I am very honoured to feature Katie Ghose CEO of Women’s Aid, a grassroots federation working together to provide lifesaving services and build a future where domestic violence is not tolerated. Future Female are proud supporters of this amazing charity by donating £5 from the sale of our limited edition Future Female Tee-shirts and our Inspired athleisure range. Watch this space for upcoming events where we will be raising money to support Women’s Aid. Learn why Katie believes it’s important ‘to empower the next generation by bringing domestic abuse out into the open, everyone deserves to live free from fear and to be in charge of their own destiny.’
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
KG: I have always been passionate about campaigning for gender equality and human rights. When I was a barrister I represented refugee women, helping them to navigate a hostile immigration system that would not recognise their specific needs.
Later I campaigned for women’s representation in UK politics at the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). For me, campaigning for women’s rights is a vital cause to fight for, and I am relishing the opportunity to put it front and centre of my daily work as Chief Executive of Women’s Aid. My move from campaigning for a better democracy at the ERS to the domestic abuse sector may not seem like an obvious switch, yet the themes of power and control are strangely familiar. I have switched from speaking about where power lies within and between nations and institutions of the UK to the power and control wielded by individuals in intimate partner relationships. In 2016, 78 women were killed in England, Wales and North Ireland by a partner or ex-partner who sought ultimate control by taking their life. I want to tackle the power and control that is at the heart of domestic abuse to make sure every woman and child can live a life free from abuse.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
For me, Future Female is all about amazing women coming together and using their collective strength to transform the world for future generations. Women’s Aid has a similar ethos. We started out over 40 years ago, when women across the country, fed up with the apathy of the government, decided to take matters into their own hands to challenge domestic abuse. These extraordinary women started to take women fleeing abusive partners into their own homes, risking their own lives to offer shelter to women who were being hunted down by violent and abusive partners. And so the UK’s first women’s refuges were born.
The courageous activism of these women burst into a movement that would change how we view and respond to domestic abuse forever.
In 1974, our national charity, Women’s Aid, was formed to represent these local services and campaign for those in power to take action against domestic abuse. Just last week, the government announced the consultation on the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill which is a unique opportunity for us to make tackling domestic abuse everyone’s business.
FF: The recent #MeToo hash tag caught the attention of many women who joined the conversation, what is your view and do you feel this is helping shift the momentum around gender equality?
KG: From workplace sexual harassment, to domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violence against women, what the #MeToo movement revealed was the beating heart of misogyny, alive and well. A culture that enables abuse, control and violence is thriving without challenge. The situations described were all different, but abuse of power was the common theme. It was momentous to see the abuse of power become a global conversation; by recognising it and publicly challenging it we’ve made a big step forward in tackling the root causes of this abuse that is women’s inequality.
We know that women campaigning and working together is the first step towards eradicating violence against women and girls and that men must take responsibility too. We are proud to support #TimesUp in the UK and join with other activists and women from the entertainment industry to stand united against female abuse and harassment, and I am very excited to see what this alliance can achieve in our collective struggle for women’s equality.
FF: Describe your current work role at Women’s Aid.
KG: I am Chief Executive at Women’s Aid. In this role, I oversee the charity’s work to ensure that we are operating as one team to best support survivors and their children in their escape from domestic abuse so that they get the support and help they need, when and where they need it.
My day to day work also involves meeting politicians, police leaders, civil servants and organisations to press for improved laws and policies and to discuss how we can collaborate to tackle domestic abuse across society. I also regularly meet with survivors and visit our member services, both refuges and community support services, across the country. I find this aspect of my job the most inspiring. I am always in awe at the sheer breadth of support our members services offer to women and their children – whether they need to flee their home or whether they can safely stay at home but need additional support to, for example, navigate the criminal justice system or access support from local housing teams.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join our Survivor Ambassadors at the Prime Minister’s International Women’s Day reception at No 10. It was a pleasure being able to speak to the Prime Minister with them about what they would like to see in the Domestic Abuse Bill. I want to ensure that their voices are heard every step of the way as the Bill goes through Parliament, because that is how we will see change happen that will make a real difference to survivors’ lives.
FF: How is Women’s Aid able to support women and children suffering domestic abuse.
We are a federation of over 180 organisations who provide more than 500 lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide direct support through the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge) and we also run vital projects such as No Women Turned Away, where we work with the most marginalised women struggling to find a refuge space.
We provide expert training to professionals who work with survivors of domestic abuse – from the police and judges through to doctors and midwives – to make sure they give the right response to survivors when they first reach out for help.
We also campaign to raise public awareness about the reality of domestic abuse and to achieve change in the law and in how we tackle domestic abuse – from the criminalisation of coercive control to securing emergency funding for refuges to prevent further closures of this lifesaving services.
Our next big project is ensuring that the government’s landmark Domestic Abuse Bill will bring about real change for survivors and their children. We want to see the government commit to a long-term and sustainable funding model for domestic abuse services so every woman and child can escape domestic abuse, and we want to see the Bill make tackling domestic abuse everyone’s business so we can challenge the root causes of domestic abuse once and for all.
FF: The recent femicide report is shocking in the number of women who have been affected. By raising more awareness, do you think we can help the authorities secure the safety of women and children?
KG: Time and again, we hear the police and media describe incidents where a woman has been killed by a man as an isolated incident. Yet the data collected on the Femicide Census, developed by Women’s Aid in partnership with Karen Ingala Smith, shows this is not the case. It highlights that these are not isolated incidents but a repeated pattern of male violence against women that is preventable.
On far too many occasions, the police and other statutory agencies have missed the warning signs. By understanding the dynamics of domestic abuse, especially coercive control, and the repeated pattern of male violence against women, the killing of men by women can be reduced, and ultimately prevented. That’s why we’re calling for compulsory training for all police staff on identifying domestic abuse, especially coercive control, and understanding its devastating impact.
We need to ensure that victim receives the right response from the police, the first time they reach out for help. Only by identifying the patterns and better understanding of the root causes of fatal male violence against women can we ultimately prevent the killing of women by men.
FF: Is there a project that is inspiring you at the moment?
KG: Domestic abuse is often hidden behind closed doors, and ignored because it is seen as a private matter. We want to bring domestic abuse out into the open so that together we can break the silence and challenge toxic notions of what abuse is and who is to blame.
I’m really excited about a project that we at Women’s Aid have pioneered called Change that Lasts, which aims to ensure that no matter who a survivor speaks to she will be listened to and believed, and given the right response to domestic abuse the first time she reaches out.
We know that often women do not feel able to report the abuse to the police, but that doesn’t mean that she does not need support. We want to ensure that whoever a survivor speaks out to for help – whether it is a specialist domestic abuse service, her doctor or hairdresser– that she will get the right response the first time she speaks out. We will be training ambassadors in the community like fitness instructors, receptionists or hairdressers, and trusted professionals like dentists, doctors and midwives, on how to identify and understand domestic abuse and provide the right support to survivors. Together we can end domestic abuse.
FF: There is a shift in how and where women work, do you think this will empower more women to be independent and help them to stand up for themselves?
KG: I have long campaigned for more women to be represented in UK politics – from more women standing to be local councillors through to more women being elected as MPs and being promoted into leadership positions within their party – when I was Chief Executive of ERS. I believe that by having more women represented in politics and in leadership roles throughout society that we will see a real shift in women’s place in society. By challenging the status quo that implies that men have an automatic right to power, we can begin to level out the power imbalance and tackle the inequalities that allow violence against women and girls to persist.
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
KG: I absolutely love my job. I am in awe of the strength and courage of every survivor I have met, they are all incredibly inspiring, but I also wish that my job wasn’t necessary in the first place and that we lived in a world where domestic abuse didn’t exist. Until that day, I am going to keep campaigning hard until every woman and her child can live a life free from abuse.
FF: Are there key messages you believe we should pass on to children when it comes to gender equality, and how important do you think it is to change your story around gender?
KG: I believe that educating all children on what healthy relationships look like is a key component in tackling domestic abuse. The government has committed to ensuring that there is mandatory Relationship and Sex Education in school. This must cover what healthy and consensual relationships look like as well as equipping children with how to spot the signs of an abusive relationship and what to do if they are experiencing abuse or think a friend or family member may be being abused. We need to empower the next generation by bringing domestic abuse out into the open so that they know that everyone deserves to live free from fear and to be in charge of their own destiny.
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
Naomi Alderman’s The Power. It imagines a world where the power dynamics between men and women are reversed when girls develop the power to electrocute at will. It is a really great take down of the destructiveness of power. By turning the structures of the world on its head, it clearly shows that it is power and control that is at the heart of gender inequality, and that it is this that we need to recognise and unpick in our struggle for women’s equality.
A huge thanks to Katie, for taking time out of her busy schedule at Women’s Aid to answer our questions. There are other ways you can support Women’s Aid, have a look at their website to find out. Women’s Aid