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Dr. Karen Ingala Smith’s Speech at LWD Fringe Meeting 9th October 2023

In the last year 2,186 women and girls aged over 16 were subjected sexual assault every day. But less than 2 in 100 rapes recorded by police in 2022 resulted in a charge, let alone a conviction.

In the last year an estimated 1,671,000 women were subjected to domestic violence and abuse

And in the last year at least 110[i] UK women and girls aged over 14 have been killed by men. The average of one woman in the UK killed by a man every three days has been constant and consistent in the 15 years that the Femicide Census has been recording those killings.

And it’s not either/or. The reality of women’s lives is that many cross boundaries between sexual and domestic violence and abuse.

These figures are the tip of the iceberg of men’s violence against and abuse of women and girls. There are countless other crimes, micro-aggressions and behaviours which don’t meet crime thresholds but do negatively affect, restrict and reduce the lives of women and girls.

How do we consign this everyday normal of men’s abuse of females to history?

Top of the list, I put that we need to see the connections between all forms of men’s violence against women and girls – rape and other forms of sexual violence, intimate-partner violence and abuse, coercive control, prostitution, FGM, pornography, sexual harassment etc – to identify the roots. This is necessary for meaningful social change.

Seeing these connections is an absolutely critical step in ending men’s violence against women. But it is an early step in a very long road and there are constantly push backs, sometimes dressed up as progression.  In 2010, the then coalition government launched its strategy, the ‘Call to End Violence against Women and Girls’, that strategy has been revised twice  but just over a decade later and after many years in the making – the creation of the Domestic Abuse Act. In this the concept of the connections between the different forms of men’s violence against and abuse of women and girls, is overshadowed by a landmark piece of legislation that crosses the sexes – a significant minority of us believe this was an opportunity missed,  and what we would have chosen instead was a Men’s Violence Against Women Act.

So, whilst it’s good that concepts that were once only understood by feminists have become mainstream, the problem is that when that happens, the feminist foundations of the concept are usually washed out by the time they become policy. And this renders them much less effective.

Another thing we cannot shy away from naming the agent: men. Man singular and men plural as perpetrators, men as a sex class of beneficiaries and patriarchy as a social order which is shaped and reproduces itself in men’s interests.

AND it should be inconceivable that one of the significant barriers that we have had to address, an issue that has taken up inordinate amounts of feminist time and energy is being able to say what a woman is and what a man is. Yet that that is the story of the last decade.

If we cannot measure sex in data we cannot measure sex differences, we cannot measure sex inequality and we cannot measure who does what to whom across the forms of sexual and domestic violence and abuse. Without the ability to do this, policy interventions will inevitably be arrows shot in the dark.

It took a grassroots crowd funded judicial review led by Fair Play for Women for the ONS to agree to define the sex question in the 2021 England and Wales Census, on the basis of sex not gender identity. It took women’s direct action. It took women’s money, it took women standing together and saying no. It should be to legislators’ shame that this was necessary.

The government spends millions on responding to men’s violence against women and girls, amounts that the feminists who began building the network of women’s refuges and rape crisis services just over 50 years ago would not have dared to dream of. But we aren’t seeing evidence that violence against women is reducing? Why not?

The main reason is that most interventions focus on the individuals who are violent, institutions that respond to that violence and a bit of mealy-mouthed nod to prevention, something they call ‘healthy relationships’ every now and again. These interventions have largely been taken out of their feminist framework.

Whilst perpetrators must of course be held responsible for their actions and behaviours, men’s violence against women is not simply reducible to individual acts perpetrated by individual men, it is key to men’s domination of women, and it is supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.

There is a high degree of negative correlation between sex equality and rates of men’s violence against women, that is, as equality increases, violence against women decreases.

Cultural concepts of masculinity and femininity need to be got shut of – certainly not embedded in the way they are in transgender identity ideology. The objectification of women and the sexualisation of that objectification needs to end. It’s long overdue for Labour to have a policy position on ending prostitution. Sex equality is not possible when one sex is for sale, when women are a commodity, and the other sex is the vendor and buyer, with consumer rights of course.

We need not only to hold men to account, we need not only to ensure that policing, the law, the budget, education systems are not sexist and misogynistic, we must also address the factors in an individual which create violence, we must eradicate sex inequality, and we absolutely must uproot the social and cultural context that supports men’s violence against women.  This takes us back to my earlier point, making the connections across different forms of men’s violence against women.

If we want to end violence against women, we need responses that acknowledge that whilst either sex can be victim or perpetrator in most crimes, in patriarchal society violent crimes reflect sex inequality and patriarchal cultural values. Different forms of violence share root causes, and creating silos around those different forms of violence which disregard sex, moves us away from seeing and addressing those root causes.

What does Labour need to do to end men’s violence against women?  Labour needs to listen to feminists. Labour needs to stop watering down our insights in an effort to appease the ‘what about the mens’, the defensive men, the men who think women’s sex-based rights and protections are not a foreground issue for our Party, the men who think the concept of patriarchy is a feminist conspiracy theory, the men who think that men can be women or are afraid to say what they know: that women do not and cannot  have a penis.

But first, Labour needs to get itself elected. So, Labour needs to let women know that our voices are heard and that our needs and rights are prioritised, if it wants to count on our votes.

[i] 30 women from 26 Sept to 31 Dec 2022, 80 women in 2023

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