Jane Devine: Female candidates won’t address abuse

Bill Walker. Picture: Toby Williams
Bill Walker. Picture: Toby Williams
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Fielding female candidates to replace a wife-beater is tokenism and won’t address the abuse issue, writes Jane Devine

Domestic abuse is neither the preserve of only men, nor is it the preserve of all men. People understand that. Women’s rights campaigners understand that.

So why then did one political party and many commentators believe that an appropriate response to Bill Walker’s resignation was to field only women candidates to replace him?

Former Nationalist MSP Bill Walker was convicted on 23 charges of assault against three former wives and a stepdaughter between 1967 and 1995. He resigned his seat on 7 September, forcing a by-election in his former constituency of Dunfermline, due to be held on 24 October.

Walker’s crimes are despicable and compounded by his failure to believe he has done anything wrong or anything he wasn’t entitled to do. People like him and attitudes such as his have no place in a civil society. Yet, he is far from alone. One in five women in Scotland experiences domestic abuse, figures claim.

But, it is an issue that can be tackled. Scottish Women’s Aid say on their website that: “We believe that a world without domestic abuse is not just a dream, it is a possibility. Never doubt it – changing attitudes changes lives.”

There is work to be done and a possibility that the one in five will become one to a much higher number, but is presenting a field of women only candidates the best way to do it? Does it help the campaign to end domestic abuse if prospective male candidates refuse to stand? Is it the best use of this media opportunity to make domestic abuse seem like a women’s issue?

No is the answer to all those questions. This is short-term tokenism and, crucially, it misses the point. Domestic abuse is not a women’s issue: it is an issue for all of society and it will take people from all parts of society to tackle it.

The Scottish Parliament has reflected this in the past. In 1999, it saw the formation of the cross party group on Men’s Violence Against Women and Children. That group still runs today.

It wasn’t started by a woman, though. It was started by a man: Gil Paterson MSP, and that, in itself, was a great statement in the parliament’s first session.

We need the parliament to continue to be progressive. The trial of Bill Walker has highlighted many issues concerning domestic abuse that still need to be tackled, including the tendency to try such cases in summary courts where the sentencing powers are limited to just 12 months.

The parties contesting the by-election have now selected their candidates and three out of the four main parties have chosen women.

The best response to Bill Walker and to men who think like him is not to replace him with a woman, but to replace him with a person who will campaign to change attitudes to domestic abuse and seek to reduce its prevalence. It is not a woman’s issue, it is an issue for us all, and only together can we stop it.