Banter? Public sexual harassment is corroding the lives of women and girls and it is not okay

·3-min read
 (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Last week the Home Office launched its violence against women and girls strategy with a recommendation to do more on public sexual harassment. As soon as this was published it was reduced to a conversation about banter and falsely ridiculed for aiming to criminalise wolf-whistling.

Addressing public sexual harassment was high on the agenda because it was one of the key things women told me, as an independent advisor to the Government, they were worried about. It was also one of the top concerns for the 180,000 submissions we had from the public.

Before I met with young activists, I had put my experience of sexual harassment in public aside, but I could not turn a blind eye to young women adapting their lives to avoid it. We have normalised abuse. To call what is happening to women and girls on our streets “banter” shows how out of touch we are. Public sexual harassment is corroding the lives of women and girls. It is not okay.

While the recommendations set out will focus on aggressive behaviour, they do not talk about banning wolf-whistling, which is part of the problem. Women and girls should not have to live with being objectified on a daily basis. We have to get over this idea that men have the right to tell women how they feel about them or what they think about what they are wearing.

So while the Government is focusing on long-term change to improve women’s physical safety in public spaces, we have a responsibility to address the primitive behaviour of cat-calling and wolf-whistling ourselves.

Social norms are not fixed and if a society deems something unacceptable, it can change it. Allowing women and girls the right to live their lives without being harassed should not be a luxury but a basic liberty.

Women can finally pick up contraception without a GP appointment

Finally women can pick up the pill at the chemist rather than having to see a GP. We all know how difficult it is to get an appointment with a GP and to have to do so in order to access basic medication is ridiculous. Many of us have had to use a leave day from work in order to go see the GP for something we could have done on our lunch break. But now you can simply buy the pill over the counter after a consultation with a pharmacist.

Access to contraception is difficult in London, with many women not having a GP, let alone time to see one. I hope with the Government’s women’s health strategy underway we will be seeing more changes when it comes to the NHS and women.

Covid has created a crisis in girls’ education

A landmark girls’ global education summit is to take place in London later this week. Co-hosted by the UK and Kenya, the summit hopes to raise $5 billion (£3.63 billion) for girls’ education. I hope it does more than that and places girls at the heart of our mission to build back better post-Covid.

Coronavirus has worsened the global education crisis, with 650 million girls out of education at the peak of school closures. Many will never return.

Both Kenya and the UK have shown great leadership in their commitment to girls’ education. The UK has already commendably pledged £430 million and when others make their pledges, I hope the money for the first time is given to those doing the work and not those who can afford to attend the event. We know funding small frontline organisations is the way to have the maximum impact. Let’s build back better.

What do you think about the Government’s violence against women and girls strategy? Let us know in the comments below.

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