Sport has a role to play in raising awareness of Violence against Women and Girls

Abused woman ()

The Home Office has announced a revision of the Violence Against Women and Girls’ Strategy, and the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s Policy Support Officer, Rasteen Riyahi-Boni, has commented on why the sector has a role to play.

“We need to make tackling violence against women and girls everybody’s business.” - Theresa May.

There has been a hidden, on-going epidemic taking place longer than any of us care to remember. It happens behind closed doors, accounts for one in 10 recorded crimes and results in the murder of two to three women every week. We need to talk about violence against women.

The Home Office is developing an action plan for inclusion within the revised Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy and have called for the submission of non-legislative proposals, including to 'Use civil society groups (including sports clubs) to raise awareness of VAWG’.

If followed through, the proposal could be a considerable initial step towards tackling VAWG.

The problem is unprecedented; therefore, it is only appropriate our solution is too. You as an employer, volunteer or member of civil society can make a difference, and it has been achieved before.

In the 1980s Ellen Pence orchestrated a collaborative community approach in Duluth, Minnesota to target domestic violence (DV) through the power of peer pressure.

Warnings to perpetrators came in the way of condemning violence against women through radio stations, employers and actors in public houses.

As a result of the campaign, DV against women in Duluth fell by an incredible 60%.

The Home Office strategy notes ‘The only way we can achieve real, sustainable progress is if national and local government, local partners… and every community work together.’

While this is not to suggest grassroots clubs have the expertise to provide support to victims of DV, they do nonetheless have a role to play in raising awareness of the issues and signposting to further support.

After all, many clubs are likely to have a relationship with potentially vulnerable women and girls as members or volunteers – they simply don’t know it.

Whilst sending orchestrated messages is imperative, actions speak louder than words and this is where the lines begin to blur. Forbes recently released the top 100 paid athletes and sitting at the top is Floyd Mayweather –  twice convicted of domestic abuse.

What sort of message does this send to fans and younger prospective athletes who herald the likes of Floyd? The sector and all sports must demonstrate intolerance to this form of criminal behaviour, and put an end to double standards in order to enact real change.

It is also crucial to consider more vulnerable victims, i.e. women of ethnic minorities who experience higher rates of domestic homicide. Women approach agencies an average of 15 times before receiving the correct help, however this figure is higher for black women.

It is essential that we also do not forget children, who are the silent victims in this. 62% exposed to DV are directly harmed by the offender and tragically 60% of children feel that they are to blame.

While these statistics paint a disturbing picture, we must remind ourselves that activism moves the conversation forwards. I urge you to consider how you can be the force for change which women desperately need, through the following means:

  1. Support victim support organisations; Women’s Aid and Refuge through fundraising;
  2. Stand in solidarity with White Ribbon, as Ipswich Town FC did;
  3. Sign the UK Says No More charter and pledge intolerance towards DV.

You may know of additional practices or have suggestions for driving the sector to raise awareness of VAWG. If so, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you wish to find out more about VAWG, DV or what you can do as a club or individual, please visit Women’s Aid.

I hope you can join me in acknowledging that for many women, acting now will be too late. But for no woman will it ever be too soon.