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Artillery Row

Women MPs should be representing women’s interests

It was ludicrous to talk about microaggressions in the aftermath of an alkaline attack

Do you ever worry that those who are meant to help us, are not actually brave enough to? That was the feeling that washed over me as I sat down in front of yesterday’s Newsnight and watched the very muted performance of Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, and Bell Riberio-Addy MP, who sits on that same committee.

Caroline Nokes has been a very vocal advocate of increasing the representation of women in Parliament. “Equal representation is a foundation of democracy,” she has said. But how is she actually representing women’s interests?

Discussing the evil alkaline attack perpetrated by convicted sex offender Adbul Ezedi against a mother and her 2 small daughters, Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark posed the question of whether it was concerning to the MP, that Ezedi’s asylum application was approved even after he was found guilty by a British court of sexual assault and indecent exposure in 2018. 

Labelling it “not the issue of concern” and stating that we “don’t know the circumstances” of the ruling, the two female MPs and champions of equality left me wondering what the point of their contribution actually was. Why did neither of the two committee representatives seem even remotely focused on the issue of a man’s asylum status taking precedence over the safety of women and children — which is what many of us have taken that ruling to mean.

It’s a depressing circumstance and one that has challenged my assumption of what progress looks like. What is the use of pushing for further representation of women in parliament if they are so ineffective on issues that concern us? Who is it that I need to sit in those seats in order to get a statement of conviction that what happened in Clapham could have been prevented if our systems were truly designed to protect the vulnerable.

Perhaps my cynicism is unfair. They are women working as political professionals — it must be challenging to respect the confines of the Equality Act (2010) and also express concerns on specifically women’s issues during interviews. Indeed, the committee itself has a broad aim, as it is designed to “hold the government to account on equality law and policy” and has 14 current inquiries investigating issues ranging from the rights of older people, to the escalation of violence against women and girls. It seems that they are having to constantly balance and consider everyone’s rights, even though the label of “women” is pride of place in this committee’s name.

Nonetheless, I find myself offended by the lackluster responses and ludicrous finish to the interview, where the subject of microaggressions and misogynistic culture was tacked onto the end of this very specific case. 

Ezedi’s attack had nothing to do with social media abuse

The Committee have published on these issues, rightly highlighting the influence of outrageous misogynists like Andrew Tate, and the rise of incel culture. But what this completely unnatural transition did was link together two wildly different subsections of aggression against women. Ezedi’s attack had nothing to do with social media abuse. His first offence was rooted in disgusting self-gratification, and this most recent assault is an expression of hatred and control; both acts were misogynistic and extreme, but neither appears to be linked to YouTube or rude language in the workplace. 

Perhaps the MPs were trying to divert the discourse onto safer and more comfortable ground. It is very easy to complain about the trolls. But it is more difficult to make complex and at times politically controversial decisions to protect women in practice.

Platitudes and polite fence-sitting on matters such as the asylum issue are frankly patronising, and are not traits I look for in leaders who are meant to represent my interests as a woman. Even if I were to disagree with them, I’d like to know what their position actually is, rather than be subjected to rhetorical handwaving. (Nokes cannot even seem to represent a liberal case in a clear, consistent manner. She was recorded as not voting on the Rwanda Bill, even after arguing that it endangered children.)

Fundamentally, I want more women and girls protected and the fact that mechanisms in our asylum process allowed this sex offender to be approved means that they are not being prioritised. 

It does not matter to me whether the person who pushes for change on such matters is a man or a woman. When we are in times like this, we need clear and principled voices that match their words with actions. Surely, the virtue of equal representation in parliament, is to achieve exactly this with a wider range of voices? If that isn’t true, then what is the point?

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