We will inherit a country where women have been made more vulnerable
Early in the leadership elections I made a decision to back Yvette Cooper for Labour leader. I have worked with all the leadership candidates in some way, and have tremendous respect for their integrity and capabilities. But one person stands out for me.
I’ve worked in Parliament as Yvette’s PPS and, since last August, as shadow home office minister with responsibility for violence against women and girls.
I have seen her take on the big challenges in the Home Office in relation to our nation’s security and safety. I’ve seen her perform in the Commons and in the media. And I have seen over the years her commitment and leadership on issues of gender and wider equality.
The scale of violence and abuse against women and girls in Britain is a scandal; two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner, one in three 16-18-year-olds has experienced unwanted sexual touching at school and one in eight women have reported being sexually harassed in the workplace. It is estimated that every 30 seconds an emergency call related to domestic violence is made to the police.
Labour has led on the tough issues of domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation and forced marriage – ensuring they are no longer no-go areas for politicians. Under Yvette, we set up the Women’s Safety Commission to understand what more we can do to end violence against women and girls, and with Vera Baird QC undertook visits and research across the country. The final report from our Girls Safety Summits was published in March.
Working with campaigners outside of Parliament, we led and won a campaign in Parliament to introduce a new stalking law to the Protection of Freedoms Act. Last year, we called for and supported the new offence of domestic violence and the FGM protection orders that came forward in the Serious Crime Act.
It has been absolutely clear that, while these measures are welcome, what has been missing from the Tories is any serious commitment to prevention – a conclusion reached also by the UN Special Rapporteur in a report published in June. That has to include compulsory age appropriate relationship and sex education in schools, which the Tories have consistently voted against.
The issues go across government silos; one reason Yvette called for a new commissioner for domestic and sexual violence, which we would have legislated for in a Violence Against Women and Girls Bill. She has also led calls on the need to challenge the underlying attitudes, particularly amongst young people, that make violence against women more likely.
But like many other big ideas from Labour, we can only make the argument from opposition. And as we see the damage the Tories are continuing to do to Britain, one common theme remains – how our party wins again in 2020.
We’ve lost two elections in a row. And we can’t afford to stay in our comfort zone. We will inherit a country in which women have been made more vulnerable and the criminal justice system has become less effective and less able to help those in need.
Despite more women reporting domestic violence and rape to police, a shamefully low number go on to prosecution and conviction. We must hold this government to account during the next five years – we simply cannot allow the progress we have made to be rowed back. And we have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of 10 years of the Tories in Downing Street, which has already taken its toll.
Seema Malhotra is Labour and Co-operative MP for Feltham and Heston. Follow her on Twitter