Please sir, what is domestic violence?

As I was hinting yesterday, the government has indeed announced new measures to tackle violence against women and girls in the UK. It’s something that Amnesty’s been campaigning over for several years, not least as part of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition. So – good news.

The focus today is on the government’s intention to bring information about violence against girls and women into classrooms. Fine. Yes, there’s been the predictable hands-thrown-up-in-horror-it’s-political-correctness-gone-mad response from some (presumably the same people that supported Section 28 and were horrified when they starting having sex educations in schools) – but why the fuss?

Isn’t it a no-brainer of a good idea? Isn’t it right – even a duty – in any responsible society to make young people aware of the world they’re growing up into – letting them know what the facts are, what the dangers are?

So just what are the facts and the dangers? On the “headline” issue of domestic violence, the BBC is reporting Home Office figures that 73 women were killed by their partner last year (strangely summarised as one woman a week in news bulletins I was hearing this morning: I didn’t realise there were 73 weeks in the year ….)

But beneath this – stark enough – fact there’s a massive and under-reported epidemic of gender violence in the UK. Adding it all up, EVAW thinks three million women each year suffer violence in all its nastily varied forms – domestic violence, rape and sexual violence,  “honour” killings, trafficking, FGM etc, etc. Never mind swine flu – this is probably a much bigger threat to the nation’s health.

In all of this, as EVAW is saying, delivery and funding are key. This is a good development but if the government messes it up with cutbacks or piecemeal services, we could be no further forward

But a final word on schools. Is it my imagination or is there a persistent lobby in Britain that seems to be horrified if there’s any deviation in the classroom from a Gradgrindian diet of the three R’s with lashings of PE? I think so.

Maybe some people have never recovered from the introduction of sex education in schools and those “Living And Growing” programmes from the 1970s. Which brings me to my closing anecdote. During one L&G at our school in about 1974 one of my friends in our class was so embarrassed when they showed an erection that … he fainted! He spent the next two years trying to live that down.

Overall, if spelling out that sexism and discrimination against girls and women often leads to a corrosion of respect and ultimately violence, then that’s got to be a good thing in my book.

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