"What can I say about the so called tampon tax that has not been voiced already by colleagues locally and nationally? Maybe to be fair I could congratulate the government on the parts that they have done well with; bringing the VAT on sanitary products down to the lowest possible in EU law and campaigning for the rate to be abolished completely across member states. I genuinely think the government can see how ridiculous and unfair the tax is and would rather not be tasked with collecting it.
So, if they really do have an understanding of the territory and the politics then how on earth did they come up with the scheme for the tax to be spent on women's health, domestic and sexual violence charities? How did they come up with such a thoughtless, derisory, misguided and offensive solution? Did nobody around the table when discussing consider the implicit message such a decision would send to women? And to men.
Why is it that when you talk about gender issues people assume you are talking about women? Why is it that when we talk about gender issues this is seen to be a problem and a problem for women to address? Why is it that the vast majority of campaigns against sexual violence are instigated and carried out by women? How can we absolve half of the population from issues that very much concern them.
I don't believe that women are responsible for sexual violence and I don't believe that women are responsible for ending it. I think that each one of us has a stake in creating a society free from the gendered crimes of rape, harassment and childhood sexual abuse; men and women. But the message from the government is that these issues are the responsibility of women and now women can pay for them through this bizarre tax. How are we helping men to see it as their issue too? How are we encouraging men to take some responsibility for the changes we need to see?
The issue of responsibility is often on my mind in relation to Devon Rape Crisis Service, particularly when I'm worrying about the future of the organisation. We are very lucky to have a number of local and national commissioners who have made a financial commitment to our service and therefore to the women who use it. The Ministry of Justice, The Police and Crime Commissioner, Safer Devon, Exeter City Council, Torbay Council, Devon County Council and North Devon Council. This broad range of funders makes some sense because the impacts of sexual violence are not confined to one area. Women experience trauma, loss of trust, fear of going out, relationship issues, drug and alcohol use, mental and physical health amongst others. The residents of Devon deserve to have their needs met by those responsible for those needs and by contributing relatively small amounts each, each organisation can meet their obligations.
It is a continuing disappointment to us that whilst most funding bodies have taken responsibility and contributed to our ability to deliver specialist support to those affected by sexual violence - to this point, no funding has been contributed by any health body. My wish for Christmas is that this situation will change in 2016 and that those women with mental and physical health needs can be assured of a continued specialist service. When over 30% of our referrals come from health professionals, it seems perverse that no funding is in place to support this.
We've been incredibly lucky this year to have two amazing women fundraising for us. Wendy and M have separately raised £20K for our organisation. It is a staggering amount and we are bowled over by their commitment. I'd love to be able to see these monies as a pot where we could work creatively and develop new and innovate services. Sadly, right now, these two women's efforts will need to be channelled into our essential services. We thank them for taking some responsibility and for modelling to others how this can be done."