8th March 2023
Once again it’s International Women’s Day and a time to celebrate what women have achieved and what they contribute but also to reflect on the oppression and inequality they still suffer.
When I first became an MP 40 years ago most women gave up work when they had their children and when they went back to work it was usually only part-time. Men were paid much more than women and did not expect to play much of a role in the daily care of their children. Domestic violence against women was often justified on the basis that “she provoked him”, or “she brought it on herself”. Women who had been raped were frequently blamed for wearing revealing clothes or being out late at night.
Men were in charge of every area of public and private life from the workplace to the home. And politics was male-dominated with 97% of MPs men and only 3% women.
Much has changed for the better since then.
Now most women work and the pay gap has narrowed, from 27.2% in 1981 to 12.3% now. Though men don’t yet share the childcare and housework they certainly do more than they did. Now 27% of UK High Court judges are women, compared to 3% 40 years ago. And 225 of the 650 MPs in Parliament are women, an all-time high of 35%, and there are women in nearly every parliament around the world.
Although the scourge of male violence against women persists, all political parties are now committed to tackling it and numerous laws have been passed to that end. There is widespread recognition of the prevalence of domestic violence and a consensus that it is abhorrent that women should be beaten in their own home, often in front of their terrified children.
But one dreadful problem which remains to be dealt with is that men get away with rape, and they even get away with murder when the victim is a woman and they say they killed her by mistake in “rough sex gone wrong”. The conviction rate for all rape cases that go to trial is an unacceptably low 7.2%, and for domestic abuse cases it is even worse at 2.1%.
The Government is bringing in a new Bill to protect victims. The Victims Bill is a welcome initiative but it needs some measures added to it. I will be bringing forward some changes which would restrict the use of a woman’s sexual history by the defendant in rape trials and in trials for sexually-motivated homicide. This would end the problem of these trials turning into a trial of the victim rather than the defendant and prevent men from dragging a woman’s reputation through the mud to try and protest their own innocence.
This is not a party politics issue. There should be no reason for the Conservative Government to block it.
The shadow of rape and the murder of women hangs over this International Women’s Day. But we can take steps to deter men and ensure justice for women.