Four ACEVO members talk to Maisie Hulbert about the changes #HearMeToo could prompt across the sector
The first blog for the #HearMeToo campaign explored the important work of several ACEVO members in the women’s sector. Alongside raising awareness, the purpose of #HearMeToo and the following 16 days of activism is to unite people working across different sectors to challenge stigma and create change. Janet Dalrymple, CEO of Safer Places, told us that “there really is not one single civil society organisation that cannot help in some way”. This second instalment suggests how organisations that don’t specifically work in the women’s sector can take meaningful action. Naomi Dickson (@soldier_in_slip), CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid, said that “the violence against women and girls sector hugely benefits from productive partnerships, and from other agencies signposting women to us. The more educated people are about domestic abuse – what it is, how it presents – the more likely they will be receptive to women who want to bravely share their experience.”
The leaders we spoke to unanimously stress the importance of workplace culture, and providing policies equipping employees to respond effectively to survivors and potential perpetrators in the workforce. Janet pointed out that “abuse is all around us and we all interact with victims and perpetrators day in, day out. Our sector is no different to any other – they are our clients, our volunteers, our staff, our donors, our relatives and our friends, but we might not recognise it.” Defining a clear policy at work is a straightforward but meaningful step.
Leadership is a crucial element of creating safer cultures. Sarah Hill, CEO of IDAS explained that radical change is only truly possible when leaders “speak up against abuse and violence, make sure that workplace policies support victims and survivors, refuse to turn a blind eye and finally, get education and training on the issues.” Janet suggested exchanging training in your area of expertise for domestic violence training from local organisations, helping your employees recognise signs of abuse through a collaborative, mutually beneficial approach.
Sarah told us that IDAS is “conducting a ‘speak up, we’re listening’ project with a number of employers in South Yorkshire – we provide training etc. on how they can make their work environments a safe place for victims and survivors. More initiatives like this across the UK would be great.” Engaging the whole workplace is crucial; Nik Peasgood (@nikpeasgood), CEO of Leeds Women’s Aid said “we have to recognise that a whole family and whole society approach is needed. Men need to challenge men, support needs to be in place for women and girls.” By embedding these principles in our organisations at the highest level, civil society can create the best conditions for genuine, long-lasting change.
Leaders can also re-appraise how their organisation’s services intersect with gendered violence. Charities come into contact with people facing differing hardships, and understanding how beneficiary needs might overlap allows us to have a wider positive impact. Nik emphasised that CEOs from any sector should “integrate routine enquiry into their services and work with women and girls organisations to do this. Many women and girls will tell someone they trust, health visitors, youth workers, support workers, health colleagues etc. It is important that people ask the question, then believe the person.”
Rethinking our broader approach to gendered violence in government policy could catalyse the impact of such approaches. Naomi drew attention to the fact that “New Zealand has just introduced 10 days of paid leave to women suffering from domestic violence, to give them time to move house and start to rebuild their lives. This kind of support is a huge statement by a government and it’s something I would welcome here too.” Janet stated that she would welcome “a broader evidence-based response to perpetrators [who] do not need a one size fits all approach and need a managed package of support which reduces their propensity to abuse.” Current responses to domestic violence tend to uproot the survivor from familiar surroundings, where they could more effectively recover. Considering the fact that so few domestic violence cases result in trial and conviction, Janet says that addressing perpetrators effectively both diminishes their likelihood to cause harm and prioritises the victim’s recovery.
There are numerous practical steps you can take to assist the vital work of women’s organisations and refuges. Janet suggested sharing meeting spaces for support groups, collecting funds for Christmas gifts to children in refuge, or offering free entry to events and spaces providing families at risk with a safe space for a day together. Providing work opportunities or internships to survivors can also help rebuild confidence. At ACEVO, we hope that our strong network of members will encourage all to consider the work they can do. Reaching out to other leaders for service support, training and guidance strengthens our capacity to make robust policies on gendered violence the norm in every organisation.