“Tory MP tries and fails to block anti-domestic violence bill with 91-minute speech,” read Jon Stone’s headline in the Independent on 24 February referring to Philip Davies’s 91 minute filibuster of The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention). So why, you might reasonably ask, do I – a woman – stand before you as one fifth of the new pressure group Ladies for Philip Davies?
The Ladies for Philip Davies come from diverse political standpoints, but we all believe in true equality under the law, and oppose the “feminist zealotry” (Davies’s words) that is ignoring men’s issues and pushing legislation like the Istanbul Convention, which is sexist in that it neglects the men who represent one third of inter-personal violence victims.
The Istanbul Convention also writes patriarchy theory into law and into education – a theory that is not based on fact but belief. The preamble states: “Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women.” This is an assertion I and many others absolutely reject (most people, remember, do not identify as feminists).
Davies was successful in 2015 and 2016 in securing parliamentary debates to mark International Men’s Day, despite opposition from MPs such as Labour’s Jess Phillips, who told the backbench business committee: “It seems like every day to me is International Men's Day... When I've got parity, when women in these buildings have parity, you can have your debate.” Davies pointed out that “there is a big difference between men raising issues and the raising of men’s issues”. Topics discussed included educational underachievement, fathers’ rights and the fact that 75 per cent of suicides are male.
In December 2016, Davies was elected to the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. There was an angry and stunned response from feminist members of Parliament, completely unused to having their narratives challenged. The leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, recalled a speech to the International Conference on Men’s Issues in which Davies claimed that “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it” and Caroline Lucas hoped that his application was “a joke”. However, the public appear to be on his side: a poll conducted by the Metro revealed that 82 per cent of readers agreed that the word “Women's” should be dropped and the Committee go forward as “The Equalities Committee”. This is the first cause we are fighting for.
In March 2017, myself and several other women founded our pressure group, Ladies for Philip Davies, to support him in his goal of bringing gender equality to UK governance, beginning with the Women and Equalities Committee name change. Our first action was to write to all 650 MPs asking for support for his proposal and encouraging others to write to their own MPs as many avoided answering us by hiding behind the parliamentary protocol of only corresponding with their own constituents.
Our next action is to set up a petition. If we get 10,000 signatures, the Government has to respond. Given the results of the Metro poll, we’re fairly confident we can achieve this. We would need 100,000 signatures for the proposal to be considered for Parliamentary debate, which is necessary to change the name. That might require a second petition, but we intend to achieve it. Of course, the name change would only be a symbolic step towards the inclusion of men and men’s issues, but a significant one nonetheless, and a step forward in promoting an agenda of true equality.
Elizabeth Hobson is the co-founder of Ladies for Philip Davies, alongside Paula Wright, Catherine Kitsis, Natoya Raymond and Belinda Brown.