The wealth of legislation to protect women from violence, the increase in rights in the workplace and increased recognition of women’s health experiences, never mind the never-ending shelf space of books and research, would suggest that society is now aware of the inequality and oppression experienced by women. Yet individual women continue to starve, experience poor mental health and are beaten and murdered at epidemic rates. Alongside this, the total lack of progress on holding anyone to account would suggest that the theory may be understood, but the lack of commitment to change prevents real progress.
In 2021 in Scotland, it gets worse. As we wait with baited breath to see the impact of any SNP / Green coalition, many fear the wants of a Trans activists will undermine the needs of women, as manifested though the Gender Recognition Bill (GRA).
The concerns surrounding the impact of the GRA, and in particular Self-ID, are no longer a theory. In 2020 all three of the North Lanarkshire Women’s Aid groups lost their funding, with inclusiveness being cited as one of the reasons for the decision. There is a cruel irony that it is SACRO has been awarded the funds. It is traditionally a criminal justice service, another area where women are extremely poorly serviced.
Forty years of Women’s Aid has saved many women and children’s lives, but statistically women continue to experience domestic violence at the alarming rate. In 2018/19, there were 60,641 incidents of domestic violence reported to Police Scotland. Domestic abuse is only one form of male violence perpetrated against women and children, yet as a society we seem unable to hear their needs.
When it comes to women’s voices mattering there appears to be three communities of women in our society. The Silenced Community, the Ignored Community and the Enablers.
The Silenced Community has experienced the extremes of intersectional oppression over their lifecycle. Multiple forms of oppression, both linked to the fact they were born female or in relation to other discrimination, such as disability, race etc. Their words are not heard, seen or felt, unless sanctioned by an organisation, funded for such tasks, or legitimized by the presence of someone in a position of power, including women from the other two communities.
The Ignored Community of women have not experienced the levels of intersectional oppression of the first group. They may experience male violence, but have access to privilege and resources that increases their opportunity escape and recover. Furthermore their position reduces the opportunity for additional forms of violence and abuse in the future, e.g. a woman with her own home is less at risk of targeting by abusive males than a woman who is homeless. The Ignored community are allowed to highlight the experience of women whose screams are never heard, but within reason. Helpful only as window dressing so those in positions of power look as though they are responding. When these experiences are heard however they are individualized to the woman, through a lens of over medicalization. Labels such as Borderline Personality Disorder are introduced when the support networks of the woman cannot be convinced that she is “bad or sad”. The woman is then subjected to control rather than support and the misogyny she experiences again becomes invisible.
This is why violence against women services exist. They were the concession to women in a society where they were treated as less than human. Those in power would do well to remember they also reduced the need for women to turn to homicide to escape torture and abuse at the hands of partners. This concession is now under threat.
For those of us who have resources and support, using these services for escape and recovery from violence is an additional specialised service. Chances are it will be temporary support and backs up our own support networks.
For women who have few options or where the violence and abuse has brought additional experiences of oppression, such as to those who turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, it can be the difference between life and death. Women from all backgrounds use violence against women services, but it can be argued that working class women require them the most.
Sarah Everard’s murder highlighted a moment in time when those women with more resources and options recognized their vulnerability. Here was a woman who “had done everything right” e.g. dressed right, walked right, lived right. Yet a man believed he could remove her right to life. The chances are he will receive a long custodial sentence, partly to prove a point. Sarah however will still be dead, and more women will be getting taxis home, or will not feel able to leave the house at after dark.
The horror of Sarah's murder, and arguably the shock of the realization that Sarah’s perceived privilege did not protect her from male violence resulted in wide spread condemnation and protests. Yet at even at these protests some activists distracted from the oppression of women to focus on Transwomen, although it must be said not transmen, in their presentation on the media. One has to wonder what the reaction would be if a Transwoman was murdered and the activists diverted attention to the oppression of women as a sex.
This third arm of invisible misogyny, where women are rewarded for reinforcing the status quo of oppression, is the most insidious. This community of Enablers is given a place at the table, as long as they do not challenge the status quo. Not only does this reinforce male privilege, in all its forms, but it can also misdirect energies of those fighting for women’s rights. All increasing the opportunity for men to use their privilege to kill the most vulnerable among us.
We can only overcome this division by speaking to one another and holding institutions to account. Where women take longer to move from being Enablers to the feminists we need, we must circumvent them. Energy that can be spent preventing oppression and death, cannot be used trying to convince those women holding onto their privilege. They will come in time, but that is time some women do not have.