Today Sadiq Khan, who is currently running to be re-elected as mayor of London on 6th May, visited a pharmacy in east London’s Newham. That pharmacy was more than it seemed: staff inside are trained to provide a safe space for people experiencing or at risk of domestic violence. If someone is suffering, they can use the safe word ‘Ani’ and get help. This is part of a scheme – which provides a lifeline to survivors and victims – that was rolled out at the beginning of this year.
The reason for the visit? In the wake of Sarah Everard’s death and the conversation about violence against all women and girls, Sadiq wants to pledge his continued commitment to tackling this issue. Speaking to Refinery29 over Zoom afterwards, he called systemic patriarchal violence a “public health issue” and said that “men must change”.
As part of his campaign for re-election, Sadiq told R29 that he has already invested more than £1.5 million during the pandemic to provide safe spaces for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. He said: “It breaks my heart that so many women and girls do not feel safe in our country on a daily basis. And let’s be honest – these problems are caused by the unacceptable attitudes and behaviours of men.”
“It’s just not right that women live with a self-imposed curfew at nighttime because they don’t feel safe,” he added. “The problem is not just with the minority of men who are violent, the problem is also with those men who are sexist, continue to behave inappropriately around women, perpetuate a toxic form of masculinity or just stand by silently when women feel threatened or are being threatened.”
Men simply must change.
When asked what he, not as mayor but as a man, does to make women feel safer, Sadiq said: “I know that my experience of using the Tube is different to girls and women. I’m not going to be touched up or have a photograph taken up my skirt. When Gina Martin was upskirted, for instance, I was particularly struck by her story because I was at the same Killers concert as her when it happened. How different was my experience of that event because I am a man? It’s about realising that as someone of my gender in a public space, I have a very different experience to women. It might be about crossing the road if you’re behind a woman at night or adjusting how you behave on public transport to make women feel safer. I would encourage all men to do the same. Women should not be thinking about how to change themselves – the type of skirt they’re wearing or whether they wear heels.”
With this in mind, Sadiq told R29 that he supports better relationships education for children at primary school and sex education for students at secondary school from the bottom up as well as legislative change from the top down. “We need to look at the behaviour of boys and men which, in some cases, may be short of criminality,” he said. “This is why we need better education in schools as well as changes in the law.”
In terms of how he would go about this as mayor of London (a role in which he cannot submit legislation to parliament), he told R29 that he would continue to be “an ally” by lending his support and lobbying power to the campaigns of sector experts and survivors.
Violence against women and girls is a public health issue.
“I will campaign to make sexual harassment be made a crime in public spaces,” he said. As things stand, sexual harassment is not a specific criminal offence. “Before I was mayor, I met with the Labour MP Stella Creasy who talked to me about misogyny and I supported her campaign to make it a hate crime,” he continued. “I am disappointed that parliament is not currently properly addressing the concerns that people have.”
However, in light of the death of Sarah Everard and the heavy-handed policing of a vigil held to remember her, R29 pointed out to Sadiq that many women and girls also don’t feel safe around authority figures like police officers. What would he say to them?
“I hear you,” he responded. “I understand it. I can’t pretend that’s not how people are feeling and I think that we’ve got to make sure that we engender a situation where people have trust and confidence, not just in the police system but in the criminal justice system too.” Sadiq pointed to the London Rape Review conducted by Claire Waxman, the woman he appointed as London’s first commissioner for victims, which found that only 6% of rape allegations lead to a trial and only 3% lead to a conviction. “It’s hardly surprising that people have a lack of confidence,” Sadiq concluded, “the police service needs to do better.”
As part of his campaign, Sadiq will also announce measures to enable women to walk around freely at night, which include safer walking and cycling routes and proposals to improve lighting in public areas.
Luisa Porritt, Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor of London, said:
“There’s no single magic policy that will stop the violence women and girls are at risk of every day. Misogyny is deep-rooted across our society and tackling it requires action at all levels: from teaching young boys to respect girls, to conversations at the dinner table, to calling out colleagues at work, and leadership in public office.
“The tragic death of Sarah Everard sparked a national conversation about how to end violence against women and girls. But all too quickly, politicians turned to talk of tougher policing, suggesting plain clothes officers in nightclubs or more bobbies on the beat were the answer. Women don’t need our lives policed, we need men to change their attitudes and behaviour so we can live as freely as they do.
“As mayor of London, I would ensure that women lead the conversation so we finally get heard. I’ll take action at every level of City Hall’s remit to tackle gender-based violence and inequality – from policing to housing, transport, adult education, the workplace and beyond.”
Sian Berry, Green Party candidate for mayor of London, said:
“We have seen too many cuts to the services we know prevent violence, and women and girls are being especially affected.
“As mayor, I will set a target for zero murders – every life could be saved if we invest in a comprehensive public health approach to cutting violent crime and creating a safe city where misogyny and abuse cannot thrive.
“Only by investing in preventative action and ensuring that support services for women are fully funded will we ensure every woman and girl in London is safe.”
Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, was approached for comment.
London’s mayoral elections are on 6th May.
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