Is the UK a safe place for women and girls?

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
is the uk a safe place for women and girls?

This week in the UK, we have celebrated both International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day. 

Like others I have posted positively about the women in my life, but niggling in the background is my concern that despite this, many of those women we are celebrating don’t feel safe.

Women are still overwhelmingly more likely to be targeted by a stalker, sexually harassed at work and many experience anxiety and fear of being attacked daily.

Dubbed the Ivy League Supermodel, Cameron Russell recently published her book titled ‘How to Make Herself Agreeable to Everyone”. In her book, described as exposing the fashion industry’s dark side, she states that the better she was at being submissive, the better her chances of success.

During my time managing the threats, abuse and intimidation directed at Members of Parliament, it was clear that the abuse female MPs received was very different to that received by men. The abuse women received was more personal, more hurtful, more sexually violent. Whereas men were told they were useless and incompetent, the messages women received commented on their looks, figures, sexually attractiveness and shockingly, whether they were ‘worthy’ in the eyes of the abuser, of being raped. On the backdrop of the murder of Jo Cox MP, it was understandable that they felt scared. This was only compounded by the next real threat being targeted at another woman, Rosie Cooper MP.

However, below the surface and often unreported is the misogynistic culture that exist within the Houses of Parliament. The culture is one where the volume of sexual harassment and incidents of unwanted attention against women is high. It is also one in which most incidents go unreported. The House of Commons does not hold a record of how many allegations of sexual abuse and/or harassment have been made by parliamentary staff, despite the culture being described as ‘predatory’ and an unsafe workplace due to sexual misconduct by MPs.  If Parliament isn’t a safe place for women, why would we expect anywhere else to be safe?

The concerns of women are not exclusive to supermodels and politicians.

The murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer was a catastrophic incident not just for her family and friends, but for all women. It was the ultimate betrayal and a catalyst for a brief but quickly forgotten public conversation on the safety of women and girls. For those of us who have spent decades trying to make the world a safer place, the attack on Sarah Everard and the wider discourse was heartbreaking.

The widely reported Red Bull investigation, in which a female employee reported her concerns of the alleged behaviour of a high-profile figure is an example of the issues..

The investigation cleared the powerful male boss and resulted in the female ‘victim’ being suspended.  This experience is one that is familiar to women and however alarming, remains unsurprising.

Statistically two-thirds of women have reported that they have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, sometimes criminally.

Despite these figures, it is estimated that up to 75% of workplace sexual harassment goes unreported, (NSVRC, 2016). According to an article published by Agency Central, this is because 91% of workers believe that bullying and harassment in the workplace isn’t dealt with appropriately. 

When viewed from the context of the Red Bull investigation, there is reason why so few incidents of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace are reported. That reason is a fear of the reprisals to those who report their concerns.

One wonders what the appetite is for another female employee at Red Bull to report their concerns about inappropriate behaviour.

Only this week, I joined a small, select group at a private dining event, in which half of the group were women. Despite us all enjoying the evening, the women present each expressed to me a concern about getting home safely. This concern distracted from their enjoyment of the evening, but also reflected a wider issue that men are often oblivious to, the constant level of anxiety of women feeling unsafe.

If women and girls feel unsafe at work and when out in public, shouldn’t this be a priority issue for all political parties? Despite this, I don’t recall any party prioritising this issue and publicly declaring it as a critical issue for the UK. 

The reason this is a critical issue is because when people feel safe, they are better able to focus and perform at their very best. 

The Prime Minister recently held a press conference in Downing Street to talk about British values, at a time when women and girls make up 51% of the UK population, shouldn’t this issue be top of the list?

Should the subject of misogyny and the personal safety of women and girls be a mandatory subject in every educational establishment and workplace? 

I want the safety of women and girls to be a positive cultural issue of note in the UK, one that we can be proud of.

That is something worth fighting for. 

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