Sarah. She was a daughter of our city. Her family and friends are our brothers and sisters. In the same way they would want to wrap their arms around her to keep her safe, we must wrap our support around them through these painful and confusing days. They have beautifully described their love for her, as we search for words to articulate our heartache for them. The depth of loss has shaken our nation, and has drawn attention to the risks women face daily.
Such tragedy has ignited a new conversation, about the reality of the lives we, as women, live. We want to be safe in our homes, our community, at work and on the streets. We want to end the objectification of our bodies, the manipulation of our minds and the crushing of our spirit by this misogynistic culture which has pervaded our space.
And yet, at a time when we need to reclaim our streets and stand together, we are being turned away; we cannot even take a moment to pay our respects to one who has been taken from us.
This weekend cannot be a moment but must turn into a movement where women are empowered to challenge the institutional discrimination inherent across the construct of our society, in our agencies and in our communities. We need to come together, tell our stories, and use their power to ignite change. As women past have shown us, we need to organise and act.
It starts with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill before the House of Commons this week. Labour rejects this Bill which does little to advance the justice of women, while suppressing women being able to advance their cause. No feminist will back the Government’s call to curtail protest, criminalise people for exercising their human rights and silencing the voices of the people. I believe you sent me to Westminster to protect your rights and advance justice. I will use my voice, challenge Government and empower you.
This Bill was the opportunity to confront the danger women face. Less than 1% of rape cases are successfully prosecuted as if a decriminalised act. 2 women are murdered each week in their homes by their violent partner, and sexual, physical and emotional violence is perpetrated on an industrial scale; this Bill does nothing to advance the safety and protection that we as women demand.
It does nothing to protect society from the internet bursting with images of women and girls, world over, exploited into slavery by the salacious appetites of viewers; and completely fails to ensure women in the justice system have the representation they need to prosecute their case to secure a just resolve.
The even more sinister parts of the Bill are reminiscent of far right regimes that send chilling reminders of the beginnings of the horrors of history. It is stomach churning to think that any MP in this country will vote for such measures.
Labour will vote to drive this 307 page Bill out of Parliament. I trust courageous MPs from other Parties will join us.
For those, in and around York who are unsafe right now. I want you to know you are not alone. My mailbox has been flooded with stories of women denied justice, women unable to access help and women who feel or are unsafe.
In York, we are fortunate to have the support of Kyra (01904 632332 – firstname.lastname@example.org), Survive (01904 638813 – email@example.com), York’s Women’s Centre (01904 526259 – firstname.lastname@example.org) and IDAS (03000 110 110 – email@example.com) as specialist organisations here to support you. They will walk through your journey with you, provide vital support to keep you safe and enable you to transform your lives and grow to be confident and secure women again.
For those feeling at risk right now, you can ‘Ask for Ani’ at your local pharmacist, and will be able to access immediate support; or reach out to a friend. Finding a safe way to access support is your first step to safety and your first step to recovery.
Systems need to change. Institutions need to change. People need to change.
The distortion of who women are in our society has been so destructive. Now is the time for all women to unite, draw on their talents and let’s change this culture together.
This article appeared in the York Press on 17 March, 2020