Are we listening?

Bangladeshi woman rests her head on her knees c. UNHCR GMB.Akash
Women and girls continue to be at risk of violence in Scotland.

It is generally understood that women and girls seeking international protection will have suffered some form of physical and sexual violence in the countries they have fled from, and probably on their journey to Scotland.

Violence does not stop in the 'safe' country

What is less understood is that these same women and girls continue to be at risk of violence in Scotland, the country in which they have sought refuge. This issue was identified by a study undertaken by Scottish Refugee Council last year and it is all too often an issue I see as a lawyer working with these same women and girls.  

The reasons for this range of violence are varied and inter-related. The common factor is that we have individuals who are inherently vulnerable finding themselves in an often hostile and alien environment, that they are unequipped for and do not understand. They then face additional hurdles in accessing protection and redress, not least because there can be a lack of effective gender and cultural sensitive practices within the organisations and systems tasked with providing this.   

Tackling issues in Scotland

We need to address all these factors in order to effectively combat this issue in Scotland. In doing so, we need to be informed directly by the experiences and opinions of the women and girls who have been and continue to be affected by this continuum of violence, as well as by service providers in this sector.

We need to work harder to empower these women and girls to have a stronger voice not only in respect of their own individual situations but also in any wider debate, policy and service developments in this area.  This is not an easy task but we have a responsibility to think of the best means by which to achieve this goal and to be pro-active in doing so.

Gaining protection only part of the struggle

An uncomfortable irony for a lawyer in this area is that obtaining refugee status for those claiming asylum is sometimes only half the battle in securing effective and sustainable protection from violence. It cannot be said that international protection has been fully attained if women and girls remain at risk and vulnerable to ongoing violence in the place of “refuge”.

Scotland should be and can be a place of refuge from gender related violence but I wonder if we need to start listening harder.

Find out more about the Legal Services Agency in Scotland on their website

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