Amy Dwyer discusses the importance of a societal shift in attitudes towards women, backed by legislation.
Women deal with misogyny every single day, in a variety of different circumstances, and we see that as commonplace and inevitable. This highlights just how far we are from gender equality. Unless women do not have to worry about walking home at night, wearing a short dress, being groped in a nightclub, wearing a hijab or having to cover their drinks, society is not doing enough to protect and support women. In a Home Office report into hate crime statistics the omission of misogyny and hate crimes based on gender is stark and speaks volumes to how authorities view gender-based hate. Women of colour are already more often victims of abuse and misogyny, it seems at present the government does the bare minimum to protect any women, let alone those that are more likely to be catcalled and abused. The experiences of these women are being ignored in the government’s neglection of the need to recognise misogyny as a hate crime.
Incorporating misogyny into existing hate crime frameworks has proved difficult and divisive in some cases. Even an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that requires police to record and track crimes motivated by misogyny, that still went short of establishing misogyny as a hate crime did not make it into law. Many have given the excuse that it would be difficult to introduce misogyny as a hate crime, given the absence of any legal definition of misogynistic behaviour. While this undoubtedly does make things more difficult, putting measures in place to deter misogynistic behaviour and provide better protection to women should make this worth the time and energy required to create a robust legal definition.
It is incredibly important to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, as this validates female experiences in this country. Legislation that clearly states that gender-based hate is a crime validates hate that women have experienced in their everyday lives and this is central to changing society’s views of sexism. It is only when we address and shed light on this issue, that we can address the root causes of violence against women and tackle them.
Nottingham Police became the first police force in the country to allow women and girls to report cases of misogyny in 2014. This has been seen to contribute to women across the city feeling safer and supported when dealing with misogynistic behaviour. Other police forces have begun to follow this lead and voluntarily take action, which is positive and shows that the movement to get misogyny recognised as a hate crime is gaining ground. However, it should not be down to individual police forces to decide whether to take misogyny seriously or not.
We need real leadership on this issue, for too long it has been pushed to the side on the basis that it would be difficult to introduce misogyny legislation. The neglection of the issue has gone on for too long and has meant that 85% of young women have been sexually harassed in public places, without it being taken seriously by the government. The mayors of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield city regions have all backed the amendment to the domestic abuse bill and this constitutes a positive step forward. But it is not enough in itself to have police forces track instances of misogyny. We need tough and clear legislation to recognise it as a hate crime and charge perpetrators accordingly. Only then will women be given the support and validation under legislation to protect them from gender-based hate.
Grassroots campaigns have been established, such as Misogyny Is Hate which works with local authorities to build momentum for this issue. It is clear that such groups will form an integral part of the campaign, as the government has been extremely passive on this issue. The most significant way to make them pay attention to the issue is to build a strong coalition of public campaigns and gain the support of metro mayors across the country.
Amy Dwyer is studying for an MA in Politics and is an ambassador at 50:50 Parliament. She is currently the Women's Officer for the North-West Young Fabians.
She tweets at @AmyDwyer23