Nicola Harwin CBE, Director, Women's Aid Federation of England
In 1999, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence was formed as a cross-party network of MPs and peers who were concerned about violence against women. This Group worked in partnership with the Hansard Society and with Women's Aid in March 2000 to conduct the first ever on-line consultation with survivors of domestic violence. The aim was to offer an opportunity for survivors of domestic violence to share their experiences and concerns directly with parliamentarians through the Internet, and for this to inform parliamentarians in their work to develop appropriate laws and policy.
The project was an innovative consultation, using new interactive technology, with the aim of enabling socially excluded citizens to input their views and concerns into a parliamentary debate. It was also part of a new movement for pushing forward the progress of e-democracy in the UK, and set an example for more widespread e-consultation, citizen involvement and feedback as part of the political process at national and local level.
For some of the women who participated, the potential of information technology was opened up for the first time. Prior to the month-long consultation, the project co-ordinator, based at the Hansard Society, worked with national staff from the Women's Aid Federation of England and with local Women's Aid refuge organisations for several months to plan and promote the process. Complicated, but necessary, systems were established to enable password access to the site but also to ensure anonymity and safety. Local resources for Internet access were set up, and provision for personal support for participants from refuge services, outreach services and the wider community was established.
Throughout one month, MPs from the All Party Group also encouraged local organisations to join in the debate and to contribute individually. In Luton, the constituency of Margaret Moran MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence, the first women to log on were a group of Irish women travellers, many of whom could not read or write, but who, with assistance, were able to contribute their own experiences and their views on government policy towards domestic violence. In some