St Dwynwen prayed for healthy and loving relationships. This week the Minister for Education in Wales has announced relationships and sexuality education will be mandatory in Wales, providing an opportunity for future generations to understand and celebrate the equality, respect and love that St Dwynwen hoped for.
On St Dwynwen’s Day, Welsh Women’s Aid celebrates the strength and power of women to survive. It is a day to remember the women here in Wales who experience gendered violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence. It is a day to remember that we must continue to rise, to create a world in which women and children live free from abuse and all forms of violence and by doing so achieve independence, freedom and liberation from oppression.
If you want to support our movement for change sign up to fundraise in support of our national work, visit our Support Us page.
If you want to join us an individuals or organisational supporter to help create a world where communities challenge harassment, violence and abuse, visit our Join Us page.
Welsh Women’s Aid is the official affiliate charity of Wales Arts Review