Why Isn't Every MP Wearing a White Ribbon Today?

With the Chancellor's autumn statement in parliament today, there is enough to distract us from the small white ribbon on Jeremy Corbyn's lapel. The ribbon shows support for the White Ribbon Campaign, and by wearing it, Mr Corbyn is pledging to 'never remain silent about men's violence towards women in all its forms'. The reason he is wearing it today is because November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; a United Nations campaign in which governments are invited to raise awareness of the global pandemic of violence against women. The man of the hour, the Chancellor, (who has cut domestic violence support services by the way) is fittingly not wearing the ribbon. Neither is our Prime Minister.

Now, I'm not really too bothered by token symbolism. When, for example, X Factor hosts wear jewel-incrusted poppies or the Prime Minister has one photoshopped on to his photograph, I think the sombre sentiment has been lost. However, politicians are notorious fans of the wearable symbol to display their values, so the sporadic handful of white ribbons on display in parliament today is indicative of a deeper collective apathy towards this issue. After the spotlight on Corbyn's lapel a couple of weeks ago, when there was some discussion over whether his poppy would be red or white, suddenly nobody cares anymore. Well, except Jeremy Corbyn, who presumably puts at least enough care into what he pins onto his chest to not necessitate it's digital addition in post-production.

I do not need to repeat all the sobering statistics of global violence against women here. The UN can provide those. The overriding stat we need to focus on here is that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced sexual or physical abuse. This is clearly not a problem unique to any specific race, age group, culture or nationality. This particular problem, on this scale, is specific only to one gender. It is worth mentioning here that clearly domestic and sexual violence is not something that is only perpetrated against women. Sexual violence against men in conflict, for example, is something we are learning more about, and the global summit hosted in London last year did much to highlight this topic. It is the 1 in 3 though, the global pandemic, that informs us of the threat to all women by the very fact of their gender. It is not inequality, but lack of global inequity that threatens all women. This was the belief behind the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign. Not to say that all women are faced with overt harassment or misogyny, but that global inequity means no woman is immune. Yep, you might be sipping on a flat white in Norway with your sensitive new-age partner, but of course you should absolutely still care about violence against women. The gender disparity is worldwide.

When recently working in South Sudan, I got a tiny glimpse into the devastation caused by cultural gender-based violence. One of my patients was a young woman who we were told was a rape survivor. This woman had, like many young people in South Sudan, grown up very fast and was put to work as a result of economic volatility. War and poverty meant daily life was dangerous for her, and she had a tragic accident, leaving her so far unable to walk and clearly traumatised. In Sudanese culture, a woman is expected to marry, and life is not made easy for those women who don't. There is no autonomy for women in that context; life chooses them, and life is often unfair. If my patient survives, her injuries might prevent her from marrying, and therefore gaining any security. The endemic poverty and cultural context means her family cannot support her, and she has no education. I don't fear for the male patients in the same way I do for the women, and that has nothing to do with their injuries. In South Sudan, sexual violence against women is prevalent. Female humanitarian workers are also at risk. All women are.

There are many different contexts, many different types of violence, but the 1 in 3 statistic is sombre enough. Women are more than half of the world's population and we are facing a human rights crisis. All women. Today was about inviting governments to raise awareness of that, so why didn't our government? The white ribbon symbolises a pledge to never remain silent. We should be asking ourselves why we are.

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