Opinion: ‘Women’s plight is a new pandemic’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...
Floral tributes to Sarah Everard left at Clapham Common.Floral tributes to Sarah Everard left at Clapham Common.
Floral tributes to Sarah Everard left at Clapham Common.

Last week presented a stark contrast; March 8 was International Women’s Day. The theme for this year was “Choose to Challenge”, a call to everyone to challenge stereotypes and barriers placed in front of women’s progress.

The outpouring of support on the internet was encouraging.

By the end of the week, however, we were confronted with a horrific murder which shows that women are still unsafe in a country that is supposedly modern, progressive, and governed by the rule of law. The kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard should be on all our minds, particularly since a police officer has been accused of perpetrating it.

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It is incumbent on men to do our best to listen and understand: we simply do not experience the harassment nor the terror that women do.

Their fears are backed by sobering statistics. Domestic abuse now accounts for 23 per cent of police recorded crime. Charities like Women’s Aid have been warning for years that police referrals to the CPS for domestic abuse cases are falling. Domestic abuse prosecutions fell by 19 per cent last year. Even if these cases are pursued, the Crown Court backlog new exceeds 56,000 cases.

Rape and serious sexual violence victims are being left to wait years for cases to get to trial. Women’s services have faced steep cuts over the past decade, this includes reductions in Legal Aid.

Furthermore, 4,800 women were turned away from refuge last year due to a lack of space.

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The Government has long had sight of the problem: according to the Office of National Statistics, 7.5 per cent of women (1.6m) experienced domestic abuse in the last year, while 28 per cent (6m) have experienced it at some point in their life. From 2016 to 2018, 270 women were murdered by a partner, ex-partner, or family member, which equates to one woman being killed by someone they know every three days.

We cannot yet know the full effect of the pandemic period on these statistics, but the Office of National Statistics recorded a rise during the first lockdown period. No doubt the subsequent lockdowns have had a similar effect.

Numbers like these paint a dreadful picture. The portrait only becomes worse when one delves into the detail. The Labour Group’s councillors often get requests to help from the people of their wards; there is much we can do, and we do it.

However, we could achieve so much more if we had control of the council and its resources.

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I believe the current administrations in Peterborough and in Westminster are simply overwhelmed. They cannot confront these complex issues with the urgency they demand. It was only when the Government became focused on delivering vaccines through the NHS that matters started to improve.

What is happening to women in this country constitutes another kind of pandemic, leaving broken lives and tattered families in its wake.

It is not enough to hope that the fresh air and sunshine accorded to us by the spring, and the restored freedoms that will arise from the arrival of herd immunity, will somehow make these issues disappear.

As noted, this has been going on for some time. Sarah Everard’s sad fate tells us that we are simply not doing enough.

We can. We should. Given the chance, the Labour group of city councillors will.