From Scottish Highlands to London, women are joining forces to fight back against male violence – Susan Dalgety

My diary entry for March 23, 2020, is particularly dramatic.

During lockdown, violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified and turned into a shadow pandemic, according to UN Women (Picture: Chris Etchells)
During lockdown, violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified and turned into a shadow pandemic, according to UN Women (Picture: Chris Etchells)

I stopped pouring my heart out onto a page after a teenage romance led to my eldest son. Somehow jotting down how many nappies I had changed in a single day didn’t quite have the same ring as “fallen in love” or “fab night at new disco!” And I never regained the habit.

But a global pandemic? Surely that deserves a passing mention among the to-do lists, meetings (TBC) and “pay credit card” reminders that pass for my contemporary record of history.

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“Virus!!! Lockdown begins!!!” I wrote, with a firm hand, followed by a few bullet points: “France is cancelled; no social contact; re-organising work in Malawi; book???” before finishing with a sad flourish: “Staying at home for foreseeable future…”

Hardly Samuel Pepys. Not even Bridget Jones. Just a woman trying to come to terms with her life being turned upside down, not quite believing it, but knowing something had changed fundamentally and forever.

My reaction was no different to everyone else when the first lockdown was announced: shock, fear, hypochondria, and a little frisson of excitement at something so untoward happening. A year later, as we remain in a state of stasis until at least the end of April, all I feel is numb, and not comfortably.

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If it weren’t for re-runs of Frasier, the best comedy ever made, Portuguese red wine and my husband’s quiet but comforting presence, I doubt I would have survived the last 12 months with my mental health still intact.

Tens of thousands of Scots haven’t, as Labour’s new leader Anas Sarwar revealed earlier this week. Nearly 25,000 calls to Scotland’s mental health crisis support line have gone unanswered in the last 12 months.

The First Minister admitted that was “not acceptable” but as she has her own personal crisis to deal with at the moment, it’s unlikely that the nation’s mental health is at the top of her “to-do” list.

There was one other, unexpected, element that helped me survive this most unusual year – my membership of a “women’s co-operative constellation”. No, I hadn’t heard the term either until I took part in research carried out by Professor Sarah Pedersen of Robert Gordon University.

Building on her book, The Politicization of Mumsnet, which examines how the website has become a central part of a resurgent women's rights movement, Prof Pedersen is now exploring whether an informal network of women has evolved in Scotland, using social media to campaign on women’s sex-based rights.

I took full advantage of my hour-long Zoom call with her. “I have met so many wonderful women on Twitter,” I bellowed (why do we shout on these calls?). “Women I would have never met in ordinary times – poets, academics, young women, older women, angry women.”

“And we have made a difference, even though we are all locked down,” I said, pointing to the growth of the grassroots campaign For Women Scotland and the support for Johann Lamont’s #sixwords amendment – “for the word gender substitute sex” – to the Forensic Medical Services bill.

“It is amazing how women coming together can make a difference,” I finished. “I didn’t know we had created a ‘women’s co-operative constellation’, but it is a wonderful thing,” I concluded.

Sadly, women’s solidarity is not only wonderful, it is needed now more than ever. Take this week’s headlines. Just one week.

The gunman who confessed to slaughtering eight people (seven women) in Atlanta was described by a (male) police officer as “having a bad day”.

“He was pretty much fed up, and kind of at [the] end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did,” said Georgia sheriff Jay Baker of suspect Robert Aaron Long’s alleged killing spree, as if shooting young women was nothing more than downing a couple of pints after a miserable day at work.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) was forced by the courts to change its plans for the 2021 Census in England and Wales. The statisticians wanted to make it easier for people to state their gender identity under the question “what is your sex?”, but the judge, Mr Justice Swift, ordered that the guidance be rewritten to make clear that respondents should only use the sex recorded on their birth or gender-recognition certificate.

The campaign group, Fair Play for Women, which took ONS to court, said after the judgement, “This is not a problem confined to the ONS. The idea that sex isn't just a matter of being born female or male, and that we all have a gender identity, has become embedded within organisations.

“As a result, sex is being overridden by gender identity in a whole range of public policies without proper scrutiny. It's women and girls who pay the price.”

And on Tuesday, the annual Scottish Justice and Crime Survey revealed that while crime overall has dropped by 46 per cent in the last decade, reports of attempted rape have risen by a third.

I could go on, but I have run out of words. The oppression of women and girls because of our biological sex is as ancient as humanity itself. The global pandemic has only made it worse.

UN Women revealed recently that violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified since the outbreak of Covid-19. We need to tackle this shadow pandemic, insists the global organisation.

The fightback has started. We may be stuck at home, but thanks to social media, women of all backgrounds, of all ages, from the Scottish Highlands to the streets of London and beyond are joining forces in a co-operative constellation.

In these times of change, we are coming out of the kitchen and onto Twitter. The sisters are doing it for themselves, standing on our own two feet, and this time we will win.

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