Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a fundamental human rights violation which harms the lives of millions. There will be hardly anyone reading this who is unaffected by VAWG.
In the UK, one in four women experiences domestic abuse in their lifetime; two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner; in England and Wales 1 in 4 women have been raped or sexually assaulted (6.54 million women total); there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM living in England and Wales; and two thirds of girls report having experienced sexual harassment from other students at school. These and other forms of abuse stop hundreds of thousands of women and girls living the lives they would choose for themselves.
I still remember the first time I was cat called. My value as a person determined simply on how I looked. I was 12 years old. And since then, I have had multiple experiences from cat calling, to being groped, stalked and worse. We all have our own stories, but the common theme running through all of them is that men are the perpetrators and women are de-humanised, treated as objects. VAWG is happening here in Wokingham borough and in many instances remains hidden and under-reported, but it is not inevitable. Collectively we can put a stop to it.
Most men are not perpetrators. But all men have a moral duty to be part of the solution. No more should we be requiring women to change their behaviours in order to avoid abuse and violence. We need men to actively call out misogynistic behaviours and toxic masculinity that are prevalent in society. Those behaviours provide a platform to the minority of men who commit violence against women, so to ignore or excuse misogynistic behaviour only serves the perpetrators and puts women at risk. The added benefit is tackling toxic masculinity also makes the lives of men and boys better as well. Never again should I have to hear my son being told to ‘man up.’
The 25th November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
25th November is also White Ribbon Day. White Ribbon is specifically about raising awareness of the role men play in eliminating violence against women and girls and is part of the wider VAWG agenda. You can find out more information at www.whiteribbon.org.uk and you may want to consider taking the White Ribbon promise, to “never use, excuse or remain silent about men’s violence against women.”
I am delighted to announce that following our application to White Ribbon UK, Wokingham Borough Council is now White Ribbon accredited. This means that we have demonstrated to White Ribbon UK that we have the strategic buy-in and the governance framework in place to enable us to continuously work towards culture change. We have set up a steering group to lead on this vital work which includes ambassadors and champions from across the organisation as we develop and implement our action plan.
During the 16 days of activism, there will be a series of events across the borough including a vigil in Wokingham marketplace on 1st December at 7pm. Do please get involved in some way: attend an event; speak to your employer about your organisation becoming White Ribbon accredited; talk to your friends and family about VAWG; and please, do not remain silent. Silence only serves the perpetrator. Lets #ChangeTheStory for women and girls.
Cllr Sarah Kerr