Tower Hamlets Council this week (17th March) agreed an urgent motion addressing the aftermath of the Sarah Everard protests and setting out a series of actions for the council to take to bring about cultural change.

The motion highlighted the impact and extent of violence against women and girls, the culture of misogyny in society, and the failures of the justice system which mean that crimes against women and girls are not effectively investigated and which sees only 3% of women who report rape having their case heard in court.

The motion also strongly criticised the police over their handling of the Sarah Everard vigil, and calls for an urgent and thorough investigation.

The discussion at the full council meeting is available to watch here, from 0:09:05: https://towerhamlets.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/540613

Cllr Asma Begum, Deputy Mayor who proposed the motion, said: “The motion we brought to full council is for all the women and girls in Tower Hamlets, but the actions are for all of us regardless of gender, and we need to come together as a borough in this watershed moment to make change and to make a lasting difference.

“Speaking out is so important but we also need to acknowledge that many women will not be ready to talk about their experiences, especially Black, Asian and minority ethnic women, who are also more likely to experience harassment, discrimination and racism. It’s vital that we have a change in culture, and that we reflect within ourselves about our behaviour and what we can do to empower women.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor who seconded the motion, said: “We have all been deeply moved and shocked by the murder of Sarah Everard and our heart goes out to her family and friends and to everyone who has lost somebody to violence in this way.

“We must hold a mirror up to ourselves and ask why we are having to have this conversation, and why it has taken this terrible tragedy for us to question the cultural attitudes that allow this to continue.

“Our motion sets out the need to listen and the need for immediate change, and it proposes actions that will go some way towards the change in culture that we absolutely must see happen.”

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “This must be a moment where we recognise that change needs to happen and where we all take action as a community to address why women and girls are not able to go about their day without being fearful for their safety, and address why women so often appear expected to bear responsibility for attacks based on their gender.

“As a Council we have an important role to play in bringing about change and we need to be tireless in our efforts to make this happen and to support and work with others to make change too. This motion and the actions we’ve agreed is an important step, and we must own this.”

Emergency motion – aftermath of Sarah Everard protests

Proposed by Cllr Asma Begum

Seconded by Cllr Rachel Blake

This Council notes:

  1. The murder of Sarah Everard has launched a wave of anger and protest across the country. Reports from the vigil held at Clapham Common show police officers using excessive force against protestors
  2. Blessing Olusogun’s death remains unexplained
  3. Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were killed after meeting friends in a park. Police officers were detained at the time on suspicion of misconduct in public office on the grounds that they took and shared unofficial and inappropriate photographs of the women at the crime scene
  4. Wenjing Lin, 16, died on Friday 5 March 2021 at her family’s takeaway restaurant in Wales
  5. Deaf and Disabled women, women from Black Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds and LGBTQ women are even more likely to experience harassment, discrimination and abuse. Women from diverse backgrounds experience abuse differently and male power is used against them differently.
  6. Women living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to experiencing violence and face disproportionate challenges in accessing the necessary support to make them safe. Lack of access to secure housing, precarious employment, difficulty accessing social security and poverty work to keep women in abusive situations.
  7. There are on average 12 honour killings every year in the UK
  8. Whilst serious physical assaults by strangers are rare, street harassment and violence against women and girls is endemic in the UK:
    • 80% of women of all ages have been sexually harassed in public
    • 97% of young women have been sexually harassed
    • One in two women are sexually harassed in the workplace
    • One in three women experience domestic violence in their lifetime
    • One in five women will be raped in their lifetime
    • 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner, and 3 women take their own lives following domestic abuse
  9. Women who report rape have a 3% chance of it ever being heard in court. Most women who survive domestic violence do not receive justice from the criminal justice system
  10. In Nottingham, police have trialled treating misogyny as a hate crime.
  11. Tower Hamlets Council has an established a Champions programme to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls
  12. Tower Hamlets has a No Place for Hate campaign to send a clear and consistent message that hate will not be tolerated in our borough
  13. Tower Hamlets has invested in Independent Domestic Violence Advocates

This Council believes:

  1. Male violence against women and girls is part of a broader culture of misogyny in society
  2. Perpetrators of serious violence usually have a history of inflicting abuse and harassment against other women and girls. Tackling violence against women and girls means dismantling this culture
  3. It also means tackling other forms of discrimination and the economic system that further enables abuse against women and girls
  4. That a justice system that allows one of the most heinous crimes to be effectively decriminalised is not fit for purpose. Sustained cuts to all elements of the justice system, as well as institutional misogyny mean that crimes against women and girls that are reported are not effectively investigated. The decision to fail to resource this work is a political choice by the Government

This Council resolves to:

  1. Stand in solidarity with protestors against violence against women and girls
  2. Call for an urgent and thorough investigation into the operational policing of the vigil which took place on 13 March 2021 and for swift action to be taken
  3. Call on the Home Secretary to thoroughly investigate the leadership of the policing of the vigil which took place on 13 March 2021
  4. Call for this investigation to be held sensitively in public
  5. Write a cross party letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner regarding the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil expressing our deep distress that a movement for the safety of women in public space resulted in images of Police Officers physically seizing and arresting women
  6. Call on the Tower Hamlets Borough Command Unit to prioritise investigating crimes against women and girls and ask them to ensure that people aren’t penalised when they report a crime
  7. Work with the Tower Hamlets Borough Command Unit on improving women’s safety
  8. Strengthen ward panels to have agenda items on hate crime incidents and domestic violence
  9. Call on the Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting VAWG
  10. Call on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No.190, recognising the right of everyone to work free from gender based violence and harassment
  11. Call on the Government to pass the Domestic Abuse Bill
  12. Call for investment in the whole justice system
  13. Call for the CPS not to insist that victims phones are confiscated, particularly when this isn’t necessary, and making this a condition for the crime to be investigated
  14. Work with women across Tower Hamlets, organising listening and peer engagement events, to submit evidence to the investigation into the policing at the weekend
  15. Deliver culturally competent services which fully serve our diverse population
  16. Support the design of a feminist city through our planning and design processes
  17. Educate men through campaigns and bringing in male active “allies”
  18. Utilise all our resources to publicise all missing women and girls
  19. Continue the Violence Against Women and Girls Champions Programme and all elected members should take part
  20. Work with schools and families to tackle toxic masculinity culture
  21. Join local, London and national networks working to end Violence Against Women and Girls
  22. Campaign for misogyny to legally recognised as a hate crime.
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