Welcome to our blog! This is a platform where the rich diversity of women's voices can be heard and where we can come together to turn attention on the myriad of issues that affect a variety of women. We celebrate where things are good, and focus a spotlight on areas where they aren't. If you want to write something for this space please just get in touch!

Before sending us your blog, please note: We publish articles that are written by women, pro all women & not for profit in their intention. We welcome lighter pieces as well as articles on more serious issues. There is no specific word count, but most pieces are around the 700 word mark.

Our latest post is by Karla McLaren, Campaign Manager: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan for Amnesty International UK who are campaigning for women in Afghanistan.

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An invitation to Sky News

- Barbara Wilson

I was just getting the tube home having won my first tiny piece of business as someone who is newly self-employed, when I thought I’d check my emails.  There nestling amongst the emails from Hobbs, Peruvian Connection and Amazon, was an email from Jessica at Sky News asking me whether I would like to be interviewed in connection with a Macmillan Press Release, embargoed until the next day, about increasing levels of discrimination against people working with cancer. She said she had got my details from The Women’s Room. My immediate reaction was elation, followed swiftly by panic followed by wondering if the whole thing was a spoof.  I emailed her back; no it was all very real.

We spoke later and in a terrifyingly mad moment I said I’d go on TV, at 9:30 the next morning.  They told me they’d send a car to collect me and bring me back.  For me! It was all so unreal.  I’ve never been on TV before – after almost 40 years working in high profile jobs in the City but with no media training, suddenly I’m on TV.  There’s no-one to advise me, train me or more importantly, tell me I can’t do it. So what the hell!

Having advised Mr Wilson, my two sons and a few close members family members and friends I was even more terrified. What if I screwed up, how would I ever live it down? I mugged up that evening learning more statistics than I’d ever need – do you know that there are 700,000 people of working age living with cancer and less than 2% get specialist support to help them return to work? Bet you didn’t!  I then spent rather longer wondering what to wear: the blue dress with the short sleeves and low ’V’ neck, professional and cool (but the ‘V’ neck is quite low), or the purple notch-neck dress with long sleeves?  I decided on the latter.  I went to bed early and then didn’t sleep a wink.

So, the morning came, breakfast of sorts was eaten and I chose the other dress – the long sleeves were far too warm and how would I cope with my terrible, unpredictable hot flushes?  Then more worries - what would I do if I needed the loo? Should I take Imodium; maybe one for safety’s sake?

The car arrived, driven by a lovely chatty man, and the weather was beautiful but the traffic was doing an impression of a car park.  More stress and deep breathing.  I arrived in plenty of time but having got through security realised it was only 15 mins until my interview slot – but no-one seemed to be in a hurry.  I was shown into the news room – loads of desks and busy, casually dressed people and then into the Green Room – well it was a red room really.  Suddenly I was straight into make-up. I was still pinching myself at this stage.  I thought I was beautifully made up already but the lovely lady made me look so much better – can I hire her on a daily basis?  After what seemed ages it was back to the red, sorry Green Room, surrounded by TVs, and with banks of newspapers.  Then, weirdly a strange sense of calm as time passed and no-one came to get me.  My 9:30 slot came and went and it was 9:35. What would the family be thinking? Maybe they wouldn’t use me….

A lady wandered in wearing headphones – who was she, I have no idea, but she took me on to the set (yes it’s just a big island set in the middle of all the news desks) and told me to mind the cables.  There was Gillian Joseph the newsreader interviewing someone about the local elections and UKIP. I had no idea what I going to be asked by Gillian but I felt calm – how could I feel so calm, I kept asking myself?

So, dear reader, I was on for 5 minutes – it seemed like 60 seconds - but it was absolutely terrific.  I could answer the questions in my sleep they were so easy and Gillian was so nice.  I glowed all day as a result.

And what did I learn? Well that I can do it – actually, we all can. We just need to get more women to step forward and be counted. Counted loud and clear!

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Why it is Time for a Criminal Offence of Domestic Abuse

- Rachel Horman

On the 1st April 2013 the Government amended the definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control”.  This was an issue that I have spoken about previously on the BBC website in September – and is an initiative that I very much welcome. 

Changing the definition of domestic violence however is useless without there being a corresponding change in the law.  It sounds fantastic to say that domestic violence now includes coercive control but how on earth are abusers going to be prosecuted for it?

The only tools the police have to fight this type of behaviour are the laws against harassment and stalking.  These laws are massively under-utilised as it is and require repeated patterns of behaviour.  These laws were not devised to deal with coercive control within the setting of a couple living together and would be very difficult to use in many of the cases I deal with on a daily basis.

The Government has already committed itself to creating a criminal offence of forced marriage later this year so why not domestic abuse which is a far more common occurrence?

Coercive control can be just as terrifying as physical violence and there are very few cases of physical abuse where coercive control is not also present.  Coercive control is often the precursor to physical abuse so surely it makes sense to have the means to bring a criminal prosecution before the abuse becomes physical?  A woman is murdered by a current or former partner in the UK every 3 days so this is a huge problem we are dealing with. 

Coercive control is often used to grind down the spirit and confidence of a victim until they are so submissive that they do not fight back or dare leave when the violence begins.  I have many clients who will say that this cycle of coercive control followed by violence is a constant feature of their relationship and that the psychological terrorism is so terrifying that they are often relieved when the violence eventually comes. Worse still the cycle will usually begin again in an increasingly short space of time.

I have heard people object to a criminal offence of coercive control on the basis that they might find themselves “being arrested for arguing with my wife”.

Coercive control involves humiliation, degradation and intimidation which is not something that can happen – even during arguments – within a loving relationship.

I deal with women being subjected to the psychological terrorism of coercive control on a daily basis, let me give you an idea of what this is like.  Alison was woken in the middle of the night by her partner Stephen, who had been out drinking, and ordered by him to go to the local garage to buy cigarettes for him.  He gave her the money to pay for the cigarettes as she was not allowed to have her own money or bank account.  She was told by him that as usual he would be timing her as he didn’t trust her not to have sex with other men ’on her way to the garage’.  She knew that there would be violence if she was more than a second longer than the agreed time.  When she returned he immediately demanded the change from her and the receipt.  In the rush to get back within the time limit she forgot to pick up the receipt.  Stephen began shouting sexual obscenities about her in her face with his forehead almost touching hers.  He then ordered her to get down on her knees in front of him to beg for forgiveness which she did straight away knowing that it was the only way to try to avoid violence and in the terror of the ordeal wet herself in fear.

Most people would immediately agree that the above example is abhorrent and could not be confused for a “normal argument”.  It would however be very difficult to fit this type of behaviour into the current range of criminal offences as the law stands and therefore the abuser would not be prosecuted.

A fair and humane society surely cannot tolerate this type of behaviour of itself and deserves to be punished in its own right but when you then consider that this type of behaviour often builds up to physical violence and sometimes murder it is imperative that action is taken to stamp this out before it escalates.  I am confident that if this was to become the case dozens of women’s lives would be saved in the UK each year.

Rachel Horman is a Solicitor and the head of the Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage Department at Watson Ramsbottom Ltd Solicitors in East Lancashire however she practices throughout the North West of England.  She is an advanced Resolution accredited specialist in the areas of Domestic Violence and Forced Marriage and recently received that National Family Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award 2012 as recognition of her work in these areas. Rachel blogs at rachelhorman.co.uk 

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