Category Archives: women

Safer Streets for Women: Woodbridge holds vigil

Three people - very distanced - in front of ancient brick building. Two are masked. The third - Caroline Page - is speaking
Caroline Page speaking in front of the Woodbridge shire hall at the vigil, arranged by Jane Basham.  Woodbridge Mayor Sue Bale, to her right, also spoke

Woodbridge held one of very few police-sanctioned vigils in Suffolk  on 13 March, the wake of the Sarah Everard murder.

About twenty  people – masked and socially distanced – gathered together as dusk fell  outside the Shire Hall in the centre of Woodbridge to light candles, remember Sarah Everard and recognise the risks women face every day, just for being women. A 118 second silence was held by Jane Basham  – that is, one second for every woman known to be killed by a man in Britain last year.

Speaking as Woodbridge County Councillor, and LDGI Group Spokesperson for Women, I said:

We’re gathered here to remember Sarah Everard.

We’re gathered to recognise all the women of Britain for whom public spaces are not a place of safety. Women who not only hesitate to cross a park at dusk, leave a pub, go to a club – but who recognise that risks can occur if walk down the road in broad daylight. It’s not a question of age, or dress or location. I was nearly punched in the face by four big strangers on the East Suffolk line a year or two back, threatened with violence because they didn’t like my hat. I was small, and alone, and a woman.

Easy target.

It’s my birthday today – I’m 63. And in my adult life – and it’s been the lucky life of a middle-class white woman living comfortably in Britain – I can think of at least ten incidents, ten serious incidents, which involved actual physical harm or the threat of serious harm from strange men. In one, maybe two cases, I think I was actually in mortal danger.

I didn’t go out of my way to court a single one of them.

The most shocking thing is? I don’t know a single other woman who hasn’t experienced something similar. At least once, most more than once. It’s Everywoman.

Every woman, but not every man.

I don’t mean to demonise men. Almost all men are good people – but how can we women tell which ones are not?

This problem is not universal. I have travelled in countries where I could genuinely expect to cross a park alone at night without fear of harassment or attack. And have done so.

In Britain, 1300 years ago, in Northumbria, they boasted that a woman could walk with her new-born babe from coast to coast without suffering any harm.

Enough is enough. It is time to make a stand. If it was possible so long ago it is possible now. Time for every good man to join with every woman to ensure our public spaces are free from harassment, from threat, from fear.

 

Suffolk fights FGM

I asked the following question about FGM  at last full council (9th July 2020).

“I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary, Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”

Plenty, it seems.

And just as as well. The situation is scandalous. As  Cllr Penny Otton, LDGI Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People, said:

It was shameful that the home secretary Priti Patel was intending to deport a very young girl who risked FGM if sent back to Sudan. This child has been thriving at school in Suffolk and speaks no other language than English.  It was only due to the fantastic work of Suffolk County Council’s care team and lawyers that this girl was able to stay in the UK and the home secretary was forced to back down. We congratulate them all for their urgent actions to stop the deportation, which would have put this girl at extreme risk.”

FGM is a crime in the UK and the home secretary’s attempt to deport this child would fly in the face of this. Suffolk County Council officers were only just in time: one day later and the child would have been on the plane. 97.7% of girls and women in the part of Sudan she comes from suffer FGM: the judge considered the risk to be extreme. After a series of hearings , Justice Newton concluded: “It is difficult to think of a more serious case where the risk to [the girl] of FGM is so high.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/03/priti-patel-accused-of-shameful-bid-to-deport-girl-at-risk-of-fgm

Suffolk County Council has shown that its officers are alert, aware,  and effective in crisis – and that it takes FGM protection extremely seriously. I am very proud of my colleagues, and I think they have set an superb example to other councils to take similar action in order to protect young girls from a practice that is inhumane, unnecessary and  causes lifelong damage.

The issue  the child’s mother,  herself a victim of type 3  FGM -infibulation: the most serious variation of the mutilation – had her asylum claim rejected  when citing fears that her child would face the same mutilation if returned to Sudan or Bahrain. As her barrister put it: “They don’t have children’s guardians in the immigration courts and this girl’s vulnerabilities were not properly considered. If it weren’t for Suffolk county council she would have been on a plane.

She added: “I work on a lot of these cases and not all local authorities are this proactive. This case shows how dangerous it is relying on the immigration courts to make decisions about the risk of FGM.”

The child was later granted an FGM protection order via the family court  which ruled that  the 11-year-old  should be prevented from being deported to a location where she is deemed at risk of FGM. (In fact, the family court judge ruled that the child would be at an extremely high risk of suffering the abusive practice if deported because her wider family support FGM although her mother opposes it.)

It is clear that asylum applications need to be more aware of  the impact of a deportation on the physical wellbeing of children.

The child’s mother “has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Xxxx, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child,” reads an  open letter signed by prominent lawmakers including  Ed Davey and Jeremy Corbyn.

There is overwhelming evidence to support this child being granted refugee status. In the case of Fornah in 2006, it was established that risk of FGM is a sufficient ground to grant refugee status.

If this at-risk child is not granted refugee status, then what child would meet such a high test?

Which leaves us with the worrying question: is she yet safe?

SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL VOTES TO FAIL WOMEN!

EADT coverage of SCCs failure to address gender data gap

Following International Women’s Day I put a motion at a full meeting of Suffolk County Council calling for a pdp*  to be formed to improve outcomes for girls. The motion also called for more detailed data by gender. Suffolk has an embarrassing gender gap and  much useful information is either not stored  or not collated by sex.

The motion recognised IWD ‘s  #BalanceforBetter campaign

Unfortunately Suffolk’s Tories – while claiming they backed the principal of the motion – voted against it on the specious grounds that “positive discrimination” would not help.

Er?  Since when was “establishing facts” confused with “positive discrimination”? Only in the woolly minds of those predetermined to pretend such discrimination exists.

Suffolk County Council currently has 29% women councillors, less than the 33% national average. The percentage of Conservative women councillors – 22% – is smaller than the total average.

This  off-beam decisionmaking  above demonstrates in all its inglory Suffolk’s Tory party insistance on deciding  – and whipping – their vote before listening to the argument.  Since when was equality and balance the same as positive discrimination?

Failing to support this motion is a major step backwards for gender equality. During the meeting  I said it was “disheartening and shameful” that the motion was voted down, and expressed my disappointment that my Tory colleagues opposite were so reluctant to look reality in the face.

The motion was talking about #BalanceforBetter which is a gender neutral term. Modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high violence against women.

It seems that Suffolk’s Tories are  yet to fully engage with women and what they have to offer

*Policy development panels (PDPs) are formed of a crossparty selectionof councillors who meet to examine data, and look at ideas and solutions to tackle a specific problem, and present recommendations to cabinet.