International Women’s Day debated “in shadow of menace of male violence”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

MPs in the annual International Women’s Day debate this afternoon, held after the disappearance of Sarah Everard, said their discussion was overshadowed by the “menace of male violence”.

The House of Commons debate was held as hundreds of women take to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment after Everard went missing while walking home in south London on March 3rd.

“This International Women’s Day debate comes in the shadow of the menace of male violence against women,” Harriet Harman said, adding that “we all hope against hope that we will not hear the news we all dread” in the Everard case.

“But, at the same time as the sadness, there’s real anger amongst women at the threat that they face on a daily basis,” the joint committee on human rights chair added. “And this is not to spread alarm, this is to spell out the reality.

“Here we are in the 21st century in a country where women and men expect to be equal – but we are not. Women, particularly young women, are terrified of the threat of male violence on the street.”

She described abduction and murder as “just the worst end of a spectrum of everyday male threat to women” and said women will not have been reassured by Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick’s comment that this kind of case is “extremely rare”.

A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested for the suspected kidnapping and murder of Everard, and investigators searching for her found human remains in woodland in Ashford, Kent. The remains have not yet been identified.

“From my own personal experience, I know what it is like to walk in the dark feeling frightened, fearful and anxious. And I know many members across the House will share this experience,” Labour’s Marsha de Cordova said today.

The shadow minister said she was disappointed that the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities was not present at the debate this afternoon, telling MPs that the minister should have been there to respond to contributions.

“Gender inequality is backsliding on this government’s watch and they do not even bother to show up in parliament to defend their record. It is not good enough,” de Cordova said, describing her opposite number’s absence as “unacceptable”.

The Labour frontbencher highlighted how women have been disproportionately affected by Covid due to discrimination in the support schemes, higher furlough rates and having to pick up more of the unpaid care work and homeschooling responsibilities.

“In light of all of this week’s events alone, I’d like to know what the government will be doing to address violence against women in public places and in the press,” she said. “Is it not time that misogyny is made a hate crime?”

Backbench Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “Dead women is a thing we’ve all just accepted as part of our daily lives. Dead women is just one of those things. Killed women are not vanishingly rare. Killed women are common.”

She went on to name the 118 women killed in a case in which a man was convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator since the last International Women’s Day debate last year – almost one for every three days of the year.

“Every 60 minutes, a woman or girl is abused,” Labour MP for Brent Central Dawn Butler told the Commons today. “And every three days, a woman is killed by a man… This is a crisis that we have to get to the root of.

“Inequality in society is fuelling the killing of women. The bullying and silencing of women’s voices contributes to the abuse that women receive. If a man was killed every three days, there would be investigations at every level of society.”

Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy challenged “feminism that is not intersectional and forgets the impact of racism on so many women”, highlighting the higher rate of death during childbirth for Black women compared to their white counterparts.

“One in four Black women die in childbirth,” she said. “I know this pain all too well. My pregnancy nearly killed me and my daughter did not survive. The children of Black women have 121% increased risk of being stillborn and 50% increased risk of neonatal death.”

Abena Oppong-Asare used the debate to remind MPs that most violence against women occurs at home, and warned that the pandemic and lockdowns have made this situation worse with an 8.5% increase in domestic abuse incidents in London.

Data on the number of women murdered in the period from 2017 to 2019 showed that 71% were killed at home compared to 36% of male murder victims. Around one in ten women murdered were killed on the streets.

The World Health Organisation reported earlier this week that one in three women across the globe, around 736 million in total, have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes according to new analysis from the organisation.

But recent polling showed that 97% of UK women aged 18 to 24 have been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages reported having experienced sexual harassment in a public place. UN Women UK has called it a “human rights crisis”.

The research showed a widespread lack of faith in authorities to act. 96% did not report incidents and 45% said that it would not change anything. This included women who said they had been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity.

UN Women UK, which commissioned the poll carried out by YouGov, has collected stories from 400 women and sent an open letter to the country’s leaders, calling for better designed public spaces, improved reporting systems and education.

A vigil to make streets and other public spaces safer for women, titled Reclaim the Streets, has been organised in south London following Everard’s disappearance. It will take place on Clapham Common at 6pm, near where she was last seen.

Below is the full list of names of the 118 women read out by Jess Phillips today.

Vanita Nowell; Tracey Kidd; Nelly Moustafa; Zahida Bi; Josephine Kaye; Shadika Mohsin Patel; Maureen Kidd; Wendy Morse; Nageeba Alariqy; Elsie Smith; Kelly Stewart; Gwendoline Bound; Ruth Williams; Victoria Woodhall; Kelly Fitzgibbons, who was killed alongside her two daughters; Caroline Walker; Katie Walker; Zobaidah Salangy; Betty Dobbin; Sonia Calvi; Maryan Ismail; Daniela Espirito Santo; Ruth Brown, Denise Keane-Barnett-Simmons; Jadwiga Szczygielska; Emma Jane McParland; Louise Aitchison; Silke Hartshorne-Jones; Hyacinth Morris; Louise Smith; Claire Parry; Aya Hachem; Melissa Belshaw; Yvonne Lawson McCann; Lyndsey Alcock; Aneta Zdun; Nikoleta Zdun; Mandy Houghton; Amy-Leanne Stringfellow; Bibaa Henry; Nicole Smallman; Dawn Bennett; Gemma Marjoram; Karolina Zinkeviciene; Rosemary Hill; Jackie Hoadley; Khloemae Loy; Kerry Woolley; Shelly Clark; Bernadette Walker; Stella Frew; Dawn Fletcher; Deborah Jones; Patrycja Wyrebek; Therasia Gordon; Esther Egbon; Susan Baird; Balvinder Gahir; Lynda Cooper; Lorraine Cox; Suzanne Winnister; Maria Howarth; Abida Karim; Saman Mir Sacharvi; Vian Mangrio; Poorna Kaameshwari Sivaraj, who was killed alongside her three-year-old son; Louise Rump; Julie Williams; Rhonda Humphreys; Nicole McGregor; Angela Webber; Carole Wright; Sarah Smith; Ildiko Bettison; Kimberley Deakin; Marie Gladders; Paula Leather; Caroline Kayll; Lauren Mae Bloomer; Hansa Patel; Helen Bannister; Marta Vento; Andreia Rodriguez Guilherme; Joanna Borucka; Azaria Williams; Catherine Granger; Eileen Dean; Sue Addis; Carol Hart; Jacqueline Price; Mary Wells; Tiprat Argatu; Christie Frewin; Souad Bellaha; Ann Turner; N’Taya Elliott-Cleverley; Rose Marie Tinton; Ranjit Gill; Helen Joy; Emma Robertson; Nicole Anderson; Linda Maggs; Carol Smith; Sophie Moss; Christina Rowe; Susan Hannaby; Michelle Lizanec; Wieslawa Mierzejewska; Judith Rhead; Anna Ovsyannikova; Tina Eyre; Katie Simpson; Bennylyn Burke and her two-year-old daughter; Samantha Heap; Geetika Goyal; Imogen Bohajczuk; and Wenjing Xu.

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