16 DECEMBER 2016

Thankfully, Parliament took a significant step today and moved us closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention with SNP MP Dr Eilidh’s Whiteford’s Private Member’s Bill passing its 2nd reading. The Convention is the most comprehensive legal framework that exists to tackle violence against women and girls.  The UK is lagging behind a host of other countries in ratifying the Convention, with countries from Albania to Serbia, Austria to Turkey all beating us to it.

What the Convention offers us is vital. It focuses on preventing gender based violence, protecting women experiencing violence and prosecuting the perpetrators. The UK Government would also have to properly monitor violence against women – significantly under-reported and under-counted at present and will have to invest in service provision.  But will it change men’s behaviour?  And if not, what will?  I spoke at a White Ribbon Campaign All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) recently and presented some of Fawcett’s evidence on women’s and men’s attitudes.  From a survey we published at the beginning of the year, the picture that emerges is of a society with progressive attitudes on equality, with 9 in 10 men wanting the women in their lives to have equality of opportunity with men, and 7 in 10 men believing that equality would be good for the economy.

However, data we will release in January shows that beneath this progressive exterior lies some rather more troubling views.  For example, we asked: if a woman goes out late at night in a short skirt, gets drunk and is then attacked, is she totally, partly or never to blame?  A significant minority of women and men say she is totally or partly to blame.  There is virtually no other crime that I can think of where the victim is so roundly held responsible for what happens to them.  But women are blamed for being attacked.  And it is this attitude which informs much of the media reporting of violence against women and girls.

The hostility we see on social media, and from some quarters in the parliamentary debate today, comes through clearly in the poll, with men aged 25-34 much more likely to say they would be disadvantaged if we had a society where women and men were more equal or think equality has ‘gone too far’.

Clearly some of those expressing those positive responses I referred to earlier are also simultaneously holding some very hostile views.  In the survey we also saw some very traditional attitudes towards whose job it is to care, with 46% of people thinking a woman becomes less committed to her job after a having a baby, while 29% say a man becomes more committed to his job after he becomes a dad. 54,000 women each year experience pregnancy discrimination – if this is the prevailing attitude, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Reflecting on all this at the end of Fawcett’s 150th anniversary year, where we have been charting the progress made so far and the challenges that remain, it makes me think that the negative residual attitudes that we see in our society and that many still hold are far more common than we might think. We think we have shifted them but we haven’t.  They run deep and have taken hold.  The election of an openly misogynistic President in the US just says it all and acts as a rallying call to all of us.  There is only one response in 2017.  Organise! You can start by joining Fawcett.

Sam Smethers, CE of FawcettABOUT AUTHOR 

Sam joined Fawcett in August 2015 as Chief Executive