The government can’t drag its feet over action to end violence against women any longer

One hundred and twenty-three women have been killed due to male violence this year. Finally, our leaders recognise this epidemic for what it is – now they must act

Mandu Reid
Wednesday 24 November 2021 12:55
<p>‘Now is the time to ensure that every single woman can live free from the threat and fear of violence’ </p>

‘Now is the time to ensure that every single woman can live free from the threat and fear of violence’

In the early hours of Monday 22 November, the news broke that the government had proposed a measure to elevate violence against women and girls to the same status as terrorism.

This is a stunning turnaround from a government that has so far dragged its heels when it comes to addressing and preventing gender-based violence. Until now, they have opted instead to propose piecemeal measures such as better street lighting or more plainclothes officers, while knowingly and consistently underfunding specialist women’s services, and excluding migrant women from accessing help altogether.

The suggestion to make ending violence against women and girls a national priority is not new. I have been comparing the issue to domestic terrorism and calling for it to be treated as a national policing and political priority since long before the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer.

My calls were often met with scepticism or confusion. For many, the idea that violence against women could be a national, public threat seemed too radical and alarmist. Yet 123 women have been killed from male violence this year alone. Every year in England and Wales 1.6 million women experience domestic abuse, according to the Office for National Statistics, and at least 85 thousand are raped, according to Rape Crisis research. When you consider those horrifying numbers, the question becomes – why has it taken until now for violence against women to be recognised as the epidemic it is?

It’s clear that the absence of urgency has in part been due to the lack of understanding our police leaders and politicians have about how male violence against women manifests, as well as a pervasive belief that this violence is inevitable. What this viewpoint misses, however, is that violence against women is a cause and consequence of the inequality in our society, exacerbated by austerity, entrenched and harmful gender roles, and a lack of consistent and mandatory education on consent and respectful relationships. The government has the power and resources to address all of these things.

To date, the lack of political will has led us to a situation where rape has virtually become decriminalised, where too many women don’t feel safe at home or in public spaces, and cannot trust the police – especially women of colour who can face both institutional racism and misogyny when interacting with the criminal justice system. A system that allows defendants to claim that their partners enjoyed being strangled to death – effectively blaming women for their own murder.

Placing violence against women as a threat on par with terrorism will not, by itself, solve all of these issues, but will pave the way for two vital changes. Firstly, that both the severity and scale of violence against women are recognised and the resources made available to address this emergency are immediately increased. Secondly, the focus will finally shift from a preoccupation with managing violence against women, as if it is inevitable, to actually preventing it from happening in the first place.

The Women’s Equality Party is currently contesting the police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) by-election in North Yorkshire after the previous Conservative commissioner rightly stepped down over his comments following the murder of Sarah Everard, when he claimed that she shouldn’t have “submitted” to Wayne Couzens and that women simply “need to be streetwise” in the face violence and harassment.

Our candidate, Hannah Barham-Brown is unapologetic about her singular focus on ending violence against women and girls, but there has been a disappointing response from other candidates, who have failed to produce effective plans to address the scale of gender-based violence in North Yorkshire.

It is impossible to overstate the difference it would make if in future all elected police commissioners across the country made tackling violence against women and girls their top priority and actively held chief constables to account for their performance in this area.

Imagine the change this could bring to women’s lives if significant efforts were made to make the country safer for us, rather than the emphasis being on us to be more vigilant and change our behaviour, which we already know does not work, and grotesquely misses the point.

The move to recognise the scale of and severity of gendered violence is a victory for women everywhere.

It is one of many steps that will set the UK on a path to genuine equality for women and girls.

The government must stand by its commitment to elevate ending violence against women to a national policing priority and ensure proper coordination, funding, and resourcing to meet the scale of the challenge.

This is too critical an opportunity to lose – now is the time to act boldly and decisively to ensure that every single woman can live free from the threat and fear of violence. We all deserve to take safety and freedom for granted.

Mandu Reid is the leader of the Women's Equality Party

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