When I first called to make misogyny a hate crime around this time last year, I must admit that it felt like a big hill to climb. Even with the extraordinary momentum of #MeToo, it was by no means a given that we would be able to translate such an astonishing moment for women into a movement that could win astonishing things for women. But 12 months on, I’m happy to say that women are winning. On Wednesday, MPs called for a review into making misogyny a hate crime. We are one step closer to taking this huge leap forward for women.
Whatever you think of #MeToo, one thing which can’t be denied is that it made horribly tangible the sheer volume of abuse, intimidation and violation suffered by women across the world, every single day. I am no exception.
As a young woman in politics, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had photoshopped images tweeted at me by men who disagree with my views – when I’m not being told to go back to the kitchen.
Last year, I went public for the first time with my experience of domestic abuse and how I was able to escape that relationship. But misogyny isn’t always as visceral as being physically abused and emotionally manipulated by a partner. As a young woman in politics, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had photoshopped images tweeted at me by men who disagree with my views – when I’m not being told to go back to the kitchen. Over my life I’ve had men threaten me when I told them my friend wasn’t interested in them, been wolf whistled at while walking down the road in my school uniform and groped at the Christmas party of my first job. Just a few weeks ago a man slapped my arse in a bar.
Misogyny is fatal violence, but it’s also the insidious drip, drip, drip of being told to smile by men passing in the street, as demonstrated by the photo (below) I took outside Nottingham station, which went viral a few days ago.
Misogyny is something all women experience, no matter the time of day, no matter what we’re wearing, no matter our age, shape, race or anything else. And according to a survey earlier this year, incidents of misogyny have a long-term impact on three-quarters of women, from making us anxious to making us more suspicious of strangers. That’s why I wanted to ensure this incredible moment for women became a platform for proactive policy that can change lives. I called to make misogyny a hate crime – a change in law which will empower women to take action in response to many of the experiences shared through the #MeToo hashtag.
I was inspired by women’s groups and campaigners in Nottingham who had successfully campaigned to have their local police commissioner recognise misogyny as a hate crime where the impact on women has been really clear. Their own review found that 94% of women felt the police took the matter seriously, and 88% were satisfied by the overall response to their report of a hate crime. Since then, other communities and police commissioners across the UK have followed suit. And now, with this review announced, we have the chance to make this the law across the entire country.
One of the most exciting things about this change in law is its potential to continue transforming societal attitudes for the betterment of women. This review has been announced because of an amendment to the Upskirting Bill, fronted by an amazingly courageous and tenacious young campaigner, Gina Martin, who was subject to a man taking photos up her skirt at a festival, and found that she had no legal recourse to take action against him.
For me, the success of this campaign is at the heart of a new wave of feminist resistance, in which women are feeling emboldened to speak out against the patriarchy and violent misogyny. Making misogyny a hate crime is part of a broader suite of measures which can prove to women that their safety and dignity is valued by wider society, empowering them to take action against violations. Equally importantly, a change in the law can help to educate men about acceptable behaviour towards women – whether they’re in a relationship, a colleague, or just passing in the street.
I’ll be following this review carefully, and I hope this change in the law for women will come to pass. But we can’t just hope for a blanket law to transform the men of Britain. The success we have seen in Nottingham was because the law was embedded in communities, through proper training for local police services, partnerships with local women's refuges, and meaningful outreach to the public. This empowered women to take action and be supported then and there, not just in courtrooms years later. Going forward, this campaign still needs to be led from the grassroots. #MeToo was a moment. Now we have a movement.
Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party of England and Wales