I never fully appreciated my right to vote until it was taken away from me…
Monday 2nd July 2018
Mehala Osborne, survivor and campaigner, reflects on why she launched her Right to Vote campaign and the momentous changes it has brought about for survivors of domestic abuse on the 90th anniversary of British women securing the right to vote…
I never fully appreciated my right to vote until it was taken away from me. After fleeing domestic abuse and living in a safe house with my son, the last thing on my mind was politics. However, as time went on it became more and more apparent how politics – the government, councils, and their policies and procedures – was still directly disenfranchising and oppressing all survivors of domestic violence in so many ways.
When the local elections were coming up, I was mid-campaign in helping survivors to be recognised as being in priority need by the local authority housing system. Having worked extremely hard to engage local councillors, prospective mayoral candidates and to get Bristol listening and supporting the housing campaign, I was engaged politically more than I ever had been before. So when time came to register to vote, I did not even consider the barriers I was about to face.
I was living in a refuge and needed to register to vote anonymously to protect the confidential location of the refuge and the other residents. Being denied a way to register to vote purely because I could not evidence my experience of abuse enough was devastating. But the hardest thing was listening to other residents also feeling hurt, betrayed and ignored by the systems that were supposed to be protecting and supporting us.
I was met with shrugs of apathy and empty apologies when I tried every avenue to register to vote. I was denied and knew I could not allow it to be the case for the next person moving in to a refuge. I never wanted another survivor to feel so let down and unimportant on something that is a fundamental right in our society.
Survivors have been silenced for far too long through the dangers of registering to vote. Anonymity is essential for safeguarding and having the option to vote anonymously is life or death for so many survivors. As we celebrate the centenary of suffrage when some women were first given the right to vote, it is unacceptable that so many are still barred from exercising this right.
When I launched my Right to Vote campaign, I had no idea the campaign was going to be such a success. I am so unbelievably grateful that alongside Women’s Aid we won our first step in this: the government has committed to expanding the evidence requirements to ensure refuge management can support a survivor to register to vote anonymously. No one living in a refuge or who is engaged with a domestic abuse support service has to be denied a safe way to vote again.
But there is still more to be done and this is why we are calling on government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to pass legislative changes to make survivors’ Anonymous Voter Registration valid indefinitely. Currently the process involves registering annually, and providing valid evidence each year to be able to continue to vote anonymously. For those whose risk is life long after domestic violence, this is an impossible task, leaving survivors unable to continue to vote safely after they have moved on from the abuse. Anonymity for life means people can vote safely and without fear, something many take for granted as it should just be.
We need government to send a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse: their voices matter, their right to vote will not be taken away and they are not going to feel further punishment from authorities because of the abuse they have escaped from and survived.
2018 marks the centenary of the first British women securing the right to vote with the 1918 Representation of the People Act. On 2nd July 1928, the right to vote was extended to all British women over the age of 21. Today marks the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act. Find out more at Vote100.uk.
It also marks the launch of National Democracy Week 2018. As part of National Democracy Week, Mehala Osborne has been recognised for her campaigning work by being nominated for ‘Changemaker of the Year” award at the National Democracy Week Awards. The winner will be announced on Monday 2nd July at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.
Find out more about Mehala Osborne’s Right to Vote campaign in partnership with Women’s Aid here.
You can support Women’s Aid’s work to end domestic abuse against women and girls here.