After weeks of tax and even tears, the London mayoral election finally moved on to real policy last night at a packed hustings focused entirely on violence against women, with candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens all vying for the wimmin’s vote.
Scores of activists from London and beyond turned up to put their questions on Rape Crisis funding, FGM, policing, cuts to women’s services, forced marriage, serious youth violence and other issues set out in our 10 point plan on women’s safety [PDF].
The political parties are not perhaps where you would predict them to be on many of these issues. Boris’ manifesto includes specific commitments on a London-wide plan to tackle FGM, London-wide domestic violence advocates and continued Rape Crisis funding. His Conservative colleague Kit Malthouse, who is standing for re-election to the Greater London Assembly and heads the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, was able to claim correctly that the Conservative administration delivered London’s first comprehensive strategy on ending violence against women, which built on Ken’s previous domestic violence strategy. Malthouse talked about plans to renew this strategy, improve the first response to women reporting violence, gender-proof all programmes tackling serious youth violence and bring in health and schools to tackle FGM.
Labour Assembly candidate Val Shawcross situated violence against women in the broader context of women’s inequality, and the effects of the national government-imposed cuts. She said her party recognised the value of London’s violence against women strategy and would renew it if elected. And she said Labour would do more for victims, more on improving travel safety and more on sexual violence prevention and detection, as outlined in Ken Livingstone’s manifesto [PDF].
Liberal Democrat Assembly candidate Caroline Pidgeon referred to work her party had done on trafficking in London, and drew attention to Brian Paddick’s manifesto commitments on improving the police response to rape. She made a good suggestion about how the GLA might use its new public health budget to tackle violence against women.
The Green Party candidate Natalie Bennett was strong on also situating violence against women in the context of women’s broader inequality, and talked about the “economic violence” of the cuts.
The areas where the candidates agreed were interesting. Despite sitting in front of a room full of women activists and frontline workers, all said they supported the criminalisation of forced marriage – a move that many experts feel would jeopardise young women’s safety.
Candidates also all spoke about the need for “the community” to do more to tackle FGM, until Daughters of Eve pointed out that this constant refrain is protecting the health services and schools from accountability for their responsibility to tackle cutting.
On concrete policy, all was going well for Kit Malthouse until he threw a grenade into the room by saying he believes “there are too many women’s organisations” in answer to a question about cuts to women’s services. A furious response followed and some button-holed him at the end of the event. We’re still a bit confused about what he could have meant. Do we need to organise ourselves on the Tesco’s mode of supporting survivors of abuse?
Likewise, Natalie Bennett lost support when she said she favoured the New Zealand model of decriminalising the purchase of sex – not a popular view amongst those who believe that prostitution is inherently harmful and should be eradicated.
A critical event then in this election campaign, and a rare spotlight on the real issues that affect women’s lives in London.
*To order flyers or the 10 point plan to lobby candidates email sarah.green[at]evaw.org.uk