It feels like feminism has reached a new level of public consciousness. The Harvey Weinstein affair and the #MeToo campaign have brought the issue to new audiences and recruited new sympathisers to the movement. Parliament is now looking at how it can do more to protect female employees and MPs, while across Britain, and the wider world, it feels as though we have an opportunity to build a greater understanding of the pervasiveness of female harassment and engender a collective commitment to do something about it.
I am proud because the Green Party has made campaigning on this issue a central goal. Back in October, I spoke publicly about my own experiences of domestic violence. At the same time, I launched our campaign to make misogyny a hate crime - something that my own experiences taught me could make an enormous difference not just to women’s safety, but to the way we think about patriarchy. Our idea captured media attention and public support: over 5,000 people signed our petition calling for a change in the law on misogyny. We’ve now learned that not only is the Met Police considering making misogyny a hate crime, the proposal is being debated at a national level.
It feels as though we are reaching a turning point, but I am under no illusions that we have a long way to go. Meeting members, supporters and the public and telling them about this campaign, I have been struck by how wide-ranging people’s understanding and perspectives are on patriarchy and misogyny.
This varied interpretation, of course, creates discrepancy in the aims of gender equality and in the priorities for action. To me, this is absolutely not about blaming men. It is not about division. It is entirely about unity, security and solidarity. Patriarchy is a cultural phenomenon, not something inherent in every man. It affects us all; while women suffer the most, men too have to endure the expectations and pressures to conform.
It is precisely because of those different understandings and different experiences that I think our campaign to make misogyny a hate crime could be so influential. It would put down a marker, an official acknowledgement that women suffer abuse just because they are women and it would make it easier for people to come forwards and report so-called ‘microaggressions’ (cat-calling, online abuse, inappropriate touching) which are not currently being dealt with seriously by police.
The idea has precedent. Nottingham Police force has already made misogyny a hate crime. At the end of 2017, I went to visit the campaign group that made it happen and I was inspired to hear the impact the change has had. Women who previously doubted their experiences have felt more confident coming forwards to report them. Incidents of misogyny are now being followed up and investigated. It’s changed perceptions of what it means to experience casual abuse and I am sure that this will help prevent the more ‘extreme’ forms of assault - rape and domestic violence - that are the thick end of the same wedge.
To me this campaign is so green. It’s about standing up for the vulnerable and it’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about saying things that might well be controversial, that upset the existing order. We can be the ones to spark a massive change for women across this country. We will soon be sending out a campaign pack to local parties to help you play your part and I am looking forward to seeing how many people will get involved and the difference we can make.