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  • Will the new Attorney General deliver for women?

    by Cath
    6th July, 2007 at 10:10 am    

    Many of us were disappointed to see so few women appointed to Gordon Brown’s new Cabinet, but on the other hand it was great to see Lady Patricia Scotland make history by becoming the first ever black Attorney General.

    At UNISON’s recent National Conference, Baroness Scotland spoke passionately about her work as the minister responsible for domestic violence.

    As Chair of the Inter-Ministerial group on Domestic Violence, as well as Chair of the Corporate Alliance against Domestic Violence, there was never any doubting both her commitment and determination in tackling this issue; in fact she spoke several times of her dream of seeing the number of domestic violence related deaths reduced to nil - a dream we obviously all share.

    Disappointingly though, she failed to touch on the issue of either so-called honour crimes or forced marriage, both of which would be encompassed within a statutory definition of domestic violence, and which are both included in the UN definition of Violence against Women.

    It’s a shame that the Government seems so reluctant to adopt this definition, especially since it pledged its commitment to doing so by signing up to the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.

    Baroness Scotland acknowledged the work of women’s groups and other grassroots organisations, saying they had been the driving force behind changes to both legislation and attitudes over the years. We can only hope that the Government continues to listen to the message coming out from these groups.

    I’d be even more convinced there was a real commitment here if they invested some long-term funding into the women’s sector, instead of the current unsatisfactory arrangement that sees voluntary sector organisations constantly struggling to secure grant monies.

    As the chief legal advisor to the UK Government, Baroness Scotland is ideally placed to ensure that the paucity of women in Brown’s Cabinet doesn’t lead to the issue of violence against women becoming sidelined.

    She has been a strong advocate for women’s justice over the years; let’s hope that the pressures of high office don’t dilute either her passion or her energy in combating these injustices.

    Recently, Cath was elected to be one of the two National Women’s delegates to the UNISON conference. As well as representing women’s perspective on various issues, one of her roles was to move the motion that followed on from Baroness Scotland’s address, that called on the Government to adopt a statutory definition of violence against women. Unfortunately, Baroness Scotland was unable to stay to listen to the debate.

    This is a guest post.

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    19 Comments below   |  

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    1. SweetCheat — on 6th July, 2007 at 10:27 pm  

      Several interesting points here.

      First, Why did LS not stay to listen as well as speak? I thought Gordon Brown had pledged to be a listener, and that his government was to be a “listening government”. Ok, LS attended the conference while the Blar government was still limping on, so had not taken up her new post, but even so her attitude is disappointing. Let’s hope LS was listening when GB said that.

      Second, let’s hope these new women are a sight better than the jokers to whom Blair handed out cabinet and Minister of State seats - Margaret Beckett (described by William Rees-Mogg in The Times as “our weakest foreign secretary since well before the World War 2″), Hazel Blears who mercifully finished last in the Deputy Leadership election, Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt and Margaret Hodge. What a crew!

      Third, please may we hear no more about honour killings, Cath, whether prefixed by “so-called” or not. My OED under “honour” talks of “credit”, “reputation”, “glory”, “nobleness of mind”. Pardon? These Kurdish males were nothing more than common, misogynist killers masquerading as honorable blokes under some flag of convenience. Sure, crimes specifially targeting women should be recorded as such, in the same way as race crimes are, but more important in my view is to deny these men the possibility of using the smallest fig leaf to cover their terrible crime.

    2. Ginger — on 7th July, 2007 at 10:02 am  

      I have a question Cath, as an ignorant expat who doesn’t follow domestic news very closely and who should be doing his own research before posting dumb questions - why is the new Attorney General endowed with such a strange-sounding name ?

      I mean (forgive me), but isn’t it a bit ironic that the first black woman to hold such a high position within the establishment should have an aristocratic title ? It must be hard for other black women in Britain to identify with someone calling themselves Lady Scotland, Baroness of Asthal.

      I suppose this is the peerage system en vigueur in Great Britain, but I do wish appointed peers were not given titles (no doubt deserved) that reek of the feudal caste system. It’s a bit like imagining a “Lord Ghandi” or a “Marquis of Mandela”. Strangely and colonially ironic.

      I’m a bit surprised she doesn’t actually ask that people call her Patricia Scotland, basta. Did people debating with her at the conference address her as “your highness” or “your ladyship” or something in that vein ? Sort of kills healthy debate, it seems to me…

      Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t mean that I think it’s strange because Ms Scotland is black, nor do I want to belittle her work for women - she deserves the honour - but I have the same reaction to the Lord Levys and Sir Paul Macartneys of this world.

      Well maybe it’s just because I’m out of touch, maybe I’m being unintentionally very politically incorrect - perhaps for most British people the connotations of such titles no longer call to mind the feudal aristocracy and the class system. But for me, the instinctive reaction is “ouch”.

      As regards Sweet Cheat’s comments about Kurdish males - is it true that all honor killings in Britain are attributable to Kurdish immigrants ? Aren’t there also a few cases of this among the Indian or Pakistani communities ?

      And I have to disagree about not using the name “honor” killings - this term is a clear indication of the cultural and religious context of a type of ritualized murder - nobody with an ounce of education is going to be having positive feelings about such an act simply because the word “honour” is used. And for the families and perpetrators - that is how they perceive their motivations, however much we may decry them.

    3. Cath — on 7th July, 2007 at 11:15 am  

      SweetCheat - I have no idea why she didn’t stay for the debate, I was just told she had to dash off - perhaps she had a meeting with Gordon….

      Ginger - Yep, it’s down to our bizarre and completely anachronistic peerage system I’m afraid. I did ask whether I was supposed to curtsey, but I was assured I didn’t need to bother.

      As for the term honour killings, whether or not it’s prefixed by “so-called” - I’m happy to see it renamed, and I can understand completely why people object to the phrase. What is important is that these crimes are identified and differentiated from other crimes of violence against women so we can gauge their prevalence, so if we are going to do away with the phrase “honour killings” we need an alternative label/identifier. Any ideas?

    4. Ginger — on 7th July, 2007 at 2:05 pm  

      Well Cath, the term that is now becoming standard for murder crimes directed against women is feminicide. Of course, this also encompasses killings for lack of dowry, murders of prostitutes (as in Ciudad Juarez), executions for adultery, etc… so it doesn’t serve as a term specifically replacing honor killings.

      Here is one definition of feminicide (in French I’m afraid):

      “Qu’est-ce que le féminicide ?

      Selon Monárrez Fragoso, la pratique féminicide « … inclue toute une série d’actions et de processus de violence sexuelle, qui vont des mauvais traitements émotionnels et psychologiques, aux coups, insultes, torture, viol, prostitution, harcèlement sexuel, abus contre des enfants, infanticide de jeunes filles, mutilations génitales, violence domestique, maternité forcée, privation d’aliments, pornographie, jusqu’à toute politique personnelle ou institutionnelle qui provoque ultimement la mort des femmes » [2].

      La violence exercée contre les femmes, en ce sens, se produit dans le cadre des relations de pouvoir et de domination des hommes envers les femmes. Pour autant, dans un contexte de violence généralisée comme le vit le Guatemala, la violence contre les femmes possède un caractère spécifique lié à une structure patriarcale historique qui tolère les patrons de domination et oppression institutionnalisés et qui minimise les luttes féministes pour résoudre cette relation inégale.”

      This definition is a bit wide to me - if pornography and general oppression of women that doesn’t include murder is included it dilutes the “-icide” suffix, rather like calling, for example, colonization of other people’s land “genocide”.

      But I still don’t understand why “honor killing” needs to be replaced - the juxtaposition of the two words actually, in my view, draws out the horrifying nature of the crime, rather than toning it down. There are no useful synonyms for the concept of honor.

      Maybe something like “family dishonor killing” ? A bit contrived in my view. And how is one going to impose it ?

      And what’s the situation regarding honor killings in the UK - is it only confined to the Kurdish community, as Sweet Cheat said ? Maybe Sunny can answer that one.

    5. FemmeFatale — on 7th July, 2007 at 3:09 pm  

      Ginger why are you trying to defend the honor of the uncivilized brutes in primitive societies who consider women to be expendable fodder for men ?

      Women are being subjected to genocide on a global scale by patriarchal, primitive societies and backward religions. It is time this was recognized for what it is, a female holocaust.

      As for your squeamishness about baroness Scotland’s title, it is on the contrary an honor for a black woman to achieve the status of nobility. Watching establishment male chauvinists bow and scrape before a black woman and address her as “your ladyship” is a pleasure to be savored.

      Your disingenous questions lead me to believe you are a typical male chauvinist pig, disguising yourself in the sheep’s clothing of a liberal.

    6. Galloise Blonde — on 7th July, 2007 at 4:33 pm  

      Ginger: feminicide is out, because around 15% of victims are male (see for example Arash Ghorbany-Zarin).

      HK in the UK are by no means restricted to Kurds.

    7. Khartoumi — on 7th July, 2007 at 5:02 pm  


      I am not trying to answer for Ginger, but there are a number of glaring contradictions in your argument that I simply could not resist but address:

      “[W]hy are you trying to defend the honor of the uncivilized brutes in primitive societies who consider women to be expendable fodder for men ?”

      First of all, I do not think Ginger is doing any such thing.

      I would be fascinated with your definition of “primitive societies” - sounds all very colonial to me. Are they really packed to the gills with “uncivilized brutes”?

      Certainly, I would agree that an uncivilised brute would be someone who thought women “to be expendable fodder for men”; but are you sure, given the implication, that these brutes are restricted to developing countries - I am sure we could point to a few in more “advanced” countries too. Would that not make those places fairly “primitive” as well?

      “Women are being subjected to genocide on a global scale by patriarchal, primitive societies and backward religions.”

      This sheer hyperbole, resting upon an entirely false and overly dramatic definition of genocide. Men are not deliberately seeking to exterminate women in toto. Nor, for that matter, are women a genus, species or “other” people - they are, in fact, 51% of the human race.

      Perhaps you might name some of these patriarchal, primitive societies (other than UK and USA, of course)… of course, I think we all know what you think is the “primitive religion”; but it would be nice to know out loud and bloody rude what you really meant - just so we can be sure what for this pseudo-ultra-feminist shape-throwing is really a smokescreen.

      Now, up-post I rather lightly suggested that Britain and the USA might be considered patriarchal societies - I am sure you would agree about that. But what about primitive? Well, you write of the antiquated, undemocratic and certainly betokening of days of far yore system of ennoblement, stating that “it is.. an honor for a black woman to achieve the status of nobility.”

      Is it, are you sure? Seems to me that you are rather keen on the primitive and patriarchal when it suits your polemical needs?

      Self-contradictory, chauvinist - you?

      Perish the thought!

    8. grecoverde — on 7th July, 2007 at 6:33 pm  

      I am disappointed in the ensuing comments that seem to have been cherry picked to address tangential issues and not the topic of the blog.

      Why did Baroness Scotland make no mention of either honor killings or forced marriages in a forum dedicated to the discussion of violence against women? Why still no adoption in the UK of the UN definition of violence against women a full 12 years after a commitment to do so?

      The topic of the blog is a serious one; it raises issues about the safety of women throughout the UK, and while the vast majority of women in the UK and throughout the Western World will never be subjected to honor killings or forced marriages, the absence of such discussion by the Baroness is telling. What it tells, I don’t know. Perhaps it speaks to a hesitancy to address such issues, even among those of us who have made a commitment to do so. And this hesitancy influences us all, some to a lethal degree.

      Focusing on side issues such as peerage and which society is more patriarchal than the other deflects away from the point. Rather than supporting the debate, such discussions create the illusion of support while diverting attention away from the point. Thus, they serve to both minimize the validity of the blog and undermine its vital purpose, creating a macabre echo of the very dynamic of silence at play UNISON’s national conference.

    9. Lelia — on 7th July, 2007 at 6:55 pm  

      “I’d be even more convinced there was a real commitment here if they invested some long-term funding into the women’s sector, instead of the current unsatisfactory arrangement that sees voluntary sector organisations constantly struggling to secure grant monies.”

      Great point! It does seem disingenious to say I support your cause but not sure if I will commit to giving the funding for longer than a year. Then the volunteers have to spend much of their time planning a proposal for funds together with the limitation of helping women who pop up when funds are running out. It is a farce!

    10. LennyStone — on 7th July, 2007 at 7:25 pm  

      Without knowing what was actually in her address to Unison’s conference, it’s really difficult to decide if Lady Scotland was deliberately ignoring honour crimes and forced marriages, much less to doubt her commitment on these issues. Unison is such a large, diverse organisation that I would imagine (and one can only guess on the basis of this article) her speech was commensurately general in nature. Given her record, I’d be surprised if her ladyship proved to be less than resolute, although I can see possible legal reasons for treading carefully in this area. If by honour crimes one means murder (as apparently it most often does), there surely is no need for special legislation? Forced marriage, however, may well be more difficult to deal with. The law, one must always remember, is a blunt instrument and cannot be refined so that only the guilty are charged, rather its workings decide if one is guilty or not. It is already sufficiently traumatic to be charged, however, that care needs to be taken the charges are not serious only for a small minority whilst frivolous for most … law which goes against the grain of the majority is, almost by definition, bad law. This is by no means a definitive statement, I’m perfectly aware, and it would useful to have a thorough examination of the issue of forced marriages.

      Likewise, I don’t see a danger that “the issue of violence against women becoming sidelined” follows in any way from “the paucity of women in Brown’s Cabinet”. Surely the quality of women ministers is more important than the quantity, and here I’d have thought the return of Harriet Harman, plus Lady Ashton and Beverly Hughes more than compensates for the disappearence of Margaret Beckett, the lamentable Patricia Hewitt and unlamented Tessa Jowell (whose expectation that we’d believe she had no knowledge of her mortgages always struck me as a particularly egregious bit of cheek by Jowell). The estimable Lady Amos has, of course, moved on to rather more important work than leading the Lords.

      It’s been pointed out that the number of women ministers reflects the proportion of women in the House and that has, I think, validity. The important thing surely is raise the number of women MPs but that is a separate issue. What we need most are competent ministers, not prime ministerial cronies, and I’ve no doubt that a rising number of these will be women. In a “man’s world” women have always had to be that much better at a job to get on and if competence is the criterion that will in time lead to a situation where it is no longer a man’s world …

      Ginger. You’re a naughty boy trying to divert Cath’s thread onto a campaign against Britain’s splendid monarchy and associated folderol!

      Khartoumi. Thanks for righting the ship!

    11. LennyStone — on 7th July, 2007 at 7:43 pm  

      grecoverde. “Why still no adoption in the UK of the UN definition of violence against women a full 12 years after a commitment to do so?” Has the US adopted it? If not, can you tell us why not?

      Lelia. The whole question of government funding of voluntary organisations is a vexed one, to say the least. I have no expert knowledge here but can see that it’s not resolvable in respect of only one kind of organisation. Annual budgeting doubtless reflects the dangers of committing long term finance to organisations with often sparse administration and vetting. It may be different in the US, where the tax structure (beginning with a flat 10% capital gains tax) promotes large scale private giving, but no European country has this system and there are many good reasons not to.

    12. grecoverde — on 7th July, 2007 at 9:25 pm  


      The US has never adopted the verbatim language of the UN definition because it never had to. In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, largely considered to be “a landmark piece of legislation that was the first comprehensive law to acknowledge the problem of domestic and sexual violence against women.”


      Despite ongoing threats to its survival (it requires regular reauthorization), it has been maintained and has expanded into areas such as protection for male victims of domestic violence and transitional housing for victims fleeing abusive homes.

      In the US, the debate around violence against women has aways suffered an exra whammy when religion or culture has been a part of the picture. For example, domestic violence in Amish communities was found to be disproportionately high. In response, special counseling and outreach programs arose to meet this need. Every five years, Congress devotes over 3 billion dollars to domestic violence issues.

      Despite all of these initiatives, domestic violence in the US has only minimally diminished. Much funding has therefore been refocused on the education of children with regard to violence, in an effort to break the cycle of violence with future generations.

      To my knowledge, honor killings have NOT been included in the various incarnations of the Violence Against Women Act. In the discussions I’ve had, honor killings are considered murder, period, and so are covered by the law already, but culturally bound practices like forced marriages are harder to address, given the burden to prove coercion.

    13. LennyStone — on 8th July, 2007 at 9:36 am  

      grecoverde. Many thanks for that concise and informative response. The US act sounds like one of those pieces of umbrella legislation that turn out to offer practical keys to a lot of doors that might otherwise remained closed, Congress at its best (rarely if ever by design!). That’s not so easy here because protocol more-or-less prohibits legislative “hybrids”, as they’re called. Still, it’s hard to see why the US should be so much further ahead in this respect. 3 billion dollars is serious money, adjusted for population that would mean about £400 million in the UK. I wonder what current UK funding (if identifiable) is? I think it would be a good project for Cath and others to pressure government into adopting the UN definition into UK law … where there’s a political will a practical way can always be found.

      Refocusing on children is surely the best way of going. Much as one would like to deal with adults, short of draconian measures little is likely to get through, the habits are too deeply ingrained. I do think these reflect the downside of society … the US is a pretty violent place compared to other first world countries so that’s bound to show up in the home as well. Are there reliable comparative stats? Finally, your para on honour killings and forced marriages reflects my own thoughts exactly. It might still be worth examining what can be done in the latter area but I’m not optimistic.

    14. Cath — on 8th July, 2007 at 12:15 pm  

      Ginger - I think on another thread Sunny referred to them as shame killings….

      Grecoverde and Lenny. The Government’s reluctance to adopt the UN definition is the key issue here, and it’s one that many organisations are committed to campaigning for. I think the problem is that if the UN definition is adopted, the current approach to tackling violence against women becomes redundant, as the UN definition calls for a joined up strategy to deal with all gender hate-crimes, recognising that they form a spectrum of abuses. At the moment the UK approach is completely fragmented, with one department dealing with one aspect, say domestic violence, and another department tasked with dealing with another, like rape and sexual assaults. The departments don’t appear to do any joined-up working on these issues, failing to see any connection between the two.

      As far as forced marriages go, there is currently a Private Member’s Bill before Parliament on this.

    15. LennyStone — on 8th July, 2007 at 8:05 pm  

      “Will the new Attorney General deliver for women?” Of more immediate importance, perhaps, will this site deliver for Cath? Is this the first time an author has been boycotted by her own publisher?

    16. Lelia — on 9th July, 2007 at 12:32 am  

      Thanks Lenny,

      I was unaware of this. In the US funds are granted for sometimes 3 years and when it expires, congress evaluates the programs and then decides whether to continue funding. When the Republicans were in majority, many programs were cut. This accounts for my anger around this issue.

    17. Sunny — on 9th July, 2007 at 12:42 am  

      I’m not sure whether it is Baroness Patricia Scotland or another Baroness, but one of them was against further legislation against forced marriages, and was quite disappointed when Tony Blair did a U-turn to support the Private Member’s Bill that Lord Lester put forward I’ve heard.

      Although the new legislation is more about civil remedies than criminalisation, as the previous bill last year was.

      Is this the first time an author has been boycotted by her own publisher?

      Erm, I’m sorry?

    18. LennyStone — on 9th July, 2007 at 2:05 am  

      Sunny. When I posted (8.05pm) Cath’s 12.15pm post had not appeared, despite refreshing, and she had not seen it either. I posted to test what clearly was a glitch in the system, since rectified. It was an attempt at humour, no offence intended and, I hope, none taken.

      Will post on the topic tomorrow.

    19. Henry Chevalier — on 9th July, 2007 at 1:43 pm  

      At UNISON’s recent National Conference, Baroness Scotland spoke passionately about her work as the minister responsible for domestic violence.

      Steady on: that could be misread in an unhelpful way. Better to say she’s responsible for overseeing issues around the implementation of attempts in terms of tackling domestic violence.

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