- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Blog, Media
Sunday, 8 March, was International Women’s Day – a chance to celebrate women’s achievements and rededicate ourselves to the campaign for women’s rights everywhere. Globally, there is so much inequality, especially in developing countries: access to healthcare and education, sexual violence, equal rights. Here in Wales, too, one in four women will be affected by domestic abuse in her lifetime and women have been disproportionately hit by public spending cuts. So it’s a case of: much achieved and much to celebrate, but we must continue to challenge injustice.
One way to do that is with legislation. On Tuesday, I was proud to vote in support of the Welsh Government’s Violence Against Women (VAW) Bill. It looked at one stage as though an amendment on smacking could derail the Bill. Thankfully, it didn’t. As a country, as an Assembly, I would welcome a debate on smacking, but that is for another day. This was about protecting and supporting victims of domestic abuse. Speaking in the Chamber, I pointed out that in the time we had been debating more than one hundred women would have called the police to report abuse – a sobering thought. Abuse is often a hidden crime. These days, however, people are less likely to turn a blind eye. It is no longer a “private matter”; it is a public issue that people engage with. For example, last November I worked with Welshpool High School to promote the White Ribbon campaign, which encourages people to pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. The students were fantastic, picking up and running with the theme of respectful relationships. I look forward to working with them and other schools again this year.
Sticking with justice: 8 March also marked the end of Fairtrade Fortnight. We’re all aware of the benefits of fair trade, but it was good to hear a first-hand account of the difference it makes to people’s lives. At the Senedd, I met Allan Saidi, a sugar farmer from Malawi. The Fairtrade deal Allan and his co-operative have with the UK has enabled them to build houses, schools, clinics and hospitals. It has helped deliver energy infrastructure, boreholes and electricity, and also feed farmers and workers in Kasinthula when drought or flooding interrupts food production.
Closer to home, I questioned the First Minister about mid Wales’ health service. Last year the Government commissioned a study to explore the challenges facing GPs and other services across mid Wales. An independent commission has been set up to take this work forward. At the time of writing, I look forward to the outcome of the first Mid Wales Rural Health Conference in Newtown on Thursday.
What I do know is that our NHS must remain forever in public hands. That is why I signed a public campaign to stop NHS privatisation. The People’s NHS campaign is calling on the UK Government to protect the NHS from irreversible privatisation under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). More than 25,000 people have so far signed the petition to David Cameron, which reads:
“Our NHS is precious and mustn’t be included in TTIP. We call on you to use your veto and make sure it is exempt.”
Although the Welsh Labour Government is fundamentally opposed to selling off services, I have serious concerns about the implications for Wales of further and deeper privatisation over the border. People who rely on services on both sides of Offa’s Dyke understand that better than anyone. A big part of TTIP is about opening up Europe’s public services to US companies. It is a dangerous moment for our National Health Service and we must fight for it to remain in our hands.