19 March 2015
Violence against women legislation passed by Welsh government
On 10 March, Welsh government's Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill passed into law with unanimous support from the National Assembly's opposition Assembly Members (AMs). It has been hailed as groundbreaking legislation, being not only the first of its kind in the UK, but also the only law in Europe to include a specific focus on violence against women.
It was an important milestone for those third sector organisations that have worked tirelessly for years to improve women's rights. When the bill was first introduced, many campaigners felt that it was a long way off from what was needed, but by the end everyone was happy and the influential Wales Violence Against Women Action Group praised it as "a strong and powerful piece of legislation".
It was also a good example of Welsh government, opposition parties and civil society interacting in scrutiny of the bill to significantly strengthen it. There was, however, some grumbling in the days leading up to the final vote;opposition AMs, for example, complained that some third sector organisations had been "bullying" in their lobbying approach, while Welsh government Minister Leighton Andrews at one point despaired of threats to derail the bill, tweeting "I could understand if Opposition said they would abstain on the #vawbill but threatening to vote against it is appalling".
Just before the bill passed into law, Welsh government outlined ten ways in which the bill had been amended and strengthened as a result of suggestions from opposition parties and the violence against women sector.
The inclusion of educational provisions to accompany the bill was the concession that ensured support from opposition AMs. These provisions include education about healthy relationships, violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and gender-based sexual violence being introduced into schools. This was much in keeping with the consultation response to the Welsh government bill submitted by the Alliance in Wales in 2014, in which we emphasised the importance of education in the prevention of violence against women.
There is still much work that needs to be done but many hope that this legislation will herald a brighter future for women in Wales.
In the days following the bill's passage into law, it was revealed that permission was refused for the Assembly's iconic Senedd building to be used in filming of a portion of the next James Bond film. Although many AMs were aghast at this decision, seeing it as a lost opportunity to showcase Wales to the world, it may have been a suitable one –given the heart of the Violence against Women bill to change culture and the Bond franchise's longstanding association with outdated sexist attitudes.