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Keynote presentation for Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians on preventing violence against women

Saturday 7 February 2015 - Role of women parliamentarians to end violence against women and girls

I was privileged to be a keynote speaker at the women's conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association (CPA) who had chosen "Ending violence against women and girls" as a theme, and asked me, in my twin capacities as prospective parliamentarian and expert on this topic, to present on prevention strategies.

My full presentation is here.

I was delighted and inspired by so many dedicated women parliamentarians determined to use their influence to bring in far reaching legislative and social changes to help prevent and end violence against women and girls.

Why does this matter? Because violence against women and girls is one of the main causes and consequences of gender inequality. It directly affects up to 50% of women in some countries and is one of the major causes of death and disability for women under 44 in the EU.

Yes, violence also affects men and boys as well and when we challenge the cultural, structural and legal features of our societies which support violence against women and girls we will also be helping to end violence generally. I've also been involved in setting up services for male victims - an example is the work I've done at Respect to support the Men's Advice Line.

One key part of my presentation was the evidence base for what contributes to violence against women and girls. In 2009, the European Commission published the interactive model showing the results of Dr Carol Haggeman-White's massive meta-analysis of research on a range of forms of gender based violence.

Key contributory factors are gender stereotyping, a culture of impunity, strong codes of masculinity. If we want to end violence against women ending the cultural factors is critical.

Examples of how this has been done include banning strip clubs and other so-called sexual entertainment venues in Iceland, criminalising the demand side of prostitution in Sweden and the work done by the organisation I currently work for, Respect, in setting up domestic violence perpetrator programmes. All of these measures aren't just about employment conditions, although these are obviously relevant and important - they are also to help make sure that we challenge a culture where women and girls are treated as for sale and as sexualised objects.

This isn't just an ideological plea - it's based on evidence but also on experience.

How many men and women worry about their daughters going out on a Saturday night in town? How many of us would insist that they don't take a taxi home alone? How many of us know a woman who has been sexually harassed or groped in public? How many of us would prefer not being caught near a strip or lap dancing club late at night, fearing the sexual harassment and assault that tends to occur around these venues after men leave?

Parliamentarians, both men and women, can use their leadership to influence legislation and to be examples for change. They can use their voice and influence to stand up for the need to end violence against women.

Changing a culture of impunity requires brave, far-reaching policies as well as individual change in behaviour change programmes. I was excited by the prospect of these women parliamentarians taking these messages to their own countries.

I'm even more excited by the potential to help achieve this as a parliamentarian in Westminster, to help continue the excellent and pioneering work by so many Labour women MPs before me. From Jo Richardson seeing in legislation in the 1970s on domestic violence, to Seema Malhotra, the Labour Party's recently appointed spokesperson on preventing violence against women. Bridge Phillipson has done a huge amount to push the issue in parliament. And of course we've had amazing leadership from our current Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and from Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary in the last Labour government reforming the law on domestic homicide, rape and prostitution. The current cohort of parliamentary candidates includes three of us (me, Purna Sen in Brighton Pavilion and Jess Phillips in Birmingham Yardley) with decades of practical front line experience campaigning against violence against women and girls.

I'm so proud to be a feminist and a Labour party prospective parliamentary candidate.

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