What a gut-wrenchingly awful ten days for feminists, ironically concurrent with the sole week of the year dedicated to celebrating women.
International Women’s Day started the week and then was sharply followed by ‘I don’t believe a word she said’ hatred towards a black woman voicing feelings of suicide. We concluded the week with a Mother’s Day that featured a protest against the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil, a woman believed to be murdered by a Metropolitan Police officer.
As we lurch into this week, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill poses new deep threats to our liberties. The mood is bleak, and energy is low – but now is the time to organise and resist.
There has been widespread and profound alarm about the Police Bill. From its first iteration, it has been widely criticised by all those oppressed by the violence of power. Despite unprecedented power being handed to the government throughout this pandemic, this bill seeks more still.
Hidden within its 296 pages are a draconian acceleration of police capabilities, increased penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests (not to mention the ease with which they can be found to have done so), and the creation of a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
If this bill passes in its current form, the police will be empowered to curtail any protest they deem too ‘noisy’, to have ‘impacted’ a community in some way, or to be causing ‘intimidation or serious unease’. These criteria leave police with abilities tantamount to being able to legally shut any protest down.
Stop-and-search powers will also be expanded, and new offences will be introduced for anyone trying to damage a memorial. We could live in a state in which attacking a statue could result in ten years spent in prison, while for raping a woman you may receive five.
Additionally, this bill is being purposefully rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny. Published just a week before it was due to be first debated in parliament, civil society, opposition parties, and anyone who is not in government have not been given adequate time to vocalise discontent.
A foundational tenet of any democratic system is one in which civil society, and all those affected by new legislation, have sufficient time to contribute in whatever way they deem fit to the political process. Yet again, we see the Conservatives’ guise of inertia used to torpedo an authoritarian agenda.
Rights that have been won have all been hard fought for. Just as we have fought for those rights, we must now fight for their retention. Freedom of assembly in this country has already been radically curtailed by the Coronavirus Act, yet this Bill suppresses that right even further and without the justification of a global pandemic. Whatever the cause closest to your heart, stand up for your right to demand change.
If the widespread flagrant contempt for women and girls has moved you over the past week, Sisters Uncut is resisting the bill and has a myriad of ways through which you can get involved.
The oppression of all women has been viscerally brought into the public eye this week, but has been on a downwards trajectory since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010. Spending on domestic violence refuges has been cut by 24 percent, while deaths from domestic violence were at 173 people in 2018 – up from 32 in 2017. Three people a week are now killed by a partner, ex-partner, or family member, while only 1.4 percent of all reported sexual violence is prosecuted.
For anyone who values the right of a community—marginalised or otherwise—to have their voice freely heard against those with power, this bill is an attack. Now more than ever, we cannot turn solely to the Labour Party to defend us in this battle. This was made clear as the party limped from a position of abstention to opposition of the bill a day after the scandalous policing of the Sarah Everard vigil.
While the Conservatives purposely made the bill incomprehensibly wide-ranging and thus difficult to oppose in its entirety, from its publication, it was clear that this legislation was an aggressive attack on freedom. Forensic scrutiny just isn’t going to cut it; we need a party that will defend our ability to imagine and create an equitable, just, and sustainable world.
This last week, there has been cross-party, community, and country-wide support for those mourning and protesting the death of Sarah Everard. The events of the previous seven days have allowed us to have our outrage heard, find collective comfort for our pain, and let those in power hear about the future we demand. In a democracy, those are our fundamental rights. We cannot let this bill take them away.