Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day, a global day where the achievements of women are celebrated.
We’ve celebrated International Women’s Day for more than 100 years and the incredible women whose shoulders we all stand on – women that fought for our right to participate fully in our democracy.
When I was born, there were just 41 women in the House of Commons, now there are more than 225 women representing communities across the country – but this is still only 35% of all MPs in Parliament.
Since I was elected, I’ve campaigned to protect the rights of women and girls, to fight misogyny and discrimination wherever I see it. But this progress can never be taken for granted, it’s taken many years of hard work to fight for and it’s not set in stone – it can be taken away in a blink of an eye.
Over the last few years, I have been campaigning to better protect victims of rape and domestic violence who, for years, have been badly let down by the state and institutional bias.
I have fought cases where the family courts have granted violent, abusive fathers’ access to children. These offenders were being encouraged to attend court, apply for visitation rights or custody and forcing victims to come face-to-face with their abusers.
I put forward a Private Members Bill which removed the automatic parental rights of fathers of children conceived under rape. Working with victims and charity organisations, this was a positive step in supporting those who were victims of crime – but there is still work to do to ensure that all women feel safe and that their protection is the priority.
During the Covid pandemic, incidents of domestic abuse increased significantly, and the domestic abuse charity Refuge said that it had experienced an increase of around 50% in demand to its Helpline, and an increase of over 300% in visits to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website. This should not have been an inevitable consequence of lockdown.
We have a long way to go to make our public spaces, both online and offline, safe for women and girls. I firmly believe there is a need for a long overdue change in the law so that misogynistic acts are treated as the serious hate crimes they are.
We know that misogyny sits behind much harassment and intimidating behaviour that unfortunately, many women experience as a reality every day in our communities. It fuels behaviour that far too often escalates into serious offences and harm to women and girls.
If we are to accelerate equity for women in society then the government must take action and make misogyny a crime, but we also need to see a toughening of sentences for perpetrators of rape and stalking.
We must take collective action if we are to address these issues within our society and root it out, once and for all!