Domestic abuse is a gendered crime. By that I don’t mean that every victim is a woman, nor that only female survivors need or deserve help and support. Far from it.
But when you consider that in 2019 three out of every four victims of domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by the police were against women, and, each year, an average of 80 women are killed by a current or former partner, it paints a clear picture of a predominantly gendered crime.
For three years, parliament has been trying to address this problem, which affects over two million people in the UK each year. The need for government action could not be clearer and yet, time and time again, the Domestic Abuse Bill, which former Prime Minister Theresa has herself descried as her legacy, has been delayed. We have had emotional debates relating not only the personal experience of our constituents but in the case of one MP, Rosie Duffield, her own inspirational story.
So you can imagine the relief when the bill finally started to make progress again last week.
Yes, there are aspects that still need addressed. The trauma suffered by children from homes where there is domestic abuse, or the need to protect migrant women who may not feel safe going to the authorities are just two of them. But it was when Conservative MP Philip Davies’ 27 wrecking amendments were brought to my attention that I began to be worried for the integrity of this vital legislation.
Many members of parliament choose to try and make a difference by championing a particular cause – perhaps something close to their heart or something they’re incredibly passionate about. But Davies appears happy to make his political reputation as being an opponent of legislation designed to make the UK a safer place for women and girls.
“With 14 women dead within the first three weeks of lockdown, it angers me beyond belief that Davies has found the time to table 27 wrecking amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill.”
For those less acquainted with Philip Davies’ parliamentary exploits, he has previously spent his time filibustering legislation that would tackle violence against women: the Istanbul Convention, the Combating Violence Against Women Bill and Caroline Lucas’ bill to make sex education in schools compulsory.
I have no objection to Davies’ efforts to support male victims of violence, or his burning desire to celebrate International Men’s Day. What I do find tiresome at best, and many words not allowed in print at worst, is his determination to disrupt, delay, or derail entirely the work done by other politicians, which would genuinely make a difference to the lives of women and girls right across this country. And in the case of the Domestic Abuse Bill, would help ALL victims of domestic violence.
We do not live in an equal society and therefore support to tackle inequalities will often be focussed on those who suffer the most – we should make no apology for that.
With 14 women dead at the hands of their partners within the first three weeks of lockdown, it angers me beyond belief that Davies has found the time to table 27 wrecking amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill. No, I do not expect that my opinion will change his mind but I am determined to call out this attitude to the bill for what is it: dangerous.
The government response to domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic has been inadequate so far. They have been slow to act, failed to put enough financial support behind their announcements, and refuge staff are still not considered key workers.
However, this bill – imperfect as it is – is an opportunity for us all to make a difference to the society that emerges from it. Not only will I, and others, work hard at committee stage to make sure this bill passes in the best and strongest state possible, but I also want to remind people of the human cost of not acting. And why it is vital to challenge the attitudes and actions reflected in the 27 amendments presented by Philip Davies.
Christine Jardine is Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West.