Womens Lives Matter campaigners fighting for domestic violence services, photo Iain Dalton

Womens Lives Matter campaigners fighting for domestic violence services, photo Iain Dalton   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Louise Harrison, Yorkshire Women’s Lives Matter

In the wake of Sarah Everard’s kidnap and murder by a serving policeman, the shock, grief and anger that followed was the final straw for many young women who took to the streets to demand an end to violence against women.

Why did this happen now? Recent research shows that 97% of young women aged 13-25 in the UK have experienced one or more acts of sexual harm against them by boys and men, boys and men they often know.

These findings, along with higher levels of domestic homicide of women by men under lockdown, and rape convictions of women and girls in the UK down to 3% – fed into the organising and attendance of the vigils.

Women of all ages have started talking about their shared experiences of domestic violence, stalking, rape, child sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

This moment of anger and action – our #MeToo moment – shows us the way we can begin a process to challenge sexism and misogyny. And that’s with collective action that demands change and solidarity.

Within hours of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah being called the government made some concessions. However, no concession made by the state and any of its institutions is guaranteed. The 1970 Equal Pay Act is just that, an act. Millions of women workers like myself do skilled jobs but are paid so-called unskilled wages.

The bosses use the unpaid caring role women are expected to perform in the family to keep our wages low and respect for our work even lower. This unequal treatment at work and within the family is an oppression that manifests itself in all parts of our lives.

The solution is not to look to Met Police chief Cressida Dick or Home Secretary Priti Patel for empathy or leadership. Not all women are oppressed in the same way. Our class position in society is key to understanding why women in power protect men in power over ordinary women.

My mum, Joyce Sheppard from Women Against Pit Closures, said: “We learnt very quickly that Margaret Thatcher was not our ally. Not only had she taken free milk from some children in schools but she was hellbent on breaking our mining communities by destroying their jobs and trade union”.

She also said that the newspapers at that time were all quite sexist. But one thing she’s proud of the NUM for is voting to get rid of ‘page three’ from the miners’ union paper. This happened because men and women were politically organising together and an understanding developed that state oppression affected our communities in many different ways.

After the police violence against Clapham mourners, many trade unions came out in support of the protesters. This support has to remain.

Women have started taking the lead and showing us that fighting back against violence against women has to happen now. I hope the grassroots organising continues and does not wait for public opinion or leadership from those in any forms of power. The momentum for change has to come from below. That’s where the strength, the bravery and power lies.

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