International Women’s Day is upon us, and now more than ever we are putting a spotlight on the issues women face in achieving full gender equality. Just as we should celebrate all of the amazing things we have because of women, we should also acknowledge what else there is that needs to be done. Whether it’s the fact that two women per week are killed because of domestic violence, that women in developing countries are still subject to FGM, or that women in parliament only make up 32% of MPs- there are still a number of injustices to fight.
As we fight these battles, the latter example of the number of women in parliament is particularly important, to help us implement the changes we need. We expect more of those 32% of MPss, because as women we assume they have more reason to fight for the female agenda – that may not be fair, but it’s how many people think – and yet as we have seen in the past few months, they face obstacles greater than just legislative barriers.
Sexual harassment in Westminster has proven to be wide-ranging, and as political parties now fight to implement legislation to prevent the culture of intimidation and bullying, all we can do is sit and watch the people who ignored such harassment for decades, decide how best to deal with it. The working group, put together by the government to report how parliament should deal with harassment, released its findings last month and promised to implement punishments for those found guilty of accusations in the form of being recalled or expelled. It also suggests a new complaints procedure, an independent investigation mechanism and that consent training should be mandatory after the next general election.
However, it also included a clause about anonymity, which prevents the public from seeing the names of the accused unless proven guilty. While the group argued this would protect anyone falsely accused, many others made the point that the number of guilty men wrongly found innocent versus the number of false accusations is so disproportionate that moving from a survivor-led approach to one that catered for vexatious complaints is highly inappropriate.
It seems that protecting survivors, and by extension protecting all women from harassment and intimidation in politics, was somewhat forgotten in this clause. And it’s not the only way the government fails to protect female politicians.
Paola Diana is a women’s right activist and best-selling author, whose book 'Saving the world, Women: the XXI’s Century Factor for Change’ explores the global status of women in political, social and economic sectors, is adamant that the UK could do much more to ensure women in parliament feel safe and respected. In fact, she’s of the opinion that we haven’t even heard the worst of sexual harassment in Westminster.
‘I think there are many more sexual harassment [problems] that victims aren’t even talking about, what we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. This is normal across all violence against women, when you have 39% of women who declare they are victims, you really have to double it in order to have a realistic statistic.’
That 39% was the confirmed figure from the working groups report, but of course, that only refers to the survivors confident enough to come forward. It’s a scary thought, and is why Paola refers to our parliament as being ‘full of predators’. What we need therefore, instead of the current working groups report, is a zero-tolerance approach. Specifically, Paola is a proponent for naming and shaming MPs.
‘I know the name and shame technique works because, unfortunately, I was a victim of domestic violence myself. I clearly remember saying to my father when I was 14, “if you don’t stop I will call this number and everyone will know about what you’re doing”, and as my father was very respected outside the house he was completely frozen, and since that day he stopped because he couldn’t even think about being shamed in front of the public.
‘We saw that with the MeToo campaign during the past month, it’s very effective and in this specific case it’s very easy to be transparent, we could have the names of all the politicians and MPs who are accused.
‘Violence in parliament would stop from one day to the other, I promise you. This is the most powerful thing they could do and this is the first thing that comes to my mind.’
And when it comes to false accusations, ‘there will be one in 100’, she tells me, ‘and the other accusations are quite real.’
In fact, according to Paola, it is the very least we should demand from our government. After all, they are providing us a service, and ‘we’re paying them good money with our taxes’.
‘This is what we’ve forgot. MPs are there to serve the community and the community is us. The community is half men, half women so why can’t we ask them to be more transparent?’
The question of expectations is an interesting one, do we ask for too little from our elected representatives? Or, are we so used to politicians talking around the facts that we dismiss the possibility of any real, drastic change?
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It is therefore, up to us, to demand more from our politicians, namely Theresa May, if Paola has anything to say about it.
‘I’m really sad about Theresa May, she should do more. She should show all women and girls in the UK that we can change things, that having a woman as prime minister can change more things and protect us.’
So, why doesn’t she? According to Paola, she’s either not brave enough or unwilling to sacrifice the possibility of re-election by being too divisive.
‘Unfortunately, she’s used to this kind of culture, so for her it’s difficult to break through. To break this culture, you need to be very brave and have a different vision. You need to think maybe I won’t be reelected, maybe they will hate me, but seriously I would rather have a politician like that,
‘For me politics is a service to community and that’s it, so she should serve all the community in the UK. I don’t like politicians when they only think about their career, she can’t do something in the middle, if they don’t want to name and shame politicians then it won’t be useful, if they only want to educate and train them, its laughable’.
Educating and training is quite the bone of contention for Paola, who argues that men ‘don’t need to be trained at that age,’ according to her, ‘they know exactly what they’re doing, they’re just taking advantage of young women and of their staff,
‘You can train people when their young, in primary and high school. You should train immigrants coming from countries where they don’t respect women’s rights, that’s ok because they don’t know how it works in this country. But seriously, we have to train our MPs on that? If that’s the case then maybe they’re in the wrong place? Maybe they shouldn’t have been voted in?’
This question comes up again and again, especially when MPs are accused of past harassment earlier in their career, and the age-old ‘that was a different time’ excuse comes out. For some, pardoning sexism as generational is valid, however it still does beg the question, if you’re sexist because you we’re brought up ‘in a different time’ then perhaps we should only be voting in MPs who weren’t brought up in that time? As we have seen from Donald Trump, age does not always mean wisdom, and in this particular case, it in fact means they’re less appropriate for positions of power.
Yet, we are years from another election, and so practically there are things we must do now to ensure women in parliament are being protected. Other than naming and shaming, Paola insists there must be technological answers to this problem.
‘It could be simple, you could give them some kind of camera or video camera they can put and hide somewhere and open it when they feel they’re being harassed. The problem is with these cases that the man and woman are usually alone somewhere with no witnesses and so it’s the word of a powerful man against the word of a woman, but if you record what he’s saying, or take a video of it, the man will be so scared of this technology he won’t do anything’
It’s a bold ask, and one we doubt the government would consider given the back-room nature of most political conversations, however when it comes to women’s rights, Paola insists it should before anything else.
‘We can’t put protecting secrets above women’s rights. Of course, they will say no but even just talking about it would be something new, we’re always thinking about the victims, why don’t we do it the opposite way around and address the aggressor?’
She suggests there could be a law against recording something unrelated, or even just having an alarm system would be helpful. Of course, there are laws against recording without permission, but for Paola that too must change in this specific case. Essentially, there is no amount of work too hard, or effort too much, that should come above protecting female politicians.
And while what she is suggesting may seem drastic, she has a valid point. For too long we have allowed politicians to put their own agenda above women’s rights, above protecting women from the hostile environment in Westminster. Now, as #MeToo begins to fade out of the news, we must fight to continue the conversation, and push our government beyond lukewarm reports and halfhearted legislation.
We can’t simply ask for what we deserve it, we must demand it. As Paola says, ‘you can’t ask a man who is a predator, “please can you stop being a predator?” It’s like little red riding hood asking the wolf “please can u stop being a wolf?”,
‘Lets’ stop being naïve to this house of wolves, it’s not the House of Parliament it’s the House of Wolves.
Click through to see everyone who wore black to the Golden Globes...
Attending with her son Maddox, Angelina Jolie chose a floaty sheer dress with voluminous feather-trimmed sleeves.
Alicia Vikander showed off her innate style in a high neck dress with keyhole cut-out back and embellishment detail.
Michelle Williams and MeToo founder Tarana Burke
A Louis Vuitton clad-Michelle Williams was noticeably moved to be with #MeToo founder Tarana, saying: 'We're here because of Tarana, she started a movement, and it caught fire.' 'It's deeply humbling,' Tarana added, 'This is something I started out of necessity… this moment is so powerful.'
Emma Stone and Billie Jean King
Emma Stone decided to invite Billie Jean King as her date to the Globes, the tennis pro and pioneer who she played in Battle of the Sexes. Stone looked typically fashion-forward in a lace, one-shouldered dress.
Dakota Johnson, who is a presenter at tonight's awards, wore a Gucci gown (what else!) with a stunning train featuring a silver sequin motif at the back.
Dakota Johnson's looked even more stunning from the back.
The always superbly dressed Jessica Chastain aced the dress code in an Armani Prive velvet halterneck gown with silver crystal embroidery on the sides.
Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake
Jessica Biel channelled Hollywood glamour in a nude gown with sheer black overlay and black sash detail, keeping things classy with a low chignon and diamond accessories. Husband Justin Timberlake opted for an all black suit.
Kendall Jenner had her Angelina Jolie moment posing in an asymmetrical dress with tiered skirts by Giambattista Valli.
Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd
Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd posed together on the carpet, with the former in a high-necked, long-sleeved dress and the latter in a low-cut layered lace gown. Their appearance was poignant, as the two starred together in Frida, the film Hayek accused Harvey Weinstein of harassing her on.
Claire Foy and Matt Smith
The Crown's stars posed together on the red carpet, with Claire Foy looking sensational in a low-cut tuxedo look teamed with slicked back hair and a bold red lip.
Catherine Zeta-Jones looked incredible in a daringly low-cut illusion dress with sheer skirt by who else than Zuhair Murad.
Alexis Bledel wore a black and white one-shouldered jumpsuit by Oscar de la Renta to celebrate her show The Handmaid's Tale's nomination.
Former Girls star Allison Williams brightened up her all-black ensemble with a pop of tangerine in this beaded strapless dress by Armani Prive.
Stranger Things star Sadie Sink wore a Miu Miu prom dress with full skirt and sweetheart neckline for her first ever Golden Globes.
Will and Grace's Debra Messing wore a black embellished tunic-style dress with trousers.
Outlander's Catriona Balfe oozed glamour in a black dress with off-the-shoulder sheer detail by Chanel.
Margot Robbie chose an oriental-inspired dress with beautifully intricate silver embroidery.
Emma Watson and Marai Larasi
Emma Watson brought Marai Larasi as her date, the founder of Imkaan, a black feminist organisation in London.
Meryl Streep and Ai-Jen Poo
Meryl Streep brought Director of Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-Jen Poo, as her date to the Golden Globes.
Mandy Moore opted for a sleek, column dress with halterneck detail, adding a pop of colour with a scarlet sash belt.
Amy Poehler and Saru Jayaraman
Amy Poehler chose ROC co-founder Saru Jayaraman as her date for the Golden Globes.
Glow star and nominee Alison Brie wore an old Hollywood-esque strapless dress with full skirt and sweetheart neckline, choosing a beautiful diamond choker to complete the look.
Heidi Klum chose a gown with an asymmetrical hemline and ostrich feather detail.
Fargo's Ewan McGregor stuck to the dress code in an all black tux - including his shirt - looking very dapper indeed.
Christina Hendricks, star of 2018's answer to Big Little Lies, Good Girls, chose a simple off-the-shoulder black gown.
Kit Harington aka Jon Snow aka King in the North looked very dapper in an all black tuxedo.
Chris Hemsworth looked very un-Thor-like in his tux.
Sarah Paulson chose a highneck gown with pleated skirt.
Jude Law joked on the red carpet in sunglasses.
Zoe Kravitz looked typically cool in a simple but chic column dress teamed with sapphire earrings.
Isabelle Huppert looked very on-trend in an embellished metallic dress with sculptural shoulder detail.
Game of Thrones and Star Wars actress Gwendoline Christie wore a ruffled black dress with sheer high neck.
James and Dave Franco
The Disaster Artists' stars James and Dave Franco posed together in their tuxedos.
Perennial best-dressed list member Diane Kruger looked like she'd stepped off the runway in a halterneck tulle gown with cape-like detail by Prada.
Millie Bobby Brown
Millie Bobby Brown chose an 80s-esque backless dress with voluminous sleeves.
Kerry Washington sparkled in an embellished strapless gown with thigh-high split.
Maggie Gyllenhaal was one of several stars who opted for strapless sequins.
Comeback queen Michelle Pfeiffer chose a layered tulle dress which she wore with a short tuxedo jacket over the top.
Lily James went for full-on glamour in a black satin gown with ruffle details.
The Handmaid's Tale's leading lady Elisabeth Moss wore a long-sleeved dress with Peter Pan collar.
Kate Hudson played up her pixie crop with an ultra-feminine sheer, low-cut dress with strategically placed necklace.
Mariah Carey lived up to her diva reputation in a fishtail gown with slashed neckline.
Style maven Saoirse Ronan went for a futuristic black one-sleeved gown with silver accents.
Natalie Portman and America Ferrera
Natalie Portman and America Ferrera attended the Golden Globes together, with Natalie choosing an elegant dress with boxy-neckline and sweetheart cut, while newly pregnant America chose a simple black dress worn with a blazer over it.
Nicole Kidman always rules the red carpet and tonight was no different in a floor-length lace gown with high neck.
Ladybird director Greta Gerwig chose a one-shouldered dress teamed with a gold choker.
Age-defying Halle Berry looked incredible in a sheer lace mini-dress.
Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke was miles away from her on-screen persona in a very modern strapless dress, which she wore with her trademark peroxide blonde locks and bold red lips.
Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot kept it simple in a black ruched column dress with an accompanying bolero by Tom Ford.
Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige injected some fun into her LBD with one shimmering silver sleeve and panel in her skirt.
Times Up kickstarter Reese Witherspoon opted for a simple yet chic one-shouldered gown with mermaid-skirt.
Nominee Sally Hawkins chose a full black skirt with asymmetrical velvet top.
Penelope Cruz - soon to be on our TV screen as Donatella Versace in American Crime Story - looked beautiful in an off-the-shoulder lace dress with a train by Ralph and Russo.
Naomi Campbell was a model red carpet attendee in floor-skimming black.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker borrowed a dress from her Sex and the City alter-ego Carrie Bradshaw's wardrobe.
A low-cut, thigh-high black dress for Eva Longoria.
Gillian Anderson was another adherent to the asymmetrical dress theme, showing off a new peroxide crop.
Laura Dern chose an Armani Prive gown completely embroidered in crystals and featuring a sheer bodice and tulle train.
Director Ava DuVernay stuck to the dress code in a crystal-embroidered long-sleeved top and draped skirt both by Armani Prive.