Gavin Newlands – 2022 Speech on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The speech made by Gavin Newlands, the SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons, on 1 December 2022.

It is a pleasure to follow the speech that the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) has just given. I congratulate the hon. Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) on securing this very important debate. It has become somewhat of a sad and serious tradition to mark the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls in this place. I have been proud to speak in many of these debates.

The hon. Member for Bristol South led off the debate powerfully and thoroughly. She started with an excellent point on the decision to host the World cup in Qatar, particularly as it runs over the 16 days of action. It is a shame that women and girls are not safe to walk their own streets.

The hon. Member for Thurrock spoke powerfully about the fact that this violence is carried out by male perpetrators. Every day, women take decisions to affect their own safety. The hon. Lady said she would like to see more men in this debate and in general in these debates, and I agree.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the Members present today are consistent and proud supporters of the movement. The hon. Gentleman—the hon. Member for Westminster Hall, as I like to call him—spoke of the different ways in which perpetrators target their victims and, indeed, the persecution of Christian women and children, an issue he does a huge amount of work on.

The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) spoke of her middle-class privilege, but I think it is fair to say that it is all of our middle-class privilege, rather than just hers. She was so right to say that all victims are not equal.

The hon. Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) spoke of a local police officer who told her that offences are up 76%. She rightly made the point that such horrendous stats are essentially the tip of the iceberg, with many women unwilling or, indeed, unable to report their abuse.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) set out his impressive bona fides as a very strong campaigner in this area. He added a very welcome international perspective to proceedings; some of his comments on the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict were particularly powerful.

The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) made the good point that, as she grew up, she hoped that the world would get better, but it is in fact less safe for her daughters walking the street. She spoke of her local Reclaim the Night march; I have attended my local Reclaim the Night march as well, but I was unable to attend this year as, sadly, it was on Tuesday of this week.

The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) was absolutely right to lay into the victim-blaming culture and to lay out the vast improvements in abuse legislation on both sides of the border but, as we have heard, all the legislation is for nothing without proper funding and enforcement.

The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) highlighted the Everyone’s Invited campaign, which works in schools. When I started working on the issue, I found the stats about abuse and violence against girls in schools to be the most shocking of all.

Last, the hon. Member for Bury North finished with a powerful speech focusing on enforcement and the scandalous levels of charging and conviction. We can all agree that that is an issue on both sides of the border; there is no politics to be had on that particular issue.

As others have said, there is an issue with the culture these days in social media. The management and ownership of certain social media companies is consuming a great deal of attention at the moment and I am sick to the back teeth of multibillion pound international companies hiding behind the curtain of free speech when we talk about online harms and the treatment of women and girls. Their version of free speech is the kind where rape threats and stalking are treated as minor misdemeanours, while posts about breastfeeding are deleted and users banned. The rampant misogyny that is allowed to spread almost entirely unchecked online is only getting worse since the takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk. It would be wrong to single out Elon Musk and his anti-woke agenda; all the social media companies are failing abysmally at sniffing out misogyny and are utterly disastrous at stamping it out. Together with the historically unprecedented ease with which young men and boys are able to access pornography—often violent pornography, as we have heard—we are seeing an utterly toxic environment unleashed on deeply impressionable minds.

At this point, the Online Safety Bill looks likely to fall short of forcing the media giants to accept some responsibility for the bile and abuse hosted on their servers and from which, in one form or another, they improve their profit margins. If we want to change, build a better society and provide safety for women and girls, we cannot rely on the social media companies to challenge things. It falls to us as individuals, and as a society, to do things for ourselves—that is why campaigns such as White Ribbon UK are so important. Since being introduced to White Ribbon in late 2015, I have been proud to support the campaign; indeed, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on White Ribbon UK. It has been a journey of discovery for me, going from what I imagine is the case for most men—an awareness of the cruelty and sadism of which others are capable, without looking too deeply at the reasons and complexities—to wanting to drive change forward in my own community and across the country through my work in Westminster.

I am proud to be a White Ribbon ambassador, along with thousands of men across Scotland and the UK. To support the campaign, we pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women. It is on the condoning and remaining silent where we can make real change. We will all have experienced behaviour or language from men whom we encounter that runs contrary to values of respect and dignity toward women. Too often, those behaviours are not challenged; they are put down as banter or old-fashioned, and left to fester.

I was pleased to host a coffee morning on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, bringing together those working to support survivors and community groups that work with men and boys in those communities. We were fortunate to hear from both Renfrewshire Women’s Aid and Jubilee House, a charity serving Renfrewshire and beyond, which I was lucky enough to visit recently. Its focus is on empowering families to live fulfilled lives, free from abuse, and pretty much anything that empowers women to live their best lives. I met Fiona from Jubilee House, who shared some of the great holistic support provided by the charity and emphasised the crucial importance of education and supporting women and children to recover and get on living once the initial emergency support has been provided.

Some of the facts and stories were, as is unfortunately always the case at such events, utterly shocking. Violence against women and girls costs the Scottish Government alone £2.6 billion a year. Up to 10% of women will be victims of domestic violence in any given year, and, as we all know, more than 80% of domestic abuse incidents involve men abusing women. Marianne from Women’s Aid highlighted the financial challenges faced by women who are affected by domestic abuse, and told us of the new Cost of Leaving campaign. In the light of the cost of living crisis, the need to highlight such challenges has never been more urgent.

Despite the horrific stats and narrative, that event was absolutely worth organising, and it is something that I want to do annually—well, for as long as I am in this place.

Jim Shannon

Hopefully for a long time!

Gavin Newlands

I know there is subtext to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

I want to ensure that organisations in my constituency know that support and help is there for them if and when they want to start making change among the people they speak to daily. Young men have dozens of interactions with friends and family every day, and those friends and family members will have hundreds more. Some of those conversations will be about women and girls, and of those, some will perpetrate disrespect and disregard for the rights of women and girls. If we can turn just a fraction of those conversations into something to be challenged or objected to, we can make a start—just a start—on nipping the attitudes in the bud before they are allowed to fester and develop into something more serious five, 10, 15 or 20 years down the line. That does not mean letting grown men off the hook, but helping a developing mind along the right path is light-years easier than attempting to put the genie back in the bottle in adulthood.

To conclude, I welcome the UK Government’s progress on ratification of the Istanbul convention, on which I have campaigned on for many years—indeed, an SNP colleague passed legislation on it—but the previous Secretary of State had reservations about ratifying it. I urge the Minister to speak to the Home Secretary and revisit the decision to opt out of articles 44 and 59, because migrants deserve the same protection as everyone else.

Despite the progress that has been made in removing the taboo around domestic abuse, to some extent it is still society’s dirty little secret. The attitudes of misogyny and bigotry that ultimately lead down a path of gender-based violence are still there and are, in some cases, being allowed to grow unchecked. It is incumbent on us all, not just as MPs but as human beings, friends, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, to bring that dirty secret out into the open and ensure that all of us—men and women—are fully aware of the carnage and horror that some of our ilk wreak on women and girls, because challenging those behaviours means knowing about them.