WRDA, supported by Children in Northern Ireland and Women’s Information NI, held an all-female focus group exploring the new Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse Strategy from DOJ and DHSSPS. Women sat in a wide circle upstairs in the Play Recreation Centre on 9th April and shared their many, many views on domestic and sexual violence, and how to tackle both issues effectively in NI so that less women (and men) become victims of such violence. The event began with a short presentation from guests Gary Gregg of DHSSPS and Joanne McPadden of DOJ, who together provided an overview of the new strategy, while also responding to a good few questions and comments. After the presentation, the women separated into two groups for a more focused discussion of the strategy and domestic and sexual violence. Interesting points were raised throughout the event, and WRDA was delighted with the amount of passion shown about the issues.
Suggestions that proved popular in the room included: • Consulting with women more extensively before finalising the strategy and, in future, considering speaking to them exclusively at first since they are most likely to be affected by both domestic and sexual violence. • Holding some ‘mixed’ consultation groups on this strategy (and others), i.e. bringing different sectors together in the one room rather than speaking to them all separately. • Ensuring women at every level are involved in examining the strategy, including when it reaches the Committee stage at Stormont. • Changing the definitions of sexual and domestic violence as they currently appear in the strategy to make them more hard-hitting, and therefore more reflective of the damage caused to victims. This could include directly referring to rape. • Also including more on virtual and digital abuse. • Recognising within the strategy that paramilitaries in certain areas may help silence victims of domestic/sexual violence. • Making sure there are tangible resources tied to the strategy to help enact its provisions, e.g. information apps for download. • Ensuring that the strategy includes action points on educating and informing people about domestic and sexual violence, including the warning signs. The views raised will be fed directly back to DOJ and DHSSPS. The Women’s Regional Consortium, of which WRDA is a member, will use the event to help inform its own response to the strategy. If you would like to personally respond to the strategy as an individual or organisation, please click here to learn how to do so. The official deadline for comments is 11th April, but an extra two weeks is being allowed to give people additional time to finalise their responses.