Lack of action on male violence is failing generations of women. So I will join those who wear black on Thursdays – Christine Jardine MP

There are times when it seems that being a woman is not just your gender but a daily challenge. This past week, even more so than usual.

More than two million people experience domestic abuse each year (Picture: Laura Dodsworth/Zero Tolerance)

Hope and renewal have usually been the prevalent themes of International Women’s Day in the years since I was elected.

We have talked about the female heroes of our youth, the causes they championed, the progress they made and the challenges we accept in continuing the fight against domestic abuse and violence.

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But this year was very different. So many of us had a heavy heart.

In parliament, in the media and in those conversations that are possible in lockdown, every discussion was laced with fear.

I am the mother of a 24-year-old daughter for whom I wished, and genuinely believed we could achieve a world which was much safer for her generation than it had been for mine.

But when I look at the domestic abuse figures, the week’s newspaper headlines and the reality of modern life I realise in so many ways we have not.

As a society we are continuing to fail.

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The danger of walking home

I do not want, and I am sure no parent in the country wants, to sit and worry for my daughter’s safety when she goes out for a run.

In their teenage or university years, we should not have to constantly warn and remind of the danger of simply walking home. But we do.

And it is not just the current generation that I fear we are failing but all those previous ones who worked so hard for progress in gender equality.

If the last year has taught us anything, however, it is how far we still have to travel.

It’s just a couple of years since we celebrated the centenary of the first women to vote and to be entitled to be elected.

Surely the Pankhursts, Millicent Fawcett, Emily Davidson and all suffragettes did not go through that struggle for us all to be reminded that if we are walking to the Polling Station after dark we should do so with our keys clenched between our knuckles for protection.

In this pandemic, we are seeing so much of the progress we have made in rights, womens’ and others’, being reversed almost before our eyes.

To take just one example, a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that mothers were able to do only one hour of uninterrupted work for every three hours done by fathers.

Margaret Thatcher’s impact

The UN estimates that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.

I was a journalist 25 years ago and experienced a time before many of the changes we saw in the decade around the turn of the century and now take for granted.

I would not want to go back there.

The role models I had as a teenager and young woman were crucial.

I have often spoken about Billie Jean King but not so much the impact that Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister had.

Regardless of her policies she showed my generation what it was possible to achieve.

For this generation too there are women like US Vice-President Kamala Harris who has smashed that seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling in the United States.

That country also now has its first trans woman senator, Sarah McBride, and we have seen the success of Kate Bingham in driving vaccine deployment.

Female Cabinet ministers are now commonplace and we have a female First Minister.

Locally, there's Sheena Hales who spearheaded efforts with RBS to get food and essential goods to people across Edinburgh at the height of the crisis.

But at a time when it feels like we have little to celebrate and have less energy than ever before to do anything, we have to work perhaps harder than ever.

Misogyny is a hate crime

The Domestic Abuse Bill which so many of us worked hard to get through the House of Commons is now at its final stages in the Lords.

It has taken four years.

More than two million people experience domestic abuse each year, and they have been left waiting far too long for this badly needed legislation.

An amendment originally introduced by Stella Creasy with my support will be discussed again and we are hopeful it could see misogyny included in the final Act.

Surely it’s time it was treated as a hate crime?

In Scotland, we also have an additional promise of a Women’s Bill of Rights after the election, although surely it could, indeed should, have been brought forward before now.

Social media this past week has been full of stories from people in the public eye, and people I know personally too.

They have shared experiences I knew nothing about until now. And everyone of them seems so tired.

Tired of being told what to wear or what not to, when to walk, where to walk, what to drink what not to drink. I could go on.

We need proper funding for refuges and Rape Crisis centres and to address the specific barriers to support facing migrant women who experience domestic abuse.

I and others were given assurances by Conservative ministers, but we cannot wait much longer. We have said time and again that government has to lead by example.

But society has to do that too, and we must do it as individuals.

One of those personal stories that I learned this week was a colleague who had a family member who was the victim of a horrific assault.

They have led campaigns to make women safe as part of which they ask supporters to wear black on a Thursday.

I shall.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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