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Women’s Lives Matter campaigning to Save South Yorkshire Women’s Aid

After it was reported by Labour MP, Harriet Harman, that services protecting women against domestic violence in Leeds have been cut by 59%, a public meeting was called to launch Women’s Lives Matter in Leeds. Members of Leeds Socialist Party have been actively supporting Women’s Live Matter campaign in Doncaster against the cuts to funding of the South Yorkshire Women’s Aid service (see recent article in the Socialist).

Nina Brown, Leeds Socialist Party

The meeting aimed to facilitate sharing ideas, gathering information, and to enable us to start planning how we can secure more than just scraps of funding. 19 people attended, including workers from the services facing cuts, women who were previous service users, a labour councillor, NHS workers, teachers and other campaigners.

Amy Cousens, who played a key role in the Doncaster campaign, introduced the discussion with information about the national picture of austerity, and how this impacts women and domestic violence. The facts that, on average in the UK, two women a week are murdered by a male partner or ex-partner, and a further three women a week kill themselves to escape abuse; that domestic violence is Shelter’s single most quoted reason for homelessness and that 1000 women and children were turned away from refuges in a six-month period in 2017, were just a few of the harsh realities of austerity highlighted in the opening of the discussion.

The labour councillor who attended, Al Garthwaite, stated that supporting domestic violence services was a priority, and described the services currently available in Leeds in detail. This included regular planning meetings to discuss client pathways and a variety of refuges for women. She expressed her frustration with the austerity measures, and expressed to the room the need for passionate fundraisers like ourselves to continue funding these brilliant services.

When asked why she was happy asking us, the service users and working people, to source funding for vital, life-saving services, Garthwaite maintained that they have asked the government not to make them make these cuts, but that this is ‘falling on deaf ears’. She admitted finding this ‘disheartening’, but insisted there was nothing more she could do when questioned by those at the meeting.

Throughout the meeting there were insightful contributions; from service users who had not spoken at meetings before, to organisers from successful campaigns such as ‘Save Fearnville Fields’. Ideas such as addressing period poverty by fighting to improve wages and making feminine hygiene products affordable for all women, were discussed in comparison to a pipeline scheme for free tampon dispensers in schools.

What next?

It was decided at the meeting that we would set up a Facebook group of those interested in being involved. We plan to leaflet about the current threats to the services and attendees agreed to co-ordinate further meetings and actions.

Ultimately, not investing in services – domestic violence support services, the NHS, education, living wages – is a false economy, and we need a societal shift to socialist policies. Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto gave us a glimpse of this – mass council housing, a £10 an hour minimum wage, a fully publicly funded NHS. With further campaigns, like that of WLM, we hope to work towards a society that understands the need to fund and invest in services and people; to create a society wherein all women’s lives matter.

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