One year on from the Trump inauguration, in the shadow of the global #MeToo movement and in the week the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary where 20 women shared their stories accusing Trump of sexually harassing them, it is indeed extraordinary that Trump is finally in the UK.
On Thursday evening in a sun soaked Oxfordshire village opposite and around the gates of Blenheim Palace, the birth place of Winston Churchill, thousands of protesters gathered to give Donald Trump a very British welcome and a taste of the ‘carnival of resistance’ expected on the streets of central London today.
Those gathered outside Blenheim were by no means the usual suspects. Many first-time protesters arrived with their handmade placards. Among them were a large, and very visible, number of girls and women of all ages calling out Trump for his misogyny and his administration’s policies rolling back women’s reproductive and human rights.
A group of women came to protest in the British heat wave wearing their pink knitted ‘pussy hats’ first seen after Trump was sworn in as millions of women gathered in the US capital Washington to demonstrate their horror at his presidency.
In the past year women in the USA and around the world have started to organise to counter what they see as a ‘war on women’ with the USA accused of leading the assaults impacting women’s sexual and reproductive health.
An inconvenient truth for many women who call themselves feminists is that 52% of white women voted for Trump - despite the well documented allegations about his treatment of women.
In the first year of his presidency, Trump has restricted access to contraception and abortion. One of his first acts as president was to deliberately derail and unravel the work of the Obama administration on healthcare, including rowing back on a law making it a legal requirement for employers to provide contraception coverage.
In a move that created global outrage amongst women’s health, human rights and feminist groups, Trump reinstated a ‘global gag rule’ policy that restricts the US government from providing funds to family-planning groups around the world or to organisations providing safe abortions.
Meanwhile on home soil, Trump has advocated to defund Planned Parenthood and signed laws – already in the pipeline by the Republicans - to block state and local governments from receiving federal funds for abortion clinics.
In May 2018, the Trump administration announced new guidelines that push back protections for transgender people in prison. The new guidance, as set out in the Transgender Offender Manual, makes it harder for trans inmates to be housed based on their gender identity instead of the gender assigned to them at birth - putting trans people at greater risk of physical and mental harm including rape and sexual assault.
The flip side of the Trump administration’s ‘war on women’ is the increase in women across the USA engaging with politics and political office, the likes of which has not been seen in decades.
According to a report in Time magazine, at least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign.
One of the newest politicians elected in the country is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will likely become the youngest person elected to Congress. The 28-year-old democratic socialist of Puerto Rican heritage is a former cocktail waitress from the Bronx. She unseated Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term House Democrat. During her spectacular campaign, Ocasio-Cortez, said in her ad campaign: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”
It is widely believed that women like Ocasio-Cortez will continue to change US politics by running for office - many in direct response to Trump becoming president.
On Trump’s visit to the UK this week, Theresa May knows she has next to no chance of influencing him on anything, let alone on holding him to account over his administration’s rowing back on the rights of women. So far since touching down Trump has been busy undermining May over Brexit and this, along with the protests against him in London and across the country, will be the legacy of his first official trip to the UK since taking office.
Expect to see many more women and girls on the streets of London and the UK today - protesting for their rights and the rights of the global sisterhood.
Shaista Aziz is a journalist, a women’s rights and equalities campaigner and a member of the Stop Trump coalition. @shaistaAziz #carnivalofresistance