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11 July 2018

Women's Lives Matter launched in Leeds to fight domestic violence service cuts

Nina Brown, Leeds Socialist Party

After it was reported that services protecting women against domestic violence in Leeds have been cut by 59%, we helped call a public meeting to launch 'Women's Lives Matter' in Leeds.

Members of Leeds Socialist Party have been actively supporting the Women's Live Matter campaign in Doncaster against cuts to South Yorkshire Women's Aid as reported in the Socialist.

The Leeds meeting aimed to share ideas, gather information, and start planning how we can secure more than just scraps of funding. 19 people attended, including workers from the services facing cuts, women who were previous service users, a Labour councillor, NHS workers, teachers and other campaigners.

Socialist Party member Amy Cousens, who played a key role in the Doncaster campaign, introduced the discussion. On average two women a week are murdered by a male partner or ex-partner. A further three kill themselves to escape abuse.

Domestic violence is Shelter's single most quoted reason for homelessness. And 1,000 women and children were turned away from refuges in a six-month period in 2017. These were just a few of the harsh realities of austerity Amy highlighted.

The Labour councillor, Al Garthwaite, stated that supporting domestic violence services was a priority, and described those currently available. She expressed frustration with austerity, but called for passionate fundraisers like those in the room to fund the services instead.

We asked why she was happy asking us, service users and working people, to source funding for vital, life-saving services. Garthwaite maintained the council has asked the government not to make it make these cuts. She insisted there was nothing more she could do.

How about using reserves and borrowing powers to cover the gap - and building a campaign to fight for funding instead of just begging?

Throughout the meeting there were insightful contributions. From service users who had not spoken at meetings before, to organisers from successful campaigns such as 'Save Fearnville Fields'.

We discussed ideas such as addressing period poverty by fighting to improve wages and making feminine hygiene products affordable for all women - in comparison to a pipeline scheme for free tampon dispensers in schools.

The meeting decided to set up a Facebook group for those interested in being involved. We plan to leaflet about the current threats to services, and coordinate further meetings and actions.

Ultimately, not investing in public services - domestic violence support, the NHS, education, with living wages - is a false economy. We need a societal shift to socialist policies.

Corbyn's 2017 manifesto gave us a glimpse of this: mass council and social housing, a 10 an hour minimum wage, a fully publicly funded NHS. Alongside campaigns like Women's Lives Matter, we hope to work towards a society that invests in services and people; to create a society where all women's lives matter.