Words: Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East
For the past two years, as well as my local role as an MP representing some 90,000 constituents in east Bristol, I have also held a shadow portfolio in Labour’s foreign affairs team, covering international human rights issues. It was in this role that I spoke at a recent event, on Women’s Rights and Foreign Policy, highlighting some of the abuses faced by women around the world.
There was the 15 year old girl in the Maldives, raped repeatedly by her stepfather, who gave birth to a baby found buried outside her home. When questioned about it she confessed to sexual relations with another adult male and was sentenced to 100 lashes by the court for pre-marital sex. There was the gang rape of a 23 year old on a bus in Delhi, who died of her horrific wounds. In Somalia, a woman was sentenced to one year in prison after alleging she was raped by security forces. The journalist who interviewed her was also jailed. And in Morocco, a 16 year old committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. Most horrific of all, there was the recent case of an 8 year old child bride in Yemen, who died of internal bleeding on her wedding night, having been forced to marry a 40 year old man.
Although this is a grim list, there are positive signs that things are changing and can be changed. The young woman in the Maldives was pardoned by the Supreme Court and the convictions in Somalia were overturned. There were protests on the streets of India calling for justice after the gang rape victim died, whereas often before such cases were swept under the carpet. In Morocco, the law has now been changed so that a rapist cannot escape justice by marrying his victim.
Progress is being made, but it is slow. On February 14th this year, we saw the birth of “One Billion Rising” as women in 207 countries around the world spoke out against gender-based violence, forced marriage and FGM. In England and Wales, two women a week die at the hands of a violent partner, or former partner. The Office of National Statistics reported earlier this year that only 1 in 30 rape victims will see their attacker convicted (although many of course do not report their rape, and there has been a welcome rise in the number of successful prosecutions when victims do). And we have still not seen any prosecutions under the anti-FGM laws, although some tremendous campaigning, both in Bristol and nationally, has done a great job to help raise awareness over the past few years.
It is so important that we continue to speak out against gender-based violence, both here and abroad. We will mark one Billion Rising in our own way in Bristol next year, in solidarity with women around the world, and I hope that many readers of Bristol Woman will join us.