Thanks to the London Feminist Network for organising an excellent march and rally this evening.
I am pleased and honoured to be representing NASUWT today. As a teachers’ union representing well over 100,000 women from across the UK we are proud to sponsor and support this event which draws together women from diverse backgrounds and experiences to march together and address the issue of sexual violence against women. Trade unions have a strong tradition of challenging violence and sexual assault against women in the workplace, on the streets and in the home. We are also campaigning against other forms of male violence such as the trafficking of women and also so called “honour killings”.
This march is a symbolic statement that united, women, can resist fear and violence. Reclaim the Night gives women the opportunity to take part in a joyful celebration of our collective strength. Sisters, today we have marched to demand not only safety on the streets but at home and in the workplace.
Thirty two years after the first Reclaim the Night March in Belgium there is still a real need for Reclaim the Night marches – Sisters, a need to come together demonstrating collective strength against ALL forms of violence.
The figures on violence against women are shocking. According to the 2001 British Crime Survey there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults — with a paltry conviction rate of 5.3%.This means that more rapists were convicted in the 1970s when Reclaim The Night marches first started than they are now.
The statistics on domestic violence are just as shocking. 85% of the victims of domestic violence are women. 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence and in August, Refuge released figures that showed that two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner.
The NASUWT welcomes the work of the Government Equalities Office on working to get justice for vicitms of domestic violence, including the introduction of specialist domestic violence courts and independent domestic violence advisers.
The NASUWT also welcomes the fact that the government is reviewing the murder laws in relation to domestic violence and provocation. It is outrageous that a man who loses self-control on finding out his wife has committed adultery can claim provocation, but the victim of domestic violence in fear of further serious assault cannot. Changing the law will end the injustice of women being killed by their husband and then being blamed. It will end the injustice of the perpetrators making excuses saying it’s not my fault – it’s hers.” This August, in Scotland, a judge spared a pensioner who killed his wife a prison sentence – and instead banned him from going to the pub. Edward Flaherty strangled his wife with a tie after she refused to give him money to go to his local bar in Glasgow. But the 74-year-old was told by the judge, Lord Matthews, that his dementia made him unsuitable for prison, and that being unable to go to the pub would be a “more meaningful” punishment. This not only makes a mockery of the judicial system, but what a lasting memory this leaves for her family of what her life was worthy. Hopefully the new murder laws will go some way to stopping such offensive sentences.
Today’s march says no to violence but also challenges the curfew that is mentally imposed on women. A recent survey by a young women’s magazine found that 95% of women don’t feel safe on the streets at night and 73% worry about being raped and almost half say they sometimes don’t want to go out because they fear for their own safety.
For women to be equal in society they need to be free from a fear which inhibits their behaviour and freedom. Sisters, let’s be clear, we know that we need to use common sense when going out, but we cannot, and must not, let fear of male violence restrict our behaviour.
This march also symbolises a rejection of the existing belief that “women shouldn’t walk alone at night” and “that women should be careful of what they wear and who they speak to”. Such warnings deflect the onus and responsibility of male violence from men onto women, and endorse a kind of gender apartheid on the streets.
Women are expected to constrain their own behaviour in order to control male behaviour- to be responsible for them as if they were animals or children, unable to exercise any responsible choice themselves.
This train of thought is still common: an ICM poll commissioned by Amnesty International in 2005 found that over one third of the British public surveyed believed that women were sometimes wholly or partly to blame if they were raped. This idea is also insulting to men. Men are not animals but sentient human beings with an understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. The key is not to constrain women’s behaviour but to get men to choose to respect women and behave appropriately. We thank the men who are here in solidarity with us today and show us that it is possible for men to respect women and support the campaign to end gendered violence.
So what can be done?
The NASUWT is supporting calls for increased funding for Rape Crisis Centres. For many years Rape Crisis centres have defied chronic under-funding to provide important support to victims of sexual violence- almost half of all Rape Crisis centres have closed since 1984. Most women in the UK have no access to a Rape Crisis Centre and less than one quarter of local authorities have any sexual violence services at all. The services that do exist at all are buckling under the pressure with help lines engaged and refuges full.
The NASUWT welcomes the announcement of £1million of emergency funding to put a brake on more Rape Crisis Centres from closing. However the government needs to be taking real long-term action to reverse this terminal decline- we cannot be in the same situation in 12 months time. This should be the first step in developing a long-term funding strategy as part of a wider cross-government action plan to tackle violence against women.
The NASUWT was appalled by the attempt by Ealing Council to cut funding for Southall Black Sisters a move that threatened the future of a group that has for many years offered practical help, counselling and support to black and minority ethnic women and children experiencing domestic and sexual violence. The campaign showed us the need to maintain solidarity regardless of our background, skin colour or belief in the face of ‘divide and rule’ tactics. Generic domestic violence services cannot be improved by cutting existing services, especially services that deliver for hard to reach groups.
As a teaching union we recognise the role of education in challenging violence against women. The Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust research into the attitudes of young people towards gender-based abuse revealed some shocking ideas amongst children. 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls thought that there were some circumstances when it was okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex. Over one third of the boys thought that they might personally hit a woman or force a woman to have sex. Over half the young people interviewed knew someone who had been hit by their male partner and exactly half knew someone who had been sexually abused. Research published by Refuge this summer showed that 87% of women questioned said they received no information about domestic violence when they were at school and yet nearly all of them would have liked to have had lessons about domestic violence as they saw the subject as important.
Education is the most valuable tool to end violence against women and that is why our members are working to empower young people with self esteem, knowledge, skills and understanding and to promote positive, non-violent relationships based on equality and respect.
Once again thanks for inviting the NASUWT to speak and giving us the opportunity to sponsor the event. As a trade union we welcome the opportunity to march together in solidarity with you- but what we really want is for women to be able to walk alone without the fear and threat of violence.
Jennifer Moses, National Official, NASUWT
22 November 2008