Clean Break Trustee and Agenda Alliance Deputy-CEO, Jess Southgate responds to this years 16 Days of Action Against Gender Based Violence campaign
Investment is about money, without doubt, but investing in something also means to believe, and to commit. It is also about the transformative change that can happen when resource (of all kinds) is intentionally directed towards what matters most, and what really makes a difference.
In my role as Deputy CEO of Agenda Alliance, we want to see investment in what works: women and girls’ trauma-informed services; gender-responsive policy; and a focus on preventing harm in the first place across all the services woman and girls come into contact with. These are complex problems, with deep roots, and the answers are not easy.
Violence, abuse and trauma underpin the life histories of many women and girls in the justice system. Between three quarters and 90% of girls in the youth system may have experienced abuse from a family member or someone they trusted, for example. Violence against women can also be a catalyst for criminalisation, with the justice system frequently prosecuting victim/survivors themselves, rather than delivering justice to them. Many of Clean Break’s Members may have faced the reality of this harm, but this does not have to be their script.
There is a wealth of evidence about the powerful impact of the arts in creating personal, political and transformational change. The arts are a profoundly important tool in creating a new vision of the world, where the future becomes more than just the worst thing that ever happened to someone. The opportunity to share our own stories, in our own words, and to be truly heard can be transformational.
Clean Break’s new Knowledge Hub, is one such example of this. Bringing together decades of creative work, past and present productions, unique resources and an insight into the rich history of the company – the Hub provides a space for learning for theatre lovers, activists, practitioners and decision-makers. The recently released film Hope, is a beautiful example of the transformative and healing power of community for four Clean Break Members, exploring hope in times of uncertainly and adversity.
Survivors of harm, violence and trauma need places of safety, practical support and financial freedom. But they also need spaces to express their reality, be heard, feel joy, meet other women they can relate to and use their experiences to help make change. Feeling understood as artists boosts women’s self-esteem, which in turn helps the development of healthy relationships, supports women to feel connected to their skills and alleviates mental health conditions that might otherwise have led them to using substances to cope.
This is why women and girls’ centres can play such a key role in transforming women’s lives, and must be invested in. Clean Break’s building is a physical haven, where women can come together, build friendship, community and access other wellbeing support. There is a network of amazing spaces like this across the country, many of whom are Agenda Alliance members, providing vital support to women and girls as they navigate life’s challenges and build more hopeful futures. For any of this work to happen, these spaces must be cherished and invested in.
The voices of women and girls which Clean Break and Agenda Alliance foreground, and which are present throughout the Hub, are not always the ones who get to speak, or share, or have their experiences represented. They are frequently spoken for, spoken about and talked over. But women and girls must be invested in meaningfully as agents of transformative system-change. Their voices and ideas are central to how we focus our energy and to the vision we can collectively have for change. Without this, solutions that are developed will continue to fail.
Investing in theatre-making, creative work and physical spaces for women and girls, like Clean Break, generates richer, more representative stories about the realities of women and girls’ lives. It offers them a space to speak, to heal, and in turn, helps all of us gain great understanding of the systems that cause the harm in the first place.
My invitation to you is to consider putting your investment (whether of time, attention or money) where it really can matter. To invest in voices. In hope, growth, change and transformation, for what the world could look like. We will all be richer for it.