Too often, Greenwich Council meetings are used by men to trade personal insults rather than discussing policy and the issues that affect people’s lives.
But for 50 minutes last Wednesday, things were different. As part of a motion about violence against women and girls, female councillors spoke candidly about their experiences of harassment and abuse at the hands of men.
MIRANDA WILLIAMS, Eltham West councillor and cabinet member for health and adult social care, talked frankly about how men need to do better. Here is what she said.
Normally, sitting down to think about what to say in council debates feels pretty straightforward.
You find your facts, you structure your arguments, maybe a couple of jokes, something funny, rewrite the beginning and find a succinct ending to bring what you want to say to a close. But not this time. There is nothing funny. There are no jokes.
This issue – violence against women and girls, a term that, quite frankly, needs to be turned on its head, is possibly one of the more emotive and important topics that we have had the privilege and opportunity to debate in this chamber.
Although what the debate is, I’m not sure. The bottom line is: as a society, we must all stand up to misogyny and violence of against women and girls.
And that’s just it. The term “violence against women and girls” removes any reference to the perpetrator, as though there is no one responsible. That perpetrator is almost always a man.
What is probably most concerning, is that in most instances, that perpetrator appears to be ordinary, normal. They may have had a job in a profession that meant most would regard them as being trustworthy.
For the benefit of men in the chamber, I ask you to imagine the following scenario.
It’s evening, not too late, but beginning to get dark. You’re at home and you’ve run out of milk. So you’ll probably grab your keys and walk to the shop, buy a pint of milk, head back home and stick the kettle on.
From a woman’s perspective, this is a wholly different scenario.
Yes, we grab our keys and leave our house, but given it is a little dark, we keep our hand around our keys, intertwined in our fingers. Just in case.
We go the long way round to the shop, because we know that the back street is not well lit. Even though it makes the journey longer, we do it – just in case.
We can hear a man walking behind us, so we cross over, as on the other side there are a couple of neighbours chatting, so it feels safer over there.
We give the man sitting alone at the bus stop a wide berth, not because he looks dangerous, but because he looks normal, and we know to be fearful of those that look normal – just in case.
We pass a van, and knowing women can be grabbed, we cross over once more, and because we are visibly deeply concentrating, the man in the van shouts over “cheer up love, might never happen!” But we know it can, and it does.
Like you, we get home, with our milk, and put the kettle on. But unlike you, we breathe a sigh of relief that our journey on this occasion was uneventful and that we are safe.
So men – the men in this chamber, our male relatives and friends – it’s time for you all to step up. You all need to be better at challenging the inappropriate behaviour of your friends and peers, of your sons. You all need to be the best role models to all the young people around you.
To that woman that you may be walking along the pavement behind, the small act of you crossing the road will send the message to her that you are not a threat, that you acknowledge the fear she may have.
Boys and young men need role models to show them how to treat women respectfully and as equals, and girls and young women need positive male role models so that they can see how decent men behave. So that they can then expect the same high standards from other men in their lives.
You really need to step up.
You need to step up because we are tired. We are tired of walking home with our keys between our fingers, just in case.
We are tired of having to text our friends and partners that we are leaving to come home or we’ve just got off the bus so they know when to expect us in case we don’t make it to the front door.
We are tired of having to send our friend a WhatsApp live location link when walking to their house, so they know where we are.
We are tired of modifying our behaviour, being told to smile, or cheer up.
Because we are downright angry that women continue to be shamed about what they wear; that the levels of reporting and conviction of rape are so low because of the fear that victims will not be taken seriously because so often the view is that she was asking for it.
Believe me, that is never the case.
You all need to step up. Because for as long as women are being murdered by men, live in fear of men and have to seek refuge from men, not enough is being done.
This evening I could have spoken more of my personal experiences. But I would rather focus on learning from the past and looking forward to what needs to be done to change the future for our women and girls.
Together we need to reach a point where we can wave off our friends and loved ones, knowing that they will not come to harm on their way home.
Thank you to Miranda for sharing a copy of her speech. The Her Centre in Woolwich offers services to help women move away from abuse and also offers bystander training to empower people to assist victims of bullying, hate and harassment. To find out more, visit hercentre.org.
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