Readers of Scottish Justice Matters will be familiar with improvements in protection measures for survivors of violence against women in Scotland over the last decade or so. Developments around independent domestic abuse advocates; specialist domestic abuse courts; immediate referrals to specialist support for women who report sexual violence; and forced marriage protection orders, are just a few examples.
What some may be less familiar with is that in 2015, there is still a group of women living in Scotland who have experienced violence, but are faced with disclosing their experiences in front of their children; who may be interviewed by a male interviewer or through a male interpreter; whose interviewer has not been trained on the impact of trauma on memory or gender sensitive interview techniques; and who may have received little or no specific information about the process they find themselves in.
Because of these difficulties and others, she may never have access to justice for the violations she has experienced. These women are seeking international protection from our government, from some of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman; and this is the Protection Gap.
Scottish Refugee Council is the lead organisation in Scotland for a new campaign under the auspices of the Women’s Asylum Charter, to close this Protection Gap. Along with the other 350 organisational signatories to this Charter, we are calling on the Home Secretary to ensure that women in the asylum process have access to the same protections available to women at home and abroad.
The European Council’s Istanbul Convention (signed by the UK Government in 2012) states that women have the right to protection from violence regardless of their immigration status. UK Government initiatives such as the Global Summit on preventing sexual violence in conflict in June and the Girl Summit in July launched a number of provisions including an international protocol on documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict, and a package of resources around preventing female genital mutilation and forced marriage, not all of which are accessible to women in the asylum process, who, paradoxically, may be the very women who have fled from such abuses and are now seeking our protection.
We are pleased that the Home Office has indicated its willingness to explore how to implement some of the campaign’s recommendations, but we need everyone’s support across the UK to turn this commitment into a reality for women seeking our protection. Everyone can play their part by sending a postcard to your MP and tweeting your support for the campaign under the hashtag #ProtectionGap. Together, let’s ensure that all survivors of violence and abuse living in Scotland can access the protection they need.