Remember her too

The speech I gave at the femicide vigil at FiLiA 2021

In the first three days of 2012, 8 women in the UK were killed through men’s violence.  Three days, 8 dead women: 3 shot, 1 stabbed, 1 stabbed and beaten so hard with her own walking stick that the wood splintered, 1 beaten, 1 strangled, and 1 smothered.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a record of the women in the UK who have been killed through men’s violence and have personally recorded the names of 1,366 women killed by men or, in cases where criminal justice process hasn’t been concluded or has been prevented, for example if the killer also killed himself, where a man is or was the principal suspect. 

I don’t think there’s a person here who won’t know the name of Sarah Everard almost everyone here will also know the name of Sabina Nessa, both women killed this year and whose deaths made national headlines.

But between Sarah and Sabina at least 77 other women were killed in circumstances where a man is held as suspect, awaiting trial or would be if he were still alive.

Do you know the name of the 84-year-old woman who was allegedly strangled by a burglar? What about the 25-year-old woman who was found dead in bags with the body of her two-year-old daughter, the two-year-old daughter who is suspected to have been sexually assaulted –  as well as another child who survived – found buried in concrete beneath someone’s floor? The 82-year-old suspected to have been stabbed by her 84-year-old husband? Or the 29-year-old, found dead in the street with stab wounds to her neck, chest and arm, killed by her husband. At least 115 UK women are suspected to have been killed by men this year. The names of most of these women are not household names.

Men’s fatal violence against women cuts across all sections of society, across ages, class and ethnicity. But, some women are afforded more empathy than others. Some are more likely to be disbelieved, to be blamed, to be sent away without the help they need.

This appalling hierarchy of victims continues into death. It is almost always the young, conventionally attractive, middle-class, white woman killed by a stranger, the perfect victim, who makes the front pages.

Not the 50-year-old from a council estate in Leicestershire, killed by the father of her children after a 30-year marriage, where her life and dignity have been chipped away, little by little, every day. Not the immigrant. Not the 45year old homeless woman with a drug problem who was sexually abused from childhood to death. We need to end the hierarchy of dead women.

And of course, that hierarchy is there in life too. Black women and disabled women are disproportionately victimised yet more likely to receive a sub-standard response from state agencies. Poor women are more likely to be blamed.

Because of the Femicide Census, we know that in the UK 92% of women who are killed by men are killed by someone they know. One in 12 (or 8%) is a woman who is killed by her son. That’s the same proportion– 8% – of women in the UK who are killed by a stranger. 62% of women killed by men are killed by a current or former partner. More than 40% of these had already left or were taking steps to leave him. More than a third of these were killed in the first month post separation, almost ¾ within the first year.

Because of the Femicide Census we know that Sarah Everard was the 16th UK woman to be killed by a serving or former police officer since 2009.  

Femicide is the killing of women, girls and female infants and foetuses, predominantly but not always committed by men. Femicide maintains men’s individual and/or collective dominant status, or reflects the lower status of females. Femicide is not just homicide of women by men, it’s about how and why women are killed and how this is different to the circumstances in which men are killed.

Do I believe it is possible to end men’s violence against women, to end femicide? I don’t know. Do I believe it is likely? No. There just isn’t the will. Patriarchal societies, in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, authority, social privilege and control of resources, ensure that power stays with the powerful and advantaged; it’s the same with socio-economic class, it’s the same with race. Sure, there will continue to be steps to address men’s violence against women and girls. And mostly these will have originated from feminists but what is implemented by the state will always be a watered-down version.

Men’s violence against women and girls is both a cause and consequence of sex inequality. Whilst perpetrators must be held responsible for their actions and behaviours; men’s violence against women is not reducible simply to individual acts perpetrated by individual men. Men’s violence against women is a key instrument of men’s domination of women, supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.

What can you do? Make politicians know you care. Make politicians know that men’s violence against women is an issue that could lose them votes. Make sure that every woman counts. Make them know that they damn well better be able to say that only women have a cervix.

Know their names. Not just Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. But Mandeep Singh, Angela Tarver, Valerie Richardson, Mihrican Mustapha, Sammy-Lee Lodwig, Denise Keene-Simmons.

Thank you, Keira Cadwell, for creating this beautiful commemoration to women. Each heart carrying the name of a woman killed by a man, taken from my work at Counting Dead Women.

Thank you, Keira Cadwell, for creating this beautiful commemoration to women. Each heart carrying the name of a woman killed by a man, taken from my work at Counting Dead Women.

Counting Dead Women is a project about women killed by men

My name is Karen Ingala Smith and I prioritise women. I prioritise the well-being of women who have been subjected to men’s violence. I try to make sure I see the women that many others disregard. I’d like to contribute to ending men’s violence against women and girls. If I can’t do that, I’ll settle for helping ensure that women have access to specialist support from women, that victim-survivors’ needs are prioritised and wishes heard, and that more people understand the realities of men’s violence against women, girls and children.

Counting Dead Women is a project about women killed by men. I started it in January 2012 as a reaction to the murder of a young woman in East London. I watch out for media reports of women killed by men – and I record them.  I record their names so that those women are never merely statistics.

Yes, I know more men are victims of homicide. You know that they’re killed by men, right? No, I’m not going to start counting dead men. Find someone who is interested in men’s violence to men to do that for you. Or, do it yourself. Yes, you’ll be busy. I know, because I’ve been Counting Dead Women for over 9 years.

Yes, I know that sometimes women kill men. Do you know that when men kill a female partner or ex-partner, the Femicide Census was able to find evidence of prior violence and abuse to the woman they killed in 59% of cases.  And we’re sure this is an undercount because women so often tell no one about what an abusive man is doing to them behind closed doors.  Do you know that the Centre for Women’s Justice found that when women kill a male partner or ex-partner, in 77% of cases there was evidence that he, the man who was killed, was the one with the history of violence and abuse and that she was the victim?

Yes, I know that sometimes men who identify as transgender or transsexual are killed. There have, as far as I am aware, been 9 since 2009. Unlike most people who faux-innocently ask me whether Counting Dead Women includes ‘transwomen’, I could name every one of them.  Whether the fact that they rejected male gender norms played a part in their deaths, I don’t know. They were all killed by men, only one was killed by a current/former partner. Incidentally, trans identified males have killed 12 people in the same time period, four of them women and one a transgender male.

Yes, I oppose violence and discrimination against people because they reject sex-role stereotypes. There is an international movement to commemorate trans victims of murder. I don’t need to.  Nor would I because I prioritise women victims of men’s violence.  

No, I don’t believe that men who identify as transgender or transwomen are subjected to misogyny.  I believe they are subjected to hate and discrimination because they dare to reject male gender norms. I support and celebrate (not actively) any man’s right to do that.  No, I don’t believe people can change sex. I think gender functions to maintain male supremacy and female subordination.

I support universal human rights but you can do that and still prioritise women. There isn’t a single human right that excludes trans people. That’s the way it should be. No one has a human right to impose their belief system on another.

Prioritising women does not mean that I don’t care about anyone else, that I don’t recognise the humanity of males, or that I am incapable of empathising with, or liking individual males, including some who identify as transgender. It doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise the pain of someone who has lost a man that they love or care for to violence.  It just means that I prioritise women. I choose to devote my energies to women. My time. My life. My choice. It really doesn’t have to be yours but I think the state of the world reflects that fewer people choose to prioritise women than prioritise men, or accept the status quo.   

Since 2009, at least 1,691 women and girls aged 14 and over have been killed by men.  This includes 1,425 named in the Femicide Census, killed between 2009 and 2018, plus another whose death has come to light since we went to publication. Plus 128 women killed in 2019 (Femicide Census figures, as yet unpublished) and 107 killed in 2020 (we haven’t got the FOIs back yet, so this includes women identified in the media only and so it will undoubtedly increase) and 31 women killed this year.

And we know there are more. There were 117 women and girls who suffered violent, premature and suspicious deaths between 2009 and 2018, where men were directly or indirectly implicated that we couldn’t include in the Femicide Census (for reasons explained in the 10-year report). Those are just the women we know about. We don’t doubt that there are more that we don’t know about.

My name is Karen Ingala Smith and I prioritise women. I count women killed by men. No, I don’t count men. No, I don’t include transwomen. And if that isn’t good enough for you, I really don’t care what you think about me.

The importance of women only spaces and services for women and girls who’ve been subjected to men’s violence

Speech to Scottish Parliament – January 14th 2020


nia is a charity based in north east London run by women, for women, girls and children who have been subjected to men’s violence– primarily sexual and domestic violence and abuse, including prostitution. nia has been operating for 45 years,  We provide advocacy and counselling through East London Rape Crisis for women and girls aged 11 and above, regardless of when they were subjected to sexual violence, who perpetrated it and how long ago it happened, we have two refuges, one for women with problematic substance use and one for women who have been involved in prostitution and we were provide a range of community based services for women subjected to domestic violence and abuse and prostitution. I’ve been CEO  of nia for the last 10 and altogether I’ve been working in specialist women’s services for almost 30 years. Last year, across nia’s various projects, we provided one-to-one face-to-face support to just over 1,500 women and girls, 8 men – and 5 people who identified as transgender, all male. We haven’t yet been approached by a trans-identified female, but given the changing profile of the trans population, we know this is just a matter of time. Then again, because they don’t consider themselves to be women and we are a women’s charity, perhaps they’ll choose not to access us; perhaps, we can expect to be contacted by them if they need us if they join the growing number of de-transitioners.

Where contracts require us to support men and some do, we do so; and male victims are treated with the same levels of skill, respect and dignity as women and girls. We do not support men in venues that we use to support women and we do not support men at all in our refuges or our therapeutic groups. We do not employ males.

A couple of years ago, nia’s board of trustees, in the latter stages of finalising the charity’s strategic plan, took the decision to identify supporting the preservation of women-only services as one of our strategic objectives. We agreed that if we did not speak out, we were being complicit in the erosion of women-led specialist services for survivors of men’s violence. We have developed a ‘Prioritising Women Policy’ which meets our obligations under the Equality Act and uses the single sex exemptions permitted therein.

We knew that this decision was not without risks. Like many small and medium sized charities, nia cannot take financial security for granted. We’re run on a handful of 2-3 year contracts. Each winter, as we look at the financial forecast for the coming year, there is a deficit. We carefully balance spending requirements, contracts that are still running, looking at those that are ending and asking ourselves whether we have a chance of retaining them, and how much we have in reserves just in case, and we hold our breath and tentatively continue. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now with nia and it doesn’t get any easier, and some years are definitely worse than others. Anyway, despite this, nia’s board bravely decided to focus on the bigger picture of what is best for women, in particular those subjected to men’s violence – and agreed that if, as a charity, this was going to be the hill we died on, we would go down fighting. We would go down fighting and prioritising women.

One of the most important ways that we can contribute to creating a ‘safe space’ for women who have experienced men’s violence ……. is quite simply by keeping men out. Men are far more likely to commit violence than women. Exclude men and you are very significantly reducing the prevalence of violence.

Over the last 10 years, 85% of those found guilty of domestic homicide in Scotland were males. Also in Scotland, in the year ending March 2017:

  • 86% of homicide suspects were male
  • 79% of prosecutions for common assault were of males
  • 91% of prosecutions for serious assault were of males
  • 98% of prosecutions for sexual violence were against males.

I’m not naive or dishonest enough to claim that women are never violent – of course some women are.  But when women are violent – and remember it’s statistically way less frequent – when we are – we generally cause less harm than violent men. And, there is no credible evidence suggesting that males who identify as trans commit violence against women at lower rates than those who do not.  I’m not saying that men who identify as transgender are inherently violent or that all trans identified males are violent – just that they are no less violent that other males. And they are males.

In addition, but just as importantly, we know -– and independent research confirms – that women subjected to men’s violence feel safer and fare better in women only spaces and value those run by independent women-led charities most of all.

Some say that ‘we’ – those of us working is specialist women’s services – can use risk assessments to assess whether a male who says he is trans poses a risk to women.  Let’s look at this in relation to women’s refuges:

When a risk assessment is completed with a woman looking to move in to a refuge, time is usually critical. You need to help her to get to a place of safety and quickly. She’s either already left her home or is planning to do so urgently because she is in danger. Maybe she’s called and needs to get out whilst her partner is due to be out of the house for a few hours.  You’re also looking at whether the location of the refuge offers safety and can meet the woman’s needs and those of her children if she has them, and whether she herself might pose a risk to others living in the refuge. With risk assessment, you’re assessing the risk she is facing from her partner and planning how you can help her to reduce the often intensified risks associated with actually leaving an abusive man. The Femicide Census, a project I co-founded, told us that a third of women who are killed by a partner/ex-partner, are killed after they have left him. Of these about a third are killed within the first month and two-thirds within the first year. Leaving an abusive man is dangerous and difficult. Risk assessment with safety planning can help save lives.  Risk assessment is not about assessing whether or not a woman is, in reality, a violent male.

If you expect refuges to accommodate males who identify as trans, you’re asking staff in already under-resourced women’s refuges (Scottish Women’s Aid report that cuts to Scottish refuges have increased from 14% to 41% between 2009 and 2016. Their annual survey reported that 30% of survivors who sought refuge in Scotland had to be turned away), you’re asking staff in already under-resourced women’s refuges, to differentiate between:

  • Transgender people born male who have genuinely experienced men’s violence and have managed to unpick their male socialisation and who will not use their sense of male entitlement or sexism or misogyny to harm, reduce and control women in the refuge and
  • those transgender people born male who have genuinely experienced violence but are still dripping in male privilege and advantage and who hate or resent women; and
  • those transgender people born male who are narcissistic perpetrators who have managed to convince themselves (and others) that they are victims , and
  • those transgender people born male who are seeking validation, which some, if they were self-aware and able to be honest, would recognise as a need that can never be satisfied, and who might prioritise their validation above the needs of women, and
  • those transgender people born male who are autogynophiles (that’s a male who is sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female) or other fetishists, and,
  • finally other men who are pretending to be trans in order to track down a particular woman or predatory men trying to access women in general. And we do know that violent and abusive men lie and manipulate. Violent and abusive men stand up in court, swear to tell the truth and lie and manipulate.

No one’s yet explained to me how risk assessment is supposed to screen out most of those men – let alone convinced me of the wisdom of trying to make a bedroom for a fox in a henhouse. Risk assessment is about identifying risks posed by violent men and mitigating against them, not chucking in a few extra because you can.

But …. let’s set that small matter aside. Let’s imagine for a moment that you could, as some claim, risk assess trans-identified males for their suitability and safety to inhabit your space or attend your service, which of course is now no-longer women-only. What you’re ignoring if you do this is the impact of men’s presence on women who’ve been subjected to men’s violence.

It’s not unusual for women who’ve been subjected to men’s violence to develop a trauma response. These sometimes develop after a single incident of violence, especially with sexual violence, but also sometimes after years or months of living in fear, walking on egg-shells, recognising that tone of voice, that look in the eyes, that sigh, that pause, that silence, that change in his breathing. Some women have lived this, with a succession of perpetrators starting from their dad, all their lives.

A trauma informed approach is based on understanding the physical, social, and emotional impact of trauma caused by experiencing sexual and domestic violence and abuse. A trauma-informed service understands the importance of creating an environment – physical and relational – that feels safe to victims-survivors in all the ways I’ve just mentioned. A trauma-informed safe space creates space for action and recovery from violence and abuse and places the woman victim-survivor in control and in the centre. For many women this absolutely means excluding men from that space, including those who don’t identify as men.

Women are gas-lighted (manipulated to question their own judgement or even sanity) by their abusive male partners all the time. It is a cornerstone of coercive control. As a service provider you are in a position of power, no matter how you try to balance this out, and of course we do as much as possible to balance this out, but ultimately it is inescapable. You are not offering a trauma informed environment if you, in your position of power, gaslight traumatised women and pretend that someone that you both really know is a man, is actually a woman.  It is furthering the abuse to then expect women to share what you say is women-only space with males who say that they are women, because you and they know are not.  Part of your role is to help women to learn to trust themselves again, not replace the batshit that their abuser has filled their head with, with a new version. All this is on top of what I looked at earlier, that statistically women are safer in women only environments – because men commit violence at significantly higher rates.

It isn’t just women experiencing serious and debilitating trauma who benefit from women-only spaces and services. Women tell us that they want and value women-only space for safety, empathy, trust, comfort, a focus on women’s needs, the expertise of female staff often themselves survivors. They tell us they feel more confident and find them less intimidating. Women-only spaces offer not only a space away from the specific man that women are escaping or who has violated them but away from men in general; away from men’s control and demands for attention; away from men taking physical and mental space; away from the male gaze and men’s constant appraisal of women; away from men’s expectations to be cared for and, just as importantly, a space where women share in common experiences of abuse despite how these differ and despite all the other differences between us. A space with others who understand, to whom you don’t have to explain why you didn’t leave earlier and who know how easy it is to feel guilty or stupid because you didn’t.

We know that at least 80% of males who hold a gender recognition certificate retain their penis, but anyway, we don’t need to know what’s in their pants to know they are a man. Women experiencing trauma after violence and abuse will, like most of us – almost always instantly read someone who might be the most kind and gentle trans identified male in the world – as male; and they may experience debilitating terror immediately and involuntarily, they will modify their behaviour, their actions and expectations in countless ways, many that they are not consciously aware off. They need and deserve a break, don’t they?

Since I’ve spoken out to defend women-only services, I’ve lost count of the number of victim-survivors of men’s violence who have told me how important a women only service was to them. They’re often upset and emotional when they start to talk about this.

That any woman working in, but most of all those in leadership positions which are connected to women’s welfare, are prepared to sit on the fence about the importance of women-only spaces for victim survivors of men’s violence, and whether men can magically become women, makes me want to both rage – and weep. You cannot opt of this. You cannot sit back. You cannot, especially if you are happy to accept the salary and other perks of a leadership position claim to ‘have an opinion on this’ but in the next breath say it ‘isn’t safe for me to speak out’. None of women’s political gains were achieved by well-paid women who played safe and put themselves first rather than women as a class. How dare any woman take a leadership position and leave it to others, many of them victim-survivors, to do this? How dare they claim to care about women’s safety and look away, pretending that there is nothing to see here? Please don’t look away.

 This not about hate. It’s not about bigotry. It is not anti-trans.  It’s about women and children who have been subjected to men’s violence.  Can we please just sometimes – sometime like now – put them first?

Just a selection of the lesbians who made 2017 so much better

There was someone missing from Pink News’ list of 11 LGBT heroes who made 2017 so much better: lesbians. to help them with their blind spot, here are 11 lesbians (in no particular order) who, I think, made 2017 way better:

  1. Marcia Willis-Stewart QC, BSN lawyer of the year, fights for the civil liberties of individuals and their families against the state, those she has represented include the families of 77 of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and Mark Duggan.
  2. Hattie Hasan, schoolteacher turned plumber, set up Stopcocks, the first national network of women plumbers. She is a committed advocate for global water and sanitation issues.
  3.  Susan Calman is a comedian and presenter who danced her way to week 10 of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing and quite possibly made a woman talking about her wife, a lesbian wearing a glittery frock and dancing with – shock horror – a man, seem unremarkable to a whole new audience.
  4. Mhairi Black is the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire since 2015, she is currently the youngest member of the house of Commons, she is a strong critic of universal credit putting the fight against poverty central to her work.
  5. Harriet Wistrich, Liberty Human Rights lawyer of the Year 2014, is co-founder of Justice for Women and Centre for Women’s Justice. She has fought for women who killed violent partners including Emma Humphreys and Stacey Hyde and also women attacked by the serial rapist John Warboys and victims of the Metropolitan Police spycops.
  6. Sabrina Qureshi had a vision of the potential transformative power of women marching through the streets years before 2017’s Women’s March. She is founder and coordinator of Million Women Rise and annual march and celebration of international women’s day which marked its 10th anniversary in 2017.
  7. Penny Wong is an Australian politician whose tears of joy when Australia voted yes to Equal Marriage contradicted her previously stated opposition to equal marriage and exemplifies how the weight of culture, religion and history distort personal choice and, people’s capacity for change.
  8. Val McDermid is a crime writer and  Christmas University Challenge and Celebrity Mastermind ace.  She was the first woman from a Scottish state school to be admitted to St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
  9. Julie Bindel is a journalist, co-Founder of Justice for Women and activist for the abolition of prostitution.  Her latest book, The Pimping of Prostitution, was released in October 2017.
  10. Casey Stoney, footballer with Liverpool and England’s Women’s Team shows just how backwards men’s football is about sexuality.
  11. Phyll Opuku-Gyimah is co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride. She sits of the TUC race relations committee and refused an MBE in 2016’s New Year’s Honours list in protest of LGBTQI persecution by colonial regimes.

The Attack in Manchester was an Attack on Women and Girls

Manchester 22

We now know the names of the 22 people confirmed dead in the attack in Manchester, and we know the 17 of them were women and girls.  Whilst not to deny or denigrate the lives of the 5 men that were also taken, it is essential that we view the attack as an attack on women. The attacker chose an event, an  Ariana Grande concert, with a fan base in which girls – preteen and teenage – dominate.

Daesh have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism.  The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology,  and in that respect Daesh is not alone.  Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over.  It is estimated that across the globe  66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year .  Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too,  countries with higher levels of sex  inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. The UK is no exception, this year, even before the attack in Manchester, at least 37 UK women had been killed by men.  Links between men who perpetrate violence against women  and terrorism are now being identified; and mass killers, including school shooters, are almost always male.

Gender is a hierarchy, the ideals of masculinity and femininity are critical tools in maintaining the oppression of women by men,  in the creation of men’s violence against women and the conditions that support and enable it. We cannot afford to fail to identify and name patriarchy as an ideology underpinning violence and we cannot afford to fail to name male violence against women in the Manchester attack.   If we want to end men’s violence against women and girls we will have to dismantle the structures that support inequality between women and men, without this almost any intervention that we might make will have little impact.

The prevent agenda, one of the 4 strands of the UK governments counter-terrorism strategy,  has been condemned as toxic and anti-Muslim, as reinforcing rather than healing mistrust, but cultural relativism is not the solution.   If we want to tackle terrorism, we need to understand and acknowledge that structural inequalities that create the conditions for violent hatred – be they grounded in patriarchy– or imperialism or  capitalism  – are critical and that solutions, if they are to have any impact, need to be equally ambitious.  We also need to make sure our definition of terrorism includes acts of violence perpetrated by those claiming to be motivated by the aims of ideologies held, or perceived to be held, by populations who are mainly white. Religion is one of the tools of ideology. We need to push for a secular state, that doesn’t have to be about the absence of religion from the lives of those who choose it, but it does mean the separation of religion and the state.   Of course if we are to learn from the mistakes of imperialism, this means that the West cannot impose secularism on the Global South.  But we can redouble our efforts to fight for universal Human Rights for all, and human rights fully encompass women’s rights. The right to life, the right to freedom from torture, the right to freedom from slavery: men’s violence against women and more broadly the oppression of women is an international human rights crisis.

Yes, now is the time for unity – and in that unity we should seek our connections to those killed and harmed in the name of violent and oppressive ideologies across the world.  We must be unified in our fight to identify, name and end all forms of men’s violence against women and girls and also to end hierarchies between women and girls.  Whether international terrorism or domestic terrorism, men’s violence against women and girls is used to control, disempower and degrade women and girls.  The attack in Manchester was an attack on women and girls, on our liberty, our safety, our lives.   The response to terrorism must always include the rights of women.

In memory of

Angelica Klis, 40

Georgina Callendar, 18

Saffie Roussos, 8

Kelly Brewster , 32

Olivia Campbell, 15

Alison Howe,45

Lisa Lees, 47

Jane Tweddle-Taylor, 51

Megan Hurley, 15

Nell Jones, 14

Michelle Kiss, 45

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14

Chloe Rutherford, 17

Eilidh Macleod, 14

Wendy Fawell, 50

Courtney Boyle, 19

Elaine McIver,43

And also,

Martyn Hett, 29

Marcin Klis, 42

John Atkinson, 28

Liam Curry, 19

Philip Tron, 32

The Closure of Eaves

planet of the apes

October 30th, ten weeks after the death of its Chief Executive, Denise Marshall, Eaves closed down. In just a few weeks, the women’s sector has suffered a double loss, of Denise herself and then of Eaves, the organisation she shaped and led. 38 years of expertise in delivering services for women by women is simply gone.

I worked at Eaves from 2004 to 2009 before I  became the Chief Executive of nia.  Denise, like me, was a proudly working class feminist Chief Executive. Eaves, like nia, was a service provider with a political vision, supporting women to escape from and deal with the results of men’s violence whilst committed to policy and structural change for women. Eaves and nia were two of the few remaining women’s charities that were unashamedly feminist and unafraid to say it: feminist, secular and abolitionist. We recognise that men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men and that religion, the law and the sexual exploitation and objectification of women reflect and reinforce sex inequality and contribute to a conducive context for men’s violence.

Feminist based services recognise that the ‘them and us’ between women who use the services and women who work and volunteer can be arbitrary and being a worker, volunteer or board member in a women’s organisation and victim-survivor of men’s violence are not mutually exclusive. Survivors of men’s violence against women and girls are present at all levels of nia, board members and staff, volunteers and senior management. Of course professional standards and boundaries have to be maintained but we’re in this together. This makes a difference, we don’t see victim-survivors as other.  This means that we’re better able to avoid the language and assumptions that pathologise women’s understandable reactions to men’s violence. We don’t diminish the women we work with, we don’t infantilise, we don’t blame. It’s not ‘those women’ or ‘those communities’, it is ‘us’ and it is ‘we’.

Austerity measures have hit women and the women’s sector hard. The cuts are a tool of an ideological agenda with the gap between who ‘Politics’ are done by and for and who ‘Politics’ are done to, becoming wider; and where conservative with a lower case as well as an upper case C is disguised as progressive. Eaves and nia both lost services that had been grown and created by women survivors and activists through the creation of contracts and the spread of competitive tendering to larger organisations with multi-million pound turnovers who are not specialists in providing services to women survivors of male violence and are not interested in the bigger picture of challenging inequality between women and men.

The lack of recognition of the value of the specialist independent women’s sector reflects the lack of value of women.  Victim Support, The Salvation Army and Hestia have been winning contracts for services for women (albeit increasingly with a gender neutral clause) through bidding low and offering commissioner rather than need and experience led responses and devoid of a feminist framework; all have male CEOs, only one has a female Chair of Trustees.  Generic services led by men can do the job just as well, or so some commissioners and policy makers believe.  Independent research tells a different story. This week, the same week that Eaves closed its doors, a study by the University of Suffolk showed that survivors of childhood sexual abuse felt most believed by Independent Sexual Violence Advocates and rated the services provided by independent specialist organisations – women run organisations – highest.  Victim-survivors know when you’re in it for the contract, not for them.

Feminist informed practice looks beyond the obvious and at the bigger picture.  Feminist informed practice considers unintended consequences, looking at how what we do in the here and now relates to the structural position of women. Those of us who provide feminist informed services ask ourselves whether our actions reinforce women’s assigned sex roles or challenge them? Whether what we do diminishes women and whether women who are disadvantaged by socio-economic, racial and other inequalities are excluded or further disadvantaged. A couple of weeks ago, a male CEO of a ‘domestic abuse charity’ proudly announced that the organisation where he worked considered the employment of men working in women’s services a good thing, because they act as positive role models.  He went on the say that men don’t do any of the supporting roles in the organisation and that the two men that the organisation employs are himself, the CEO and a maintenance worker. The boss and the ‘handyman’ are men,  those caring and supporting are women. Great. As a feminist, I don’t consider those role models; I call them sex role stereotypes.

At nia, resources are scarce, budgets barely balance, services are running at capacity, though often beyond and with waiting lists; staff are stretched and much of our funding for next year is unconfirmed.Last year, we provided face-to-face support to 1,060 women and girls and delivered 1,864 hours of counselling support, plus responded to 2,145 contacts to the East London Rape Crisis Information and Support Line and delivered training to 277 professionals. Eaves will not be the last women’s organisation to fall.  I remember the scene in Planet of the Apes, the 1986 version, when Astronaut George Taylor sees the Statue of Liberty in the sand and realises he has gone in to the future.  I don’t want future generations of women to have to rebuild the women’s sector, but I’d love it if they didn’t have to because because men’s violence against women, girls and children had ended.

The sadness and loss I feel at the demise of Eaves feels like a cruel aftershock of the believing disbelief I felt on 21st August, the day Denise died. We will miss our sisters at Eaves. The fight to end men’s violence against women and support women who have suffered men’s violence continues. It will continue as long as men’s violence against women and girls continues; in our work – paid and unpaid – and our activism, wherever we are, especially when women who have experienced men’s violence say that we’re the ones who best meet their needs.

If you would like to donate to support nia’s work with women, girls and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence, please do so here.

Socialist Resistance and Sisterhood

Last year I wrote a piece for Socialist Resistance.  I talked about my work for a feminist women’s charity working with women who have experienced men’s violence in the context of some of my thoughts about feminism and social class.

I have asked Socialist Resistance to take the piece down following their behaviour towards another feminist, Glosswitch.  You can read about what happened – and the piece that she was asked to write –  here.

As a working-class woman, my sex-class is as important to me as my socio-economic class. Women’s oppression is biologically based and reinforced by socially constructed gender.  Though not the same, there are similarities to the way that access or lack of access to material resources is reinforced and reproduced by the different life chances and opportunities afforded to a person on the basis of social class.
I will not turn my back on my sister.
The piece I wrote for Socialist Resistance, which was written in the format of an interview, appears below for anyone who is interested in the challenges of balancing feminist activism and work in the women’s sector.


SR: You run the blog Counting Dead Women. Fatal male violence is perhaps the most easily measurable indicator of violence against women. What is the extent of the problem as revealed by official data and your knowledge of the subject?

KIS: I started counting dead women at the beginning of 2012 when 8 women in the UK were killed by men in the first three days of the year. I was frustrated that connections weren’t being made and the systemic nature of male violence against women was being ignored. Once I started counting, I found it difficult to stop, partly because through doing the counting, I feel like I’m learning so much that just isn’t there in the official statistics. Plus, I think the way official statistics are presented takes away the humanity of the women and it’s too easy not to be horrified by what is happening to women at the hands of men. I’m not sure that fatal male violence is the most easily measurable indicator, mainly because, as your question suggests, official data hides the extent of the problem, and I know how much time I have to spend trying to keep a record of women killed by men in the absence of official statistics.

Currently available Home Office statistics tell us a lot about the relationship between a murder victim and their killer. We can see the sex of the victim and whether they were killed by partner/ex, their child, parent, other relative, acquaintance or a stranger but the sex of the killer within or across these categories isn’t revealed. For example, official statistics tell us that on average in the 11-year period between 2001 and 2012, 11 women a year were killed by their child. Through Counting Dead Women, I’ve found that in 2012, 16 women were killed by their son, in 2013 it was 13 women and by the end of September it’s 9 women. So most –almost all – women killed by their child are killed by their son, and this has been completely hidden by the official statistics.

There’s also the issue of whom to count, for example, what about men who aren’t found guilty of murder, but manslaughter? (Murder’s a bad enough word for disguising the sexist nature of fatal male violence against women but the word manslaughter wipes women right out of the picture). On top of that there are cases where the man is found guilty of neither murder nor manslaughter, including a woman killed last year who was found hanging naked above her bloodstained bed with more than 30 injuries and the man who the court deemed innocent of killing her, found by police sleeping below her.  I’ve grappled with the issue of defining fatal male violence against women since I started recording women killed. At the moment, I’ve settled for women, aged 14 years and over, women killed by men in the UK and UK women killed overseas. Regardless of the relationship between the woman and the man who killed her; regardless of how he killed her and who else he killed at the same time; regardless of the verdict reached when the case gets to court in our patriarchally constructed justice system created by men and continually delivering anything but justice to women; regardless of what is known and not known of his motive.

SR: The organisation you work for, Nia, was formerly called the Hackney Women’s Aid (HWA). On the site it says it’s “committed to working within a feminist ethos”. How does that make it different to other groups doing similar work?

KIS: Sadly, even us calling ourselves feminist makes us different, it’s increasingly rare that women’s groups do that. But of course it’s more than that.

It means that our work names male violence and that services are provided in a framework which recognises that there are inequalities between women and men in society, and that male violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of inequality.   That we don’t see male violence against women as reducible to individual acts perpetrated by individual men, but as a key instrument of men’s domination of women, supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.

Having a feminist approach means that we believe women when they tell us about what has happened to them and we do not blame women for what has happened to them.

It means that when we talk about empowerment, we’re not talking about women feeling good if they make certain ‘choices but that we recognise that power imbalances exist between individuals and groups and  sex, race, class and other forms of structural inequality limit choice and life chances, and ‘choices’ are made within a context of power imbalances. We see our role as to help women and children understand the options available to them and to support them in making choices within the limits of those options and to advocate on behalf of the women and children that we work with as individuals and collectively.

Delivering feminist informed services means recognising that women and girls have specific needs that are not met by services not informed by feminism, that women, girls and children who have experienced male violence have a diverse range of needs, that we provide services that are sensitive and responsive to women’s individual and collective needs, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach

It means that we don’t just deliver services but try to raise awareness of male violence and power imbalances and campaign for change.

SR: Organisations like the HWA emerged with the rise of a mass feminist movement and many of them vanished. Others have been “professionalised”. This makes them more accountable to local and national government and, perhaps, less obliged to be answerable to the women who use the services. Is this a tension in the work that you do?

KIS: Absolutely. I’ve been working in the sector for 24 years, and I’ve seen domestic and sexual violence become much more mainstreamed, but as that’s happened, the feminist perspective that was central to the movement has become diluted.

I’m angry that in the 1990s more secure funding was offered to independent organisations running specialist services that had been developed by survivors and activists; funding that came with a contract for services from their local council. But since around 2005, these contracts have been put out to tender by the local authorities that provided the funding and too often sold off to the lowest bidder able to meet a service specification. We’ve lost too many specialist women’s organisations and it is continuing. It’s harder and harder for independent women-led organisations to survive, and the fight to survive takes away energy that we should be spending on supporting women, girls and children and campaigning for change.

I wouldn’t say ‘professional’ and ‘feminist’ have to be mutually exclusive – and that’s a balance we try to maintain all the time – but nia is currently funded by around 20 different funding streams, each with its own set of targets, outputs and outcomes, usually but not always set by the funder. We have to meet those targets or we lose funding, and if we drop out of the picture and the work goes to an organisation that isn’t built upon a feminist understanding of male violence against women, then that’s a massively retrograde step for women, in my opinion.

It’s a constant struggle – and incidentally one of the reasons that my blog and Counting Dead Women are so important to me. Most of my working hours are spent on ensuring the viability of nia and the quality of our services. It’s only in my own time that I get the chance to think and write about male violence against women.

SR: The government is determined to pare services to the bone. How is this affecting services like yours and the women who use them?

KIS: I’ll give you an example of something that happened with a refuge: In 2010 a contract was advertised at a maximum value of £419,000 per year to provide 33 bed spaces in 5 refuges, the local women’s group had been providing refuge for over 30-years. When the contract was awarded, it went to a large organisation that wasn’t a specialist women’s organisation, they had bid for the contract at £338,462.

The local area did not lose refuge spaces but in order to meet the lower contract value, the new organisation managed to circumvent employment protection laws and made all the existing staff team redundant, offering them new contracts at lower rates, more hours per week and less annual leave. Most accepted. Since then, as staff left and new ones were recruited, salaries were offered at lower rates. With this sort of contracting the central focus becomes not ‘What could we do for women and children with this money?’ but ‘How could we deliver the specification outlined in this contract – and nothing more – for the least possible cost?’

I have heard from former colleagues working for such organisations that they have been pressurised to offer jobs to applicants that they do not believe have sufficient skills, experiences and aptitude.

With the loss of that contract, the viability of the area’s specialist women-led charity was threatened. Charity central management and administrative charges are frequently the subject of scrutiny, with the assumption that a charity with lower central costs offers better value. But it isn’t that simple. In order to operate legally and safely, there is a point at which further cuts to core costs cannot be made. The higher the organisation’s turnover, the more there is available for central services, and the more opportunity there is to introduce economies of scale. In this example above, the charity has survived – only just – up to now, but across the country many have closed, including specialist BME women’s services.

Quality services protect but quality costs. Nia holds three separate quality marks: Rape Crisis Service Standards for East London Rape Crisis, and both the Advice Quality Standard and CAADA Leading Lights for our Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy service. Attainment of all three service standards requires provision and proof of quality of service, of management, of policies and of governance.   It is more expensive to provide better quality services and even more expensive to demonstrate that you do.

How does this affect women? I regularly hear of women being turned away from refuges because they’re deemed to have support needs that are too high, or because they don’t speak English. One refuge turned a woman away saying she had an alcohol problem because she said she drank two glasses of wine a night. Women are provided services by fewer staff and by staff who are less skilled and have less experience. And the gap between us and them, staff and ‘service users’ changes fundamentally. Women’s services used to be primarily run by women who knew that we were no different from the women using them, many staff ourselves survivors of male violence. I see that less and less now, and think women ‘service users’ – women who have experienced male violence and are responding in a completely rational and natural way – have become pathologised.

SR: The idea of women only political spaces is one that has always been contested. Why isit an important idea to defend?

KIS: Men dominate, they take up disproportionate space, whether we’re talking politics or public transport. Men define and steer parameters of discussion and women are socialised to listen and allow this.

I think with male presence, it’s all too easy to lose what feminism is – the struggle for women’s liberation from male oppression – and for it to become about equality and before you know it, the discourse becomes one of men’s suffering. Men get too defensive when women discuss male power, male violence, male entitlement, male privilege; frankly, we’d get nowhere because we’d take up all our time responding to men who manage to make the issue about them all the time. Get a bunch of men together talking about male violence and see how quickly the subject of male victims comes up, or take a bet to see whether ‘male victims’ or ‘not all men ‘comes up first.

It’s good to experience being a woman away from the male gaze, away from men’s agenda, I don’t think it’s possible to stand back and truly understand how women are affected by men with them around. Even outside of politics, women only spaces are rare and precious, something that too many women never even experience, even for that reason alone they’re valuable.

SR: You wrote that ” feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression”, quickly adding that you’ve no idea what a society without patriarchy would look like. How does that translate into action and change?

KIS: I think it makes it clear that sweating over the small stuff isn’t going to get us very far. That doesn’t mean small localised actions aren’t important but that we need to frame them within a broad structural framework. For example, when women are killed by men, there are frequently references to police failure. But all the tinkering with police procedures in the world won’t end male violence, not in a society where women are objectified and commodified, where socially constructed gender is a vehicle for women’s subordination, where the law was created by rich white men and serves rich white men’s interests. It means I’ve got low expectations for genuine large-scale change within my lifetime and I can see that could lead to despondency, but I hope that my actions as a feminist take us a small step closer to such a society.

SR: You are from a working class background. Has that influenced your feminism?

KIS: I’m not only working-class, I grew up in the North in a mill town in the ‘80s, when the decline of manufacturing, like the decline of mining in other parts of the North and Midlands, meant that the day-to-day lives of ordinary people went through a massive change in a generation. I genuinely couldn’t see how my life could have more in common with what I called ‘posh girls’, than the lads who lived in my street that I hung out with. I was social class conscious before I was sex-class conscious. So the first thing my class influenced was me thinking that the premise of feminism was daft.

And then I started to learn about how sex class and social class combined to create a particular set of circumstances for working-class women that were not the same as those for working-class men and to understand how things that I accepted as inevitable were anything but. Although I was too young to have been a risk as a victim, growing up in Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s meant growing up knowing that we weren’t safe because of ‘the ripper’ (Of course we didn’t know he was Peter Sutcliffe before he was caught). There was male violence against women in my family, friends’ families and friends’ relationships, like many young women I had direct experiences of male sexual violence, but without a feminist analysis I had no concept of this as part of a continuum of male violence that functions to control and restrict all women. I was surrounded by male violence but unable to see it.

That the Equality Act 2010 covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class and not poverty, should be scandalous. It’s a bit like us not being able to analyse and challenge male violence, if we can’t name it. There can’t be a strategy to address life chances that are reduced by class and poverty if we don’t recognise them as fundamental causes as well as consequences of inequality and disadvantage. And it’s not just about a reduction in social mobility, because to have social mobility you need ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. I honestly think that class has become one of the least well understood inequalities. I’ve had people who don’t understand class politics tell me that I’ve ‘lost my working class credentials’ because I’m a CEO. That’s what happens when politics gets reduced to identity politics, ie non-politics. Being working class too often means having lower aspirations, settling for less and certainly being judged as less. I still see the surprise register when I speak in meetings full of people that haven’t met me before and a Northern working-class accent comes out.

As my life experience has broadened, it’s helped me understand the need for feminism to take account of multiple inequalities, like race, disability, heteronormativity; and to understand that if we don’t stop and think, we end up making assumptions that exclude and ignore and won’t change the lives of women who are not always in the forefront.

Feminism: Nope, it’s still neither for nor about men

Hooray!  Feminists have managed to make inequality between the sexes so obviously ludicrous, so obviously discriminatory, so unpalatable, that even men want in on the act. Sadly though, I think this is more an ‘own goal’ than a cause for celebration. It’s not unusual any more for a man to say that he’s a feminist, and it’s even less unusual for women to say that men can and should be involved in feminism.  But for this to have become possible, it has been necessary for a shift in the understanding of what feminism is. Feminism, women’s fight for liberation from male oppression, has become widely understood as the struggle for gender equality.  That this shift has happened as men have clamoured to be involved, is not a coincidence. Invite the oppressor to the game and the goal shifts. But the shift renders feminism meaningless.  Gender is a social construct, it is one of patriarchy’s best tools for maintaining inequality and the illusion that inequality between the sexes is natural and inevitable.  Gender is a hierarchy, it is subordination and domination sugar coated in pink and blue. Gender equality is an oxymoron, gender is inequality. Feminism needs to fight for the eradication of gender, not for it to be enshrined and protected in legislation.

As Andrea Dworkin identified, feminism requires that which patriarchy destroys in women, our ability to confront and resist male power.  As women, too many of us are caught up in societal Stockholm syndrome.  As an oppressed group too many of us have bonded with those who hold power and see society though their perspective.  It is an understandable survival strategy, but it is also one of the ways our collusion is created.  I understand how women love their male partners, their sons, fathers, male friends and relatives.  I understand that some men, maybe even many or most men, are good men who respect women and purport to or even genuinely desire equality with women. As a sentient human being I understand that masculinity encompasses ways of being that some men reject or even feel imprisoned by.  As a human being, I can sympathise with and support their desire for change. Yet cries that ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ leave the feminist in me unmoved. These positions are not mutually exclusive, but feminism needs to centre on women’s oppression, tinkering with gender equality will never produce the change for women that feminism demands. Whilst feminism must ensure that the additional structural oppressions faced by some women are not ignored and cannot be blind to the ways that class and race bring advantages for some women and disadvantages for others, the focus must be on women’s oppressions, not on men.

When we look at male violence against women, the difference between a liberal and a radical feminist analysis is the difference between looking for individual or class solutions.  One of the biggest gains of feminism is getting male violence against women on to the policy agenda and almost seen as a mainstream issue.  The biggest threat against this gain, is that those male dominated institutions of power, under the auspices of dealing with the problem, have shaken all but the barest hint of feminist analysis from discourse on the issue. To end male violence against women, we need to end male power, and dismantle all the institutions that uphold male supremacy.  It is this power that creates and is reinforced by male violence against women.  We will never end male violence by believing that we can change one man at a time, though sensitising education programmes. We will never end male violence against women by being gentle to men and sympathetic to the harms of masculinity to men, not without destroying the institutions that uphold and create male supremacy. We will never end male violence against women, against children, even against other men, if we fail to recognise and name men as the overwhelming primary perpetrators of  almost all forms of violence.

A 2014 study of the worldwide cost of violence, found that domestic violence against women and children costs $8 trillion each year and is the biggest single form (and cost) of violence, yet that same study fails to name the issue ‘male violence’ against women and children. Male involvement in the field of male violence against women became ‘men can be victims too’, became the failure to name male violence and this allows male violence against women as a cause and consequence of inequality to continue. How many men genuinely choose not to see the massive imbalance that is violence between the sexes, male violence against women? How many men do not know that rape, assault and murder of women are wrong? Men who want to support women in our struggle to end male violence need to join us naming the problem, they should not need to demand access to our spaces to do so.  Men need to see male violence against women as the problem, not create women’s violence against men as a false equivalent and not place this as secondary to them learning how not to be harmed by masculinity.  When we look at homicide, there is no sex equivalence, women are overwhelmingly killed by men; men too, are overwhelmingly killed by men.  When men kill their women partners and ex-partners, it is usually after subjecting them to years of abuse, the comparatively few women who kill male partners or exes, usually do so after they themselves have been subject to years of abuse. There is no equivalence, not in rate, not in precursor to killing. Men need to learn to listen to feminists, to learn from us, rather than fight to have their voices be the ones that feminists listen to.

Men, through their socialisation, their training to be the dominant class, dominate space.  Mostly they can’t see this happening, and women, through our socialisation are equality taught not to see this. Last month I attended a conference on fatal domestic violence.  According the delegate list, 91 out of 101 attendees were women.  After the first session of speakers, questions were invited from the floor, the first two ‘questions’ were from men. Taking the composition of delegates to be 10% men and ignoring all other differences between the sexes, the statistical probability of this happening is one percent. One percent, but any feminist attending similar conferences will be able to tell you that this isn’t unusual. Why? Gender.  Male entitlement and men and women’s socialisation in to our genders make this unnoticed and accepted.

Feminism needs to be radical, not liberal.  Radicalism understands that oppression is group based harm, liberalism is individualist.  Not only has feminism been reset as gender equality, the notion of ‘choice’ of the individual has become one of its central tenants. This is another false lead. Of course women must have the right to choose, but our choices need to be understood in their wider social context. Women ‘choose’ to wear restrictive and uncomfortable clothes and footwear, to maximise our assets, to flaunt our curves, to sell sex, to view something called beauty as desirable and saleable because society has been constructed to maintain inequality and the best way to maintain social power is to persuade an oppressed group to collude with their oppression. Men are raised to believe in their entitlement to women’s bodies; sexual objectification, pornography and even non-sexual objectification of women create this. Women have been socialised to view ourselves through the lens that is the male gaze because society is built upon those foundations. The objectification and commodification of women, like male violence against women, like gender, are means of maintaining male supremacy.

Men, I do not want you in my feminism. I want something a bit more complex than that. I would like you to realise that feminism is not about you, it is not about what men need but it is about what your class does to women. I would like you to shut up and listen and learn.  Then I would like you to take that learning and communicate with and change other men. You do need to want to change society. You do not need to call yourself feminists to do this.  You do not need to be part of the women centered space that is feminism. You do not need to alter the goals of feminism so that you are included.

By the time the precious few men that ever realise that they are advantaged by patriarchy get round to realising it, they have already benefited from being socialised as men and their awareness does not prevent them from continuing to benefit from their socialisation and from how society treats women and men as a class.  Every man benefits from male supremacy. Feminism cannot succeed if we allow the very goal of feminism to be hidden or extinguished. If our goal as feminists is not mass social change, the eradication of male power, but gradual blurring of the boundaries between what is deemed masculine and feminine, then sex inequality will never be erased. None of this means that men do not have a role in creating change, but that feminism has a particular role in creating how we understand the change that is needed.  We can’t create equality from a system that is predicated upon inequality. We cannot afford for feminism to become the fight for gender equality rather than the end of male supremacy. This is why feminism cannot be for or about men. If our feminism does not make this obvious, which sex benefits from things staying as they are?

What does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

To everyone – woman and man – who says they’re a feminist because they believe in equality, I have to ask you, what does it look like, this equality that you speak of?

Gender.  You probably want gender equality, don’t you?  But gender is inequality. Gender is the convenient invention, the way we train women and men to be different, to be unequal. Gender equality is a smokescreen. Gender is a hierarchy.  Feminine, masculine, they can never be equal, they are subordination and domination dressed up in frilly pink and crisp blue.

You mean wage equality, right? Are you going to achieve that by equal pay for equal work? Yes? Or no? ‘Cos that’ll never do it.  Work has no inherent value and just somehow, we’ve ended up with women’s work undervalued, so unless we all do more of the same, or unless we increase the value of what we see as ‘women’s work’, we’re stuck.  Wage equality without radical reform, is an impossible dream, never to be realised with the Equal Pay Act.

Child birth? Are you looking for a brave new world where that is equal? Or a world where bearing and rearing children does not render women unequal?  Are men gonna wipe an equal number of bums? Babies bums? Sick folk’s bums? Old folk’s bums? Equality of sharing, caring, cleaning and weaning.

What about valuing women for how we look? You know, the patriarchal fuckability test?  Are men going to be equally judged by what they look like, rather than what they do? Women can chose to walk in painful heels, to maximise their ‘assets’, to flaunt or enhance their curves. Some women enjoy that femininity shit, don’t they? You surely believe in a woman’s right to choose, don’t you?  Of course you do. But what do we chose? Why do we? If we’re equal, would we? And those that choose not to, will they be equal too?

What about war? Do you want women to start an equal number of wars to men?  To fight and die in equal numbers to men? To rape in equal numbers to men? For men to be raped in equal numbers to women? Which is it?  How’s that going to work under your equality? What about no war? Maybe no war. But in this man made world of arbitrary boundaries and power struggles, how’re you going to achieve no war?

Democracy’s great, isn’t it? A cornerstone of equality, maybe, for sure?  But only 24% of the UK cabinet are women.  You’ll sort that out in the name of equality, won’t you? And where’s the equality when 6 percent of children go to independent schools but make up 45% of the cabinet?  When 61% of the cabinet graduated from just two universities?  5% percent of the cabinet – two people – are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.  What’s democracy again?  Power of the people,  ruling through freely elected representatives? It’s just that not everyone gets an equal chance of representing.  Just not rule by representative representatives.

What about the sale and purchase of women? Are men going to be commodified just the same?  Objectified? Pornified? Trafficked?  Pimped?  Ah, yes, but what about choice again?  That old turkey.  A woman’s right to choose to sell sex? Are men going to make the same choices? If not, why not?  Where’s the market? And how come it’s poor women, black women, in some counties indigenous women, who disproportionately make that choice?  What about their equality? What about mine? If some women are commodities and some men are buyers, how can any of us ever be equal? If my sisters are for sale, they cannot be, I cannot be, equal.

Equality under the law?  Yeah, surely you want that too.  But how are you going to get that, with laws written by rich white men to protect the interests of rich white men? When we have a legal system celebrated for innocent until proven guilty. When insufficient evidence is synonymous with lack of guilt, with innocence. Can’t you see how it’s stacked? When poor people, black people and women who have been abused are disproportionately found guilty, disproportionately disbelieved, where’s the equality?

When the Equality Act 2010  covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class, not poverty, what is even the point of pretending it’s about equality?

Male violence against women? Bet you believe in equality there too, don’t you? Domestic violence is gender neutral, right? Rape?  Those hidden male victims?  If you refuse to see inequality, if you don’t even believe that most violence is perpetrated by men, how are you going to achieve equality?  Which equality are you going for there?  Increasing the number of male victims? Increasing the number of female perpetrators? Can’t be reducing male violence, can it?  Male violence isn’t a thing, is it?

In all this and more, equality just doesn’t provide the answers.  Equality is a condition of a just society, not a cure for an unjust one.  So when I say feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression, this is what I mean.  Ending inequality is a big part of feminism, of course it is. But equality is impossible in the society that we have. That’s why feminists talk about smashing patriarchy because we need to think bigger. I don’t even know what a society free of patriarchy would look like.  I don’t know how we’ll get there, but I know we’ll never get there down the road called ‘equality’.

Early this year, I heard Bea Campbell ask ‘What would a world without male violence look like?’ Shit. I can’t even imagine that.

Forgiveness, Christianity and men’s violence against women

Desmond Tutu has been eulogising about forgiveness, he’s written a soon to be published book about it.  He’s a fan of forgiveness.  He has forgiven his father for his violence towards his mother, violence that Tutu witnessed and was powerless to stop as a child.   He explains that it took him years to realise that he needed to forgive himself, or the child that he was, for not protecting his mother.

No one needs to be forgiven for being a child unable to prevent one parent’s violence towards the other (usually a father’s violence towards the mother).  The child is never responsible.  There is nothing to be forgiven for.  But is it for the child to forgive the abusive parent?   What does it mean for a boy child to forgive his father for violence towards his mother, essentially for a man to forgive another man for violence against women?

Tutu has also, with difficulty he says,  forgiven himself for not making time to respond to his father’s request to see him the night before he unexpectedly died, an occasion which, Tutu imagines, might have been the time when his father sought to apologise for the violence he inflicted on Tutu’s mother.  There’s nothing to suggest that Tutu is correct in this belief.  It’s a convenience upon which he can pin his forgiveness.

It’s probably fair to say that Desmond Tutu is big on religion.  He’s a retired Anglican bishop.   I’d go as far as saying that he appears to have used his power and influence for good, but however closely allied to social justice, religion is conservative, it protects the status quo.  In a feminist analysis that identifies patriarchal society, religion has been shaped to protect men’s oppression of women.

Apparently,  in the bible there are two types of forgiveness: God’s pardoning of the sins of ‘his’ subjects, and the obligation of those subjects to pardon others. Being able to do so is so important that a believer’s eternal destiny is dependent upon it. Refusing to forgive is a sin.  Forgiveness then is a selfish, not a selfless act.  But it’s more than that, when talking about violence, it is an act that absolves the abuser of their responsibility. “No one is born a rapist, or a terrorist.  No one is born full of hatred,” explains Tutu.  He looks at how life chances have an impact upon the person we become, how none of us can say that we would not have behaved as an abuser behaves.  I disagree.  We are more than the product of our experiences.  We have consciousness, we make choices, we can see if our behaviour is harmful or hurtful to another. Abusers are always responsible for their abuse.  If someone’s ‘god’ , or indeed another believer, can absolve someone for the choices that they make, their responsibility is erased.

By reducing male violence against women to an individual relationship, one in which someone who is neither perpetrator nor primary victim can bestow forgiveness, we are ignoring, condoning – forgiving – the wider impact of men’s violence upon women, upon all women above and beyond that individual relationship.  We cannot allow a person to say that this is okay, that this is forgiven, but it appears that religion encourages us to do just that. Indeed, male violence against women can be forgiven by god.  That’s just a little bit convenient for patriarchy.

Male violence against women does not simply take place in the cocoon of an individual relationship. It is structural, it is systemic.  The pattern, the overwhelming consistency with which women are the victims and men the perpetrators  should be a big clue.  Male violence against women is not random, it has a function and that function is to maintain the social order of male dominance: patriarchy.  Male violence against women is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.    In the UK, the mainstream is very quick to identify ‘other’ religions as oppressive to women but this is equally true of Christianity. Religion reinforces and upholds patriarchy, forgiveness is just another of its tools. We do not need to forgive male violence against women unless we want men to continue to dominate women.