Despite the chaos and anger currently dividing our parliament and our country, I still believe that politics can be a force for change – if only we are brave enough to have real vision.
So, today, I became a politician.
In many ways, this is a big leap for me. Until four years ago, I was not even a member of a political party, let alone involved in political campaigning. But in other ways, it makes perfect sense. It is a well-worn feminist approach to insist that "the personal is political". For me, that rings particularly true.
As a young girl I saw horrible domestic violence in my family, and at one brutal moment felt forced to try and intervene. The experience had a lasting effect and in my twenties, having formed my first theatre company, I raised money for my local refuge with a play about domestic abuse. With terrifying irony, while studying for my degree nine years later, I found myself becoming the characters I had written; suffering at the hands of an abusive partner who would change my life forever.
After three long years and repeated attempts to leave, the abuse culminated when he climbed onto my balcony like a twisted Romeo and attacked me and our unborn son as my 12-year-old daughter bore witness.
We left our home that night and never returned. My studies were interrupted, my daughter’s friendships ended, and we moved to a refuge in London. Not long after, my waters broke in that tiny room, where we lived with just two beds, a cot and my computer.
Like so many survivors of domestic abuse, I was doubly damned by my experiences. We suffer both the violence of abuse itself and the aftermath: the rehousing and the loss of connection to friends and family; the depression, ill-health and substance misuse; the poverty and isolation. The excruciating PTSD, which for many is enough to prevent them even voicing what they have endured.
This kind of violence destroys lives, and it is on the rise. Every single woman I know has faced a litany of harassment, cat-calling, stalking, abuse or assault. Domestic homicides are at a five year high and the number of reported rapes across the UK have doubled since 2013-14.
Despite this, conviction rates for rape are at an all-time low. Funding for refuges has been slashed. It has taken our government two whole years to debate the crucial domestic abuse bill for the first time. One in five staff members in Westminster experiences sexual harassment and yet our political parties are failing to tackle perpetrators within their own ranks.
As Labour MP Rosie Duffield so powerfully demonstrated in parliament last week, many parliamentarians know the true cost of abuse and are committed to tackling it. But institutionally, both government and parties have shown repeatedly that they do not see ending violence against women as a priority.
In the inevitable general election, the Women’s Equality Party is standing five survivors against five MPs facing unresolved allegations of harassment or assault. My fellow candidates will stand against Mark Field, who was filmed grabbing a protester by the neck; Kelvin Hopkins, who remains under investigation for harassment four years after allegations were first made; Ivan Lewis, who resigned from his party before an investigation into harassment allegations was concluded; and Jared O’Mara, who publicly admitted harassing a twenty-year-old staff member and faced no consequences. I am standing against Charlie Elphicke, who is currently awaiting trial on three counts of sexual assault.
While our political institutions shelter men who are part of the problem, they cannot begin to provide the solutions needed to save women’s lives.
To end abuse, we have to start with Westminster.
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