Women’s rights should not be a casualty of DUP deal

Tuesday 13th June 2017

At first glance, last Thursday’s election appeared to be great news for women. More female MPs were voted in than ever before; now a record 208 hold seats establishing the most diverse parliament ever. And our most bold, feminist MPs didn’t just hold on to their seats, they blew their competition out of the water. Birmingham Yardley MP, Jess Phillips, added 10,000 votes to her majority, and Bristol West’s Thangham Debbonaire increased her share of the vote from 33.7% to an almighty 65.9%. Those are numbers that can’t be argued with.

Yet two women a week killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales is also not a number to be argued with. Domestic abuse is not an issue that can take a back seat while Brexit deals are negotiated.  It is a reality that makes the current picture suddenly look so bleak, as the Conservatives look to form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Until now the Conservative government has built up a real momentum in the struggle to end violence against women. Not only that, but as Home Secretary Theresa May stood firm on the need to retain a focus on the gender dynamics and rigid gender roles which underpin domestic abuse and other abuses of women by men. As a result, there has been progress: the creation of the coercive control offence and the rigorous reaction to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s scathing report on the police response to domestic abuse are just two examples.

That’s why it is particularly disappointing to see the Conservatives seeking the support of the DUP: a party which does not believe in freedom of choice and actively opposes a woman’s right to abortion. A former DUP health minister has even tried to increase the jail sentences for the women who have abortions in private clinics, and the medical professional who carried it out, to ten years . It is no wonder that women across the country are wondering how a party many had never heard of, who hold so few seats, could end up having sway over our government and our bodies.

Disregard for women’s rights paves the way for the human rights violations that constitute domestic abuse. No woman should be forced to carry, birth and bring up a child against her will. For survivors of domestic abuse, whose free will in this as in so much else is subdued and controlled through fear, any restriction on abortion is no less than an abuser’s charter. Enforced pregnancy and enforced termination are weapons wielded by perpetrators. Any deal which forms our new government must not compromise on women’s rights. We need to hear reassurances from the Conservatives that this will not happen, and we need to hear them now.

As always, Women’s Aid will continue to put pressure on Government to make sure that survivors of domestic abuse are seen, heard and supported. To put the government’s essential work on domestic abuse on hold could be a death sentence for women. We call on Theresa May to ensure her track record on this issue is not fatally undermined.

© 2019 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

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