To mark the announcement that Welsh Women’s Aid is to be Wales Arts Review’s official charity of 2019-20, Gwendolyn Sterk of Welsh Women’s Aid reflects on forty years of the organisation in Wales, how it has grown, what it has achieved, where it’s headed, and looks at the commemorative project that marked the anniversary, Forty Voices, Forty Years.
“Women’s aid is one of the greatest legacies of the Welsh women’s movement”
– Emeritus Professor Deidre Beddoe
Welsh Women’s Aid has been at the heart of leading the women’s movement in Wales for over forty years. Set up in 1978, by a dedicated group of women wanting to support families impacted by domestic abuse, it quickly became a movement seeking to create change and bring an end to all forms of male violence against women and girls in Wales.
To commemorate our 40th year, we embarked on a ‘Forty Voices, Forty Years’ project to tell the story of the Welsh women’s aid movement by capturing and amplifying the voices and stories of women often written out of our national heritage.
Working in collaboration with the University of South Wales, we gathered women’s experiences and stories of how they became involved in our movement for change. In doing so, the project brought to life the often invisible but hugely significant actions of individual women which combine to create a feminist movement that has shaped all our lives in Wales and beyond.
Welsh women activists and survivors, including current and former Welsh Women’s Aid employees, support workers, supporters and politicians shared their experiences of developing services, changing attitudes, and improving laws and practices. We heard remarkable stories of how women collaborate to save countless lives and support each other to survive, thrive, and actively contribute to the diverse communities in which we live today.
Welsh Women’s Aid Forty Voices, Forty Years project is available as an exhibition for agencies to access. The artefacts and stories, and the documents, letters, photos and objects that we gathered, are also preserved through an online gallery hosted by the People’s Collection Wales, accessible to all and available as a resource for future generations.
Our success has been remarkable. Today, violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is more firmly on the political and public agenda, through laws, strategy and policy. Wales now has ground-breaking legislation which requires, amongst other statutory duties, that devolved public services have regard to preventing violence against women in all that they do.
Our call to action
Today, our national network of services has diversified. Our federation has provided the national helpline for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse for over 15 years, and our membership includes rape crisis and support for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
But we still have a long way to go.
Violence against women and girls remains at epidemic levels globally and nationally. It has devastating effects on women and children, on families and in communities: more women suffer rape or attempted rape than have a stroke each year, and the level of domestic abuse in the population exceeds that of diabetes by many times.
In Wales, resources for specialist services is insecure and reducing, and there is a lack of investment into dedicated support for children. Systems are particularly failing women from minoritised communities, with many still facing the stark choice of staying with their abuser or facing destitution. Sexual harassment is widespread and too little attention is being given to stopping perpetrators’ behaviour. The recent #MeToo movement has exposed the continued impunity of men who commit abuse stemming from a sense of entitlement that is supported by sexist, racist, disablist, homophobic or other discriminatory attitudes, behaviours and systems that maintain and reproduce inequality.
Only by making a concerted effort to deliver lasting change in our communities can we make sure we aren’t here in another 40 years – not through lack of resources but because we have stopped violence against women and girls from happening in the first place.
Our 5 Year Strategy – Still We Rise (Welsh language version available here)– sets out our simple vision: we want a world in which women and children live free from domestic abuse, sexual violence and all forms of violence against women, and by doing so achieve independence, freedom and liberation from oppression.
Developed with services and survivors, our strategy is founded on evidence of what the problem is and how change happens. The best way to achieve our vision is to target our work at individual, family, community and society levels. We will continue to provide support, leadership and representation for the national network of specialist services in Wales and the survivors and families they work with, and to advocate to inform and transform laws, policy and practice to benefit survivors of abuse.
We will also collaborate, inform, support and influence in communities and across governments and other organisation, in recognition that ending violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is everyone’s business.
We want more services and systems to focus on prevention and challenge perpetrators whilst stopping their abuse. We want to see more accountability to survivors, and more knowledgeable communities, confident to respond to abuse and to help dismantle the social and cultural norms, practices and inequalities that underpin it.
Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is entirely preventable with the necessary will and resources. Our Strategy is ambitious, it builds on the shoulders of the women before us, and encourages individuals, agencies and communities across Wales to collaborate with us to make lasting change.
If you support Welsh Women’s Aid work, join our movement for change. Sign up to fundraise in support of our national work, or join us as an individual or organisational supporter to help create a world where communities challenge harassment, violence and abuse.
Welsh Women’s Aid is Wales Arts Review‘s official charity of 2019-20. For more information on how you can offer your support, visit the Welsh Women’s Aid website.