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sisters uncut
Lou McNamara

Marching for those murdered by male violence

Sisters Uncut is the activist group demanding that people see domestic abuse as closely tied to the state’s austerity measures

On November 28 2015, Sisters Uncut will march to mourn those sisters murdered by male violence whose lives could have been saved by domestic violence support services. Our mourning will not be quiet, we have not been silenced by the men who seek our submission or by the government’s austerity agenda that cuts our services and closes our refuges because they perceive us as weak. Our message is clear: They Cut, We Bleed. The 32 domestic violence refuges closed since 2010 have the cost the lives of our sisters but we are fighting back against this economic violence.

Since our group formed in November 2014, we’ve taken over the roofs of council buildings, blocked roads and burnt the racist Daily Mail, to protest their complicity in the indefinite detention of migrants at sexist and abusive prisons like Yarls Wood. Most recently we jumped on the red carpet at the premiere of the film Suffragette, to ask where the struggle’s at when we’re celebrating militancy of the past amidst drastic reversals of progress made by our fore-sisters. We’re about drawing out contradictions, like the grim irony of Osbourne’s spending review, committing to continued austerity, on the same day as the UN sponsored International Day to End Violence Against Women invites actions to end VAWG.

This should be a day on which facing our losses means marking commitment to our sisters in the now. In Britain abusers kill two women a week. But Osbourne’s spending review is exactly the opposite: the drudging through of yet more austerity policies will dig women deeper into gender violence. The decision to fund this year’s inadequate budget for women’s services through the tampon tax is a demonstration of the contempt which the government has for vital services.

In their annual survey, Women’s Aid reported that of the 167 domestic violence centres they contacted, almost half said that they were maintaining their services through their own reserves, with no funding whatsoever. Services frequently rely heavily on volunteer workers, losing their paid specialist caseworkers and leaving an increased amount of work for those remaining. The situation is completely unsustainable, and as more refuges close, more women will die.

“We demand an end to austerity and the gender violence within it: we want ring-fenced funding for domestic and sexual violence services”

Cuts to funding are disproportionately closing down specialist services. These services are run by those who best know how, tailored to particular, frequently affected groups; black and minority ethnic (BME) women, LGBTQ+ people and disabled women. Disabled women, for example, are twice as likely to experience domestic violence. Last weekend Sisters Uncut attended a march organised by Apna Haq, a domestic violence service working with Asian women in Rotherham. They are the latest in a long list of specialist services facing closure. As funding is cut, services are forced to compete with each other for what funding is available. Councils turn to whoever can provide the cheapest service – whatever the real cost. Between April and July 2014, ten specialist domestic violence services across England lost funding. All but one of these nine services lost their services to a non-specialist service provider.

As Sisters Uncut we organise intersectionally, because women’s experiences of violence depend on other factors such as class, race, disability, age and sexuality. We see the necessity of keeping specialist services open; services which understand the specificity of gender violence. On our blog we also write about various intersections of domestic and sexual violence in terms of class, race, sexuality and more. Sisters blog about LGBTQ+ domestic violence, how immigration laws currently expose women to domestic violence, have debunked myths surrounding men and domestic violence, and more.

The government surround their policies with a discourse of necessity and urgency. But austerity is a political choice, and it has been a gendered project from the beginning. The damage goes further than any single ‘cut’. There are multiple ways in which austerity policies are creating a society with more violence against women, and less options for women to escape it. Unemployment has a gendered nature, for example, meaning financial vulnerability for women. The public sector has had a disproportionate number of job losses, and employs more women than men.

In 2012 the Fawcett Society reported that female unemployment had reached an all-time high. A severe lack of social housing means that it is increasingly difficult for refuges to house women, particularly amidst the property boom of London and southern England. Renting in the private sector, where most refuges now house the survivors they work with, means less stability and soaring rents. Cuts to welfare payments spell the end of another lifeline for women experiencing domestic violence; payments like the social fund, scrapped in 2012. The social fund was a fund of small payments available to people in financial crisis to buy necessities such as cookers or bedsheets. Welfare payments like these enable women to make the long transition away from an abusive partner.

“The 32 domestic violence refuges closed since 2010 have the cost the lives of our sisters but we are fighting back against this economic violence”

Feminists of the past fought to show that the personal is political; not that every choice you make carries the obligation to be feminist, but that the criteria of choice, and the areas of life seen to be ‘personal’, ‘private’ or ‘domestic’, are structured through power dynamics. Through our march we want others to see that domestic violence is not purely a question of individual abuse, but closely tied to the state. Austerity policies are a form of gender violence in themselves: they result in women having nowhere to go when they flee violence, they remove welfare which survivors rely on, they close down refuges.

We demand an end to austerity and the gender violence within it: we want ring-fenced funding for domestic and sexual violence services, guaranteed access to social housing for women fleeing violence, access to legal aid and support for all survivors of domestic violence. We invite all sisters – trans, intersex, cis and gender non-binary people to join us this Saturday, at 12:00pm in Soho Square. As we bear witness to even more women killed by gender violence, as crucial support lines are cut, our procession is also a refusal to mourn, a transformation of our grief into rage. We are taking our cue from poet Pat Parker:

“I have gained many sisters./ And if one is beaten,/ or raped, or killed,/ I will not come in mourning black./ I will not pick the right flowers.… I will come with my many sisters/ and decorate the streets/ with the innards of those/ brothers in womanslaughter.… I will come to my sisters,/not dutiful,/ I will come strong.”