Thursday, 6 December 2012

No women? No revolution. My speech from Monday

On Monday, I took part in an event organised by Bristol Indymedia about what a resistance to the cuts would look like. Here's what I had to say.

NB: For stats sources please see the Bristol Fawcett report on Cutting Women Out

There are a few things everyone wanting to fight the cuts needs to know about. A few numbers. 
The first is that 70% of the cost of Osborne’s austerity budget came from women’s purses, after the government failed to make an equality impact assessment on its economic policy. The government has since decided that equality impact assessments are a layer of red tape and have got rid of them completely. Telling, I thought.  

The second is that since 2010 women’s unemployment has increased by 18% whilst men’s has fallen:

"Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that, since the end of the recession (at the end of 2009), women’s unemployment has been rising at a significantly disproportionate rate to men’s. In February 2012, men’s unemployment stood slightly below where it did back then (at 1.535 million) whereas women’s unemploymenthas increased by over 20% (from 945,000 to 1.14 million). In fact, over the past two years women have accounted for 100% of the increase in unemployment"

As the cuts to the public sector continue, this will only get worse. 

The third number is 230. That’s the number of women turned away from refuges across the UK every single day. And 104 is the number of women murdered so far this year as a result of gender based violence – women who may well have been turned away from full refuges to return to violent homes. I had to put that number up again today, as reports came in of a man killing his wife and then himself. In the first week of 2012 alone, 4 women were killed as a result of domestic violence and one other woman’s body was found. That was a death for every working day in the first week of the year. 

In Bristol, 99,000 women will experience domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking in her lifetime. That’s nearly half the city’s women. As this happens, we’re seeing funding centralised so local support services lose their money, and local women lose the safe places they need to be able to go to in order to escape violence. We are living in a world that seems to believe that support for victims and survivors of violence is a luxury, an indulgence in times of prosperity and something to be taken away in times of hardship. This is in spite of the fact that evidence suggests domestic abuse increases in times of recession – in fact attacks on women have gone up by 2,000 a week nationally since the recession began. 

It isn’t just cuts to support services either. Cuts to the NHS, to legal aid, to policing, to child benefit, to housing benefit, the introduction of universal credit – all of these have a huge impact on women trying to escape violence. The increase of women’s unemployment is another contributory factor. There is nothing in these cuts that does not have an impact on women’s safety. 

According to the Bristol Fawcett report on the impact of the cuts on women, “the cumulative impact of all these cuts is that there is a high likelihood of significantly worse outcomes for women in terms of the violence they suffer and its impact upon them. These include less successful investigation and prosecution of offenders, more women trapped in violent relationships and more ongoing mental, physical and sexual health problems for women.”

One of the great and terrible ironies of these cuts to support services is of course that the outcomes cost the state far, far more than the preventative safety nets these services provide. It costs far more to run a police investigation into gender based murder than it does to provide a woman with a refuge place. These cuts are happening because they are seen as easy. Because they are affecting some of the most voiceless and marginalised in our society, affecting people who don’t have the time or space or energy of safety to fight back. Domestic abuse isn’t even a news story anymore, it’s so common. It’s easy to cut these services because who’s going to fight back?

Well, I am fighting back. Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett are fighting back. UK Uncut is fighting back. This Saturday, we’ll be on the streets of Broadmead in solidarity with the Starbucks occupation, flyering Christmas shoppers with information about the impact of the cuts on violence against women and girls. We’ll be presenting a statement to the council every month in the run up to the budget announcement to make sure that there are no cuts to support services. We are urging you to write statements as well – in fact you can download a template from our website. And we’ll be working in coalition with women’s groups to meet councillors and hopefully the Mayor to ensure that ending these cuts is high on the agenda. 

I know that we’ll be talking about resistance in a moment, but I wanted to end on this. When planning resistance to the cuts, you need women at the heart. Because there are more women in the 99% and there are more men in the 1%. Because it’s women who are bearing the brunt of these cuts. The numbers are clear. You can’t talk about the cuts without women, you can’t talk about child poverty without talking about women’s poverty, you can’t talk about power without recognising women’s lack of power. We are bearing the brunt of these cuts and therefore we have to be central to the resistance. 

All too often in social justice movements, women are seen as an afterthought, our rights and our needs are seen as secondary. That’s why the Suffragettes happened, that’s why 50,000 women marched on Washington in the 70s. Everyone resisting the cuts needs to know and needs to understand that there can be no revolution without women. Otherwise we’re just repeating the same old power structures again and again. Make your resistance accessible to women. Don’t repeat sexist mantras, don’t create environments that are hostile. I have a slew of examples which I won’t share now, where women’s concerns and voices have been ignored in this way. I’m the only woman on this stage, and yet it’s women who are paying the price of this government’s austerity budget. This is a woman’s issue, this is a feminist issue. So don’t leave us behind. 

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