MANY of us are winding down ahead of the Christmas holidays, preparing to spend quality time with family and friends.

Unfortunately, for a significant number of women across Scotland this time of year brings only despair.

On average Police Scotland take a call once every nine minutes from a member of the public who has experienced or witnessed domestic abuse. This tends to increase dramatically over the festive period.

Figures show that there were a total of 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse recorded across Scotland in 2017-18, an increase on the previous year.

In Clackmannanshire, the number has risen sharply, from 698 incidents in 2015-16, to 831 incidents in 2017-18.

These figures are staggering, but statistics alone cannot convey the pain and misery that is inflicted on many woman in today's society. We must be clear that this is mostly gender-based violence.

Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators and women overwhelmingly the victims of domestic abuse. It is therefore vital that men speak out. There is still a lot of work to be done to address many underlying attitudes in our society.

From November 25 and December 10 there were 16 days of global activism against gender based violence. The campaign aims to galvanise action and end violence against women and girls around the world.

The UN produced a report, Global Study On Homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls, which revealed the shocking figure that 137 women across the world are killed by a former partner or a member of their own family every day.

Campaigns like this are so important in raising awareness and transforming social attitudes.

Issues such as female genital mutilation for example are now being discussed openly, whereas in the past many might have felt uncomfortable raising the subject.

Growing awareness of human trafficking has also resulted in this welcome change in attitudes, although there is clearly much more work to be done.

The focus must be on prevention, protection, and ensuring that the appropriate professional training is in place.

Judicial training, or a lack thereof, can often be an issue which seriously impacts on how many women experience domestic abuse. Currently there is a voluntary element to this training, meaning not all judges are appropriately skilled.

Access to justice for the victims of domestic violence is vital. The involvement of the criminal or civil legal systems should support victims to access justice. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and individuals often feel further victimised.

This year the Scottish Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse Bill, which outlaws coercive and controlling behaviours, in addition to violence. This is a positive step that I hope will encourage more women to report their abusive partners.

Any women requiring support may wish to contact Clackmannanshire Women's Aid on 01259 721 407, or Scottish Women's Aid on 0800 027 1234.