Women’s charities slam parliament’s ‘gutter’ culture of misogyny

Cabinet minister says MP pinned her against the wall while another MP accused of watching porn in Commons

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 29 April 2022 17:54 BST
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<p>The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in Westminster</p>

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in Westminster

Women's charities have warned that parliament's working culture is "in the gutter" and rife with misogyny after a Cabinet minister revealed how she was "pinned up against a wall" by a male MP.

Groups including Women’s Aid and Refuge on Friday told The Independent swift action was needed and that politicians should be setting an example.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan's account comes at the end of a week in which it was disclosed that 56 MPs including three cabinet ministers are facing sexual misconduct allegations.

This week Tory whips also launched an investigation into claims that a Conservative MP watched pornography in the Commons chamber – while the weekend was dominated by outrage over a sexist news article about Labour's deputy leader.

Ruth Davison, CEO of charity Refuge told The Independent that the last seven days had been "a difficult week for women".

"From the misogynistic tropes faced by Angela Rayner, to accusations of a male MP brazenly watching porn in the House of Commons Chamber, and now these appalling revelations from Anne-Marie Trevelyan about sexual harassment and abuse she has suffered by sitting MPs," she said.

"Our lawmakers are supposed to make society safer for women, but instead Westminster culture is in the gutter. It has to end now.

"If the Government doesn't take swift action on misogyny within its own ranks, how can we trust them to tackle violence against women and girls?"

International Trade Secretary Ms Trevelyan on Friday told LBC Radio that she had "witnessed and been at the sharp end of misogyny from some colleagues many times over".

She said these episodes included "wandering hands" or "probably half a dozen" occasions, and "being pinned up against a wall by a male MPs" – who she said was no longer a member of parliament.

In another interview with Sky News she told her male colleagues: "Keep your hands in your pockets and behave as you would if you had your daughter in the room"

Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said the government's claim that tackling violence against women is a top priority "lacks credibility" given the accounts coming out of Westminster.

"This week we’ve heard that 56 MPs including 3 cabinet ministers are facing sexual misconduct allegations; a male MP has been caught watching porn in the Commons; a female MP has shared her experience of groping and assault; and we’ve seen appallingly misogynistic reporting about another female MP," she said.

"The example set by Parliament matters because MPs and those around them determine broader policy on women’s equality as well as the criminal justice and public services response to violence against women and girls.

"MPs and their staff have the right to be free from sexual harassment and abuse at work. These cases must be taken seriously by the independent complaints body, but there is also the need for Party leaders to robustly tackle institutional cultures which normalise and tolerate the harassment of women."

Isabelle Younane, head of campaigns, policy and public affairs at Women’s Aid meanwhile said it was "imperative" for those in parliament to "lead by example".

“Misogyny and a culture of everyday sexism are the root causes of all forms of violence against women– whether it is taking place at home, on the street, or in the workplace," she said.

"Everyday sexism creates a culture where it is ok for men to control, demean, objectify, and harass women. This must change. The government’s Tackling VAWG Strategy sets out some key commitments on this, and it is imperative that those in positions of power lead by example.

“To build a world where violence against women is no longer tolerated, we must challenge sexist gender stereotypes, end everyday misogyny, and unpick the power imbalances which are so deeply ingrained in our society.”

The allegation that a Conservative MP watched pornography in the Commons was made at a meeting on Tuesday night. On Friday it was revealed that Neil Parish, the chair of the environment select committee, is the parliamentarian under investigation.

“Mr Parish has been suspended from the Conservative whip pending the outcome of that investigation,” a spokesperson for the government chief whip said.

Mr Parish said in his own statement "Following recent allegations regarding an MP’s use of their mobile phone in Parliament, I have referred myself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons.

"I will be cooperating fully with any investigation, and whilst it is ongoing I will continue to perform my duties as MP for Tiverton and Honiton. I will not be making further comments at this stage."

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