AROUND the globe March is women’s history month. Next Monday is International Women’s Day. The theme is #ChooseToChallenge.

Campaigners are highlighting the need to call out gender-based bias and inequality against women whenever it occurs. The Scottish Government has a debate in Parliament this Thursday to examine these issues.

Yet, more significant is the fact the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill will undergo final consideration by the Scottish Parliament this month. If enacted, the Bill will provide vital new legal remedies to protect women experiencing domestic abuse.

In 2012, the UK became a signatory to the Istanbul Convention. This is a Council of Europe human rights treaty to tackle violence against women and girls with a focus on prevention, protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.

The Government sees its Bill as a significant step towards achieving the aims of the Istanbul Convention by preventing and protecting women from the immediate risk of domestic abuse.

Before lockdown there were almost 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by Police Scotland each year. But this is the tip of an ugly iceberg; abuse is a hidden and unreported crime. The Scottish Crime and Justice survey estimates only one in five incidents ever come to the attention of the police.

One of the consequences of Covid-19 has been an overall drop in reported crime across the UK; yet we know this belies what is really going on at home. Women’s aid agencies and others have reported surges in the demand for support from vulnerable women and children during lockdown.

The Scottish Government’s own research reveals a number of problems. Lockdown created court delays, which for women who’d reported domestic abuse to the police, undermined faith in the criminal justice system.

Perpetrators employed creative ways to coercively control their victims, including use of the Covid-19 health protection legislation and threats of infection to control their victims.

Since April 1 2019, psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour has become a standalone criminal offence under the 2018 Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act.

Worryingly, many women cited the impact of lockdown isolation, lack of safe childcare options, managing the risk of domestic abuse and the risk of the virus as having had a severe impact on their mental health and resilience.

The new Domestic Abuse Bill would empower a senior police officer to issue a “domestic abuse protection notice” (DAPN) where they have reasonable grounds to believe a partner or ex-partner had been abusive and the DAPN was necessary to protect the woman.

The DAPN is an emergency measure which can require an alleged perpetrator to leave the home, refrain from future contact and not come near the woman’s home. The DAPN has to then call before a sheriff and can be extended by the court for up to three months on cause shown.

In essence, the DAPN is a safe breathing space so women being abused can consider their housing options. The Bill also creates a new right for social landlords to terminate a perpetrator’s interest in a Scottish secure tenancy to enable a victim to remain in the family home.

I welcome these measures but would sound a note of caution for two reasons. First, the DAPN will only work if we tackle existing barriers preventing abused women from accessing their rights.

My colleagues at Govan Law Centre support many women in Glasgow experiencing violence and abuse from partners or former partners. There are many reasons why they don’t report abuse to the police.

Our clients have said they feel no-one will believe them. Some have been unaware that emotional and financial abuse may be a criminal offence. Others feel they will be judged because they’ve complex mental health and dependency issues.

Many clients are embarrassed about disclosing abuse or scared of the repercussions from a partner in terms of their safety. Women with children are often frightened that their kids will be taken away by a partner or social services.

Many women are terrified of the financial implications of leaving a partner and don’t realise their entitlement to homelessness assistance. We need to tackle these barriers to ensure take-up of DAPNs.

For me, this means having trusted, local sources of independent specialist advice and support for women across our communities.

My second concern is while the solution for social tenancies is much needed, what about tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) or homeowners? The PRS is home to more vulnerable women than ever before, yet we’ve forgotten about them in relation to tenancy rights.

If we’re going to deliver the ambitions of the Istanbul Convention, private renters and homeowners need comparable support and rights to women in the social rented sector.

If you’re a woman facing domestic violence please seek support. Knowing your rights will empower you. Anything said is confidential until you’re ready to take the next step. Many organisations can offer support and will assist you and your children to get out of the situation.

Call Scottish Women’s Aid anytime on 0800 027 1234 or Govan Law Centre on 0800 043 0306.