“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
The concept of neutrality contributing to oppression appears to be fundamentally lost on Tory MP Philip Davies who last week attempted to filibuster a domestic violence bill. The bill aimed to ratify the Istanbul Convention and assist in putting an end to violence against women and girls. This disgraceful act came shortly after 16 days of activism launched on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November which sought to galvanise the movement to end violence against women and girls. In his lengthy speech Davies stated, “I think it’s so discriminatory and sexist to say that we should only be focusing on violence against women. If this was the other way round, there would be an absolute outcry from people in this house – and rightly so.” There should be an outcry, Mr Davies, because the statistics are disproportionately stacked against women. If you are concerned with ending gender based violence, then evidently you will start where the need is greatest.
The UN recognises that there is a specific issue in eliminating violence towards women and girls and this was enshrined in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were created by a team of interdisciplinary experts over a number of years, but it seems as if MP Davies wouldn’t want to listen to a bunch of experts. We live in an era of post truth, so if statistics tell us that two in three domestic violence victims in the UK are women, surely you would want to highlight this issue. Instead, MP Davies was allowed to ramble on for 90 minutes about why the bills phrasing has hurt his feelings. No doubt male victims of gender based violence need to be acknowledged. We need to start making space for men, but not by trampling on the women that have worked hard to have their voices heard. You would never dream of running into a HIV/AIDs Convention and shouting, “This is so unfair, what about those that have heart disease?” Everyone would think you were an idiot and they would be completely right.
This is not the first time filibuster extraordinaire Davies has tried to ensure that the oppressed will continue to be trampled on. There was the bill he blocked to ensure that hospital carers cannot get free parking. He also prevented a bill ensuring landlords would have to make homes fit for human habitation, and then he went on to prevent any discussion of a bill to reverse the privatisation of the NHS – all by using his nonsensical verbal diarrhoea. How can one man object to so many seemingly good causes?
Throughout 2008 MP Davies bombarded the government’s equality watchdog with a series of rambling letters ranging from why the Orange Prize for Fiction was solely open to women, to questioning if a domestic violence job that sought to recruit a BME female was discriminatory towards other applicants. Davies has stated on numerous occasions that he believes that society has become obsessed with political correctness and that he is simply asking the important questions that his constituents demand. I am not sure how addressing a large public health issue such as domestic violence with evidenced, based interventions became political correctness.
The UK Department for International Development continues to support projects that aim to reduce violence against women and girls abroad but we are struggling to correct the situation on our own doorstep. The direct action group Sisters Uncut came to the forefront a couple of years ago aiming to highlight the huge cuts the government continues to make to domestic violence services in the UK, often affecting mostly women of colour. Davies has been elected to serve on the Commons Women and Equalities Committee where I am sure he will make a concentrated effort to stall any progress, having previously stated that “feminist zealots” were attempting to choose equality only when convenient.
Having spoken to several victims of domestic violence whilst working as a junior doctor, neutrality is a luxury you can ill afford. One lady I met in clinic who was assaulted whilst in her third trimester, proceeded to loose her child and has subsequently never felt strong enough to conceive again. You cannot be neutral with regards to domestic violence – socioeconomic inequalities mean many women remain beholden to violent partners and unable to escape life threatening situations. The burden of domestic violence disproportionately affects women, many of whom will have children that will suffer as a consequence.
By Davies’ relentless objection to anything he deems too “politically correct” he has come to mirror those that he most despises. He appears to be objecting to all and sunder without acknowledging the facts before him. When you continue to blockade any progress to improve or alleviate oppression, well you have surely become the oppressor.