Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit

Reflecting on the recent ‘Standing Up for Women and Girls’ event at Manchester Metropolitan University

Being a young woman today presents lots of opportunity, however, with that comes significant pressure around identity, expectation of others and challenges around safety.

To better meet the needs of women and girls across Greater Manchester (GM), policy, practices and services need to consider these pressures to ensure support is reflective of their distinct life experiences and often complex circumstances.

Since its inception in 2019, GM’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) has worked closely with partners to develop and invest in innovative approaches that are responsive to the specific circumstances of women and girls at risk of criminal exploitation and harm, recognising they have different needs and vulnerabilities.

Five years on, the passion to forge change remains unwavering with the VRU supporting an event recently to galvanise decision makers, practitioners and people of influence across the public and voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector to recognise gaps in provision.

Organised by charity Positive Steps, Manchester Centre for Youth Studies, grass-roots organisation, Keeping Our Girls Safe (KOGS) and GM’s VRU, the ‘Standing Up for Women and Girls’ event explored research involving young women in city-region, as well as innovative services focusing on holistic therapies, mentoring and more – ultimately putting the control in the hands of those accessing the support.

Overall, insights shared on the day concluded that interventions should focus on the aspirations of women and girls, their physical and mental wellbeing and social capital. Speakers also supported the need for more tailored services with lived experience at its heart.

However, although authentic voice should be prioritised when shaping service delivery, the value of male allies in this space cannot be disregarded as there is a vital role for everybody in championing this way of working, plugging gaps and ensuring support is fit-for-purpose.

In the context of criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation and youth justice, the support available is not currently well-mapped and where there are interventions, involvement tends to end when women and girls leave the justice system, leading to a cycle whereby the same women and girls present again at some point in the future.

The Standing Up for Women and Girls event recognised a need for change and identified that services should be preventative and available to all women at risk to ensure sustainability, not just those confined to the justice system.

In Greater Manchester, the VRU’s ‘community led approach’ programme supports this effort by providing opportunities to engage young women from diverse backgrounds in safe and positive activities, receive training and develop new skills, supporting them to become positive role models and leaders in their communities.

This has ranged from becoming boxing coaches to offering women’s wellbeing and support services, as well as offering guidance around relationships.

Giving ownership to service users around how their support looks was a key theme during the event with Oldham based organisations, Positive Steps and Keeping Our Girls Safe, sharing how this approach has led to successful programmes in their area.

In particular, Positive Steps explained the ethos of its ‘Getting Out For Good’ programme, which has received funding from the VRU.

Running until September 2024, Getting Out For Good works with young women and girls up to the age of 21 and accepts referrals from Bury, Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside. The programme provides wraparound support by working with families and individuals linking them with local provision, offering 3+ months of mentoring and coordinating group activities.

The programme focuses on aspirations and offers peer-to-peer support, which has recently led to two service users becoming peer mentors with a view to volunteer with the charity in the future.

A key theme across each of these interventions is developing an authentic model, which is fully gendered from the outset and offers tailored, preventative support to those who need it most.

In the context of policy, in December 2023, the VRU launched its new ‘Greater than Violence’ strategy, which sets out a 10-year ambition to tackle violence in all its forms.

Critical to this is working collaboratively with those implementing the city-region’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) strategy, which works to tackle all forms of GBV as well as attitudes that allow it to happen.

Responsible for the education strand of this strategy, the VRU will reach out to all education settings to provide opportunities to work with the VRU, train staff and offer policy advice as there is a collective need to upskill workforces encountering vulnerable women and girls so they can recognise the signs of GBV/exploitation and adopt a trauma informed approach.

Although highlighting a lot of positive work taking place across Greater Manchester and acting as a catalyst for sharing good practice, the Standing Up for Women and Girls event demonstrated a drive and passion to delve deeper and to work more effectively to make a difference for women and girls across the city-region.

Head to the Positive Steps and Keeping Our Girls Safe websites for more information about the programmes they deliver.

Article posted on: 22/04/2024 08:04am

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