#TimesUp: Women’s Aid unite against abuse and harassment
Our CEO Katie Ghose on Women’s Aid supporting #TimesUp
Earlier this month Women’s Aid celebrated the centenary of the first British women getting the vote. On the same day, we celebrated our successful campaign, with survivor Mehala Osborne, to make it easier for domestic abuse survivors to register to vote anonymously, to avoid revealing their address to a dangerous ex-partner. It was a text-book illustration of the ongoing battle for women’s rights. Here we are 90 years after all women were granted the right to vote, and women are still facing inequality day in, day out; both the dangerous consequences of it and what lies at its heart.
This week we are proud to support #TimesUp in the UK and join with other activists and women from the entertainment industry to stand united against female abuse and harassment.
The recent #MeToo movement showed us those consequences in distressing numbers. From workplace sexual harassment, to domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violence against women, the stories poured out in every direction, and what was revealed was the beating heart of misogyny, alive and well. A culture that enables abuse, control and violence is thriving without challenge. The situations described were all different, but abuse of power was the common theme. We know from our work on the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge) that survivors feel isolated and that their situation is unique. We see femicide being portrayed as isolated incidents. What #MeToo showed us, without doubt, is that this is not the case.
Sunday evening showed a number of actors taking activists with them to the BAFTAs, which included Imkaan’s Executive Director Marai Larasi attending as a guest of Tessa Thompson; both wearing black to represent solidarity as part of the #TimesUp movement. We know that women campaigning and working together is the first step towards eradicating violence against women and girls and that men must take responsibility too. Right now, everyone from actors to activists, shop assistants to lawyers, and charity workers to judges are talking about systematic change. This resonates at Women’s Aid, where our first response to countless survivors is that she is not alone and she is not to blame. Control, abuse or violence towards an individual is never acceptable. Spotting the patterns and making individuals and agencies accountable for their actions is essential if more people are to come out of the shadows and know they will be seen and heard.
Violence against women and girls, including sexual harassment in the workplace, does not discriminate. As Emma Watson told the Observer “It’s easy to dismiss harassment and abuse as being caused by ‘one or two really, really bad men’ but the UK statistics point to a much bigger and more structural problem. This issue is systemic, as opposed to individual, one-off events.” We are united because there is not a woman alive who has never experienced misogyny first hand, in all its many forms. We know it can and does happen anywhere and everywhere, in homes, in public and in workplaces, including our own voluntary sector.
#TimesUp is an unapologetically inclusive movement – brazenly and brilliantly visionary, collegiate and diverse. Moving from the red carpet to other industries and communities has been a focus, and now we must all continue to make connections, above all to live up to the promise of a truly intersectional movement, ‘with conversations across race, class, community, ability and work environment’ about the imbalance of power. For the women whose workplace may be a sanctuary from what they endure at home, we must do better. Employers can be lifeline for someone made vulnerable by harassment and abuse outside of work, and our Change the Lasts project is helping to provide organisations with essential skills. For the women whose workplace is where the damage is done, we need all workplaces to become agents for change. If ending violence against women and girls matters, then it matters not where she is, but that wherever she is that support is available for her.
Many of the activists involved in shaping #TimesUp have been tackling violence against women and girls for decades. They know how stubborn the issues #MeToo highlighted are, and the value of coming together to share tactics. #TimesUp gives a fresh opportunity to do this across industries and society, and a unique opportunity to work closely with the entertainment industry, who can amplify others’ voices. A relentless focus on harassment, abuse and violence against women and girls will enable collective action and quicken the pace of systematic change, and we have no doubt that our united perseverance can make 2018 as historic as 1918 for women.