Picking our targets

Neither Jess Phillips nor Brianna Ghey will be mine.

Today, for the eighth year running, in the Parliamentary International Women’s Day debate, MP Jess Phillips read out the names of women in the UK who have been killed since the previous years IWD debate and where a man or men are principal suspects. This year the list contained the names of 107 women, the youngest, Holly Newton was just 15 years old, the oldest, Anne Woodbridge was 92.

I have been collating and commemorating UK women killed by men for 11 years, since the murder of 20-year-old Kirsty Treloar on the 2nd January 2012.

I am grateful to Jess Phillips for amplifying my work and for doing something that I could not do without her: ensuring that those women’s names are afforded the respect of being recorded in perpetuity in the official parliamentary record. This year and last year, Jess invited members of families of women who have been killed by men, some of them whose names have been read out in previous years, to sit in the House of Commons public gallery to listen. Jess and I are frequently told how much this gesture means to those who knew and loved the women who are commemorated.

This year, following the suggestion of my Femicide Census co-founder and fellow Director, Clarrie O’Callaghan, two weeks ago the Femicide Census wrote to every MP who had one or more constituents whose names were going to be read out.  84 letters were sent and followed up by email. We asked MPs to honour their constituents and act to prevent further femicides. We told them that femicide is a local and national problem occurring within the broader context of men’s violence against women which inhibits women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. Seven MPs acknowledged our letter: Rosie Duffield, Rushanara Ali, Lillian Greenwood, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, John McDonnell and Andrew Lewer. Others were visible in the parliamentary broadcast. However, like preceding years, the benches were noticeably empty. Whilst each man who chooses to end a woman’s life must be held to account and to justice, the names stand as a roll call of state failure, the government could be doing so much more to end men’s violence against women and girls. The almost empty chamber does not reflect well on political will to address men’s violence against women.

Counting Dead Women and sister project the Femicide Census record men’s fatal violence against women in the UK. Through this work we know that on average, a woman is killed by a man every 2.6 days, and by a current or former partner approximately every four days. We know that after current or former partners, the next largest group of males killing female relatives is sons who kill their mothers. It was the work of the Femicide Census that told us that Wayne Couzens was one of 16 former or serving police officers who had killed women between 2009 and his murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021. At least 237 women are suspected to have been killed by men in the UK since Sarah’s death.

There has been a significant response online to Phillips’ decision to acknowledge the death of Brianna Ghey in February this year after reading the names of women and girls. Ghey was a 16-year-old male who had a transgender in identity. A boy and a girl, both 15, have been charged with Ghey’s murder. An inquest opened yesterday and has been adjourned pending criminal proceedings. Ghey’s alleged murder was marked by thousands of people attending candlelit vigils across the UK. None of the names of the women and girls read out today attracted comparable responses. Yet like those who loved Ghey, each of those women and girls will have left devastated and still grieving family and friends. It is Ghey’s name trending on social media. I wish the killing of every woman and every girl, in the UK and across the world, attracted the comparable energy and condemnation. They rarely do.

As far as I’m aware, it’s just over four years between Brianna Ghey’s death and the previous most recent known murder of a transgender person in the UK, that of Amy Griffiths in January 2019. In that same period in the UK, at least 453 females aged over 14 years have been killed by males. Don’t let’s add to the deflection of attention from women and girls. My focus, like always, is those women and girls. That doesn’t negate the tragedy of the any male life taken. Whether or not we agree with Jess’s decision, let’s not make her or Brianna Ghey the scapegoats. We should be demanding action from the elected representatives and others with power and influence, who do nothing or little to end men’s violence against and abuse of women and girls. They’re the ones we should be castigating.

If you’re reading this maybe you could identify the women who’ve been killed by men in your constituency. There are currently 1,414 women’s names listed in my blog, 1,425 women named in the Femicide Census 10-year report. Ask your MP what they are doing to honour these women, what they are doing to end femicide, what they are doing to end men’s violence against women, girls and children. You could ask your MP what they are doing to protect specialist women-led independent services for women who have been subjected to men’s violence in your area. We can all be part of a legacy to women who have been killed by men.

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