MPs like Philip Davies make me proud to be a feminist zealot | Sophie Walker

For a member of the Commons justice committee, his apparent ignorance about the way our legal system is stacked against women is extraordinary

The Conservative MP Philip Davies has accused me of wanting to have my own cake and eat it. I say he accused me; the specific accusation was to “feminist zealots”, but I’m holding up my hand. I am a zealot when it comes to feminism, and a militant too, which is handy as that’s the only way people like Davies describe feminists – as if we can be classified as either really caring about it, or not so much.

I really care about being a feminist. I really care about women in this country being able both to take up new opportunities that arise as women’s equality advances, and to continue the battle against the range of injustices that still impede us in every walk of life.

In my case this equates less to having my cake and eating it and more to sourcing the ingredients, making it myself and then going out across the country offering it to thousands of new members. Because right now no other political party is feeding the hunger of many voters for the most basic thing: gender equality.

The wonderful thing about Davies’ awful comments is that they shed light on what is happening right across British politics – from the tiny dark cave at the back of the Conservative party where Davies lives in the shadow of a female leader who, when she took over from a man, reduced the number of women in cabinet; to the lads of the Labour party currently winning every candidacy opportunity from mayors to leadership contenders; to the all-male, all-white Liberal Democrats whose fightback doesn’t yet include fighting for women’s equal rights. None of these parties seem to think equality for women is in any way a priority.

It’s true that Davies’ outburst, at a conference organised by Justice for Men & Boys, is egregious. He asserted that the UK justice system shows “clear discrimination against men” – a claim so staggering that it raises serious questions about his fitness to serve on the Commons justice committee.

The facts are this: the UK’s prison population is largely made up of men. Women are significantly less likely to commit the kind of violent offences that attract custodial sentences. In the UK women are more likely than men to be imprisoned for non-violent offences, more likely to be sent to prison for their first offence, and much more likely to be both victims of crime as well as offenders. Black and minority-ethnic women are also disproportionately more likely to be imprisoned.

Women in prison are very often survivors of serious crime and sustained abuse. Prosecution rates for sexual violence against women and girls are depressingly low. Over half of female prisoners in the UK report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.

Davies’ apparent denial that violence against women and girls is a problem in the UK demonstrates further how astoundingly ill-informed this justice committee member is.

Davies is right when he says that access to justice is a gendered problem – but accidentally. The odds are actually stacked against women. Cuts to legal aid leave women, far more likely than men to be in low-paying jobs, with no recourse to affordable justice. Migrant women in particular face dual discrimination in a justice system that insists on a husband with immigration status as the only way to access public funds.

I don’t expect much of this to hold sway with Davies, or indeed with the Justice for Men & Boys party, who regularly send waspish updates to inform me that I have again been named their “Lying Feminist of the Month”. (This usually prompts an eye roll, and another order of doughnuts in our office.)

But I do hope and expect it to be taken on board by the other parties. Is our democracy so broken that these kinds of assertions can be made by someone who is supposed to be upholding it? Is women’s equality of so little import that such comments prompt so negligible a response?

The launch of the Women’s Equality party
The launch of the Women’s Equality party: ‘We have policies to bring down the barriers to women seeking justice in the UK.’ Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images

It’s time for the Labour lads to stop conga-ing around the office or whatever it is they’re doing in between continuing to advance their own sex. (Jeremy Corbyn told the leadership hustings that the representation of more women at mayoral election level was “not for the leader to interfere in”.) It’s time for Theresa May to show there’s more to her feminism than a T-shirt. It’s time for Tim Farron to #fightbackforwomen.

The Women’s Equality party (WE) has policies to bring down the barriers to women seeking justice in the UK. They include unconscious bias training for all police, magistrates, judges and jurors to address ingrained attitudes towards women who are victims of sexually violent crimes. They include plans for the restoration of legal aid for all cases involving domestic violence, and for the provision of specialist counselling and support for abused partners. They include ratifying the Istanbul convention, which sets minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. They include ensuring all women and girls who experience sexual, domestic or other violence have access to specialist advocacy and support services.

While all the other political parties are looking the other way, we at WE are cooking up a recipe for equality that tastes good to our growing membership and future voters. And being a collaborative, non-partisan group of people, we are very happy to share the recipe. Because equality tastes good to everyone. So best get baking, boys.

Contributor

Sophie Walker

The GuardianTramp

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