LEE WEBSTER outlines her new year’s wishes for Croydon – with safety and proper representation top of her list
Sorry to burst the bubble of holiday joy, but it’s hard to look forward with too much hope to the coming year. Cuts in public spending and erosion of our rights is coming from all quarters, there’s so much at the same time that it’s hard to unravel and work out what it all means.
So it’s even harder to choose one or two things that would make things better. However, ending violence against women and involving women in decisions affecting their lives would make a good start.
It has been a tough 2012 for women in Croydon. The loss of Nestlé and Allders from the town meant that hundreds of people – mainly women – lost their jobs. Government cuts and the austerity agenda continue to hit women hardest, with 81 per cent of recent tax, tax credit and benefit changes coming from women’s pockets.
As the seasonal peak in domestic violence hits, cuts to the services that tackle such violence against women have left many with nowhere to turn.
Wish 1: Croydon safe for all
As women in Croydon, we have a right to go where we want, when we want, wearing what we want, and be safe from violence and abuse. Whether in our own homes, in a bar, in the street or at work, we should be able to expect a life free from harassment and danger.
According to the council’s own study, violence against women in Croydon is particularly high, with more than 6,000 reported cases a year. Multi-perpetrator rape is among the highest in London.
It is in this context that the council has slashed services in the Family Justice Centre, once an award-winning multi-service centre for women experiencing violence. A recent public question to the council revealed that the centre has lost at least six key services, including criminal justice system support, safety planning, education groups and court accompaniment. Further cuts of 10 per cent are planned for 2013.
If I just had just one wish for Croydon women, it would be that we are all free from abuse and violence. For that to happen, we need a shift change in how services for women are funded and delivered.
Wish 2: “Nothing about us without us”
This common phrase coined by the disabled people’s movement sums things up for me – decisions made that affect our lives must not be made without our full involvement and participation.
I’ve been to observe several council meetings this past year, and it is clear to see that the benches of power in Croydon, particularly the benches of the Conservative councillors, are not filled with people who represent our community in all its diversity.
In 2013, political parties will be selecting candidates for the local elections in 2014. My wish is that all parties take note, and take positive action to select more diverse representatives of the borough. We need more women councillors, we need more councillors from ethnic minority backgrounds, councillors with experience of disability, lesbian, gay and bisexual councillors, and more councillors of different ages.
You might think that a wish to increase the diversity of our representatives is a dull wish. But it’s a vital one. Decisions have been made this year to cut Sure Start Centres, cut supplementary education grants, cut library budgets, and cut domestic violence services. And these decisions have been made by people who will be largely unaffected by the very cuts they’ve voted through. It’s just not on.
Wishing’s not enough…
I could make more wishes, bundles of them, but sitting around and wishing that things were better for Croydon women is not enough. We need to take action, and make sure they get better. So, whatever your political views, if you’ve ever thought about representing the people of Croydon, now’s the time to find out more about it.
If you’re as angry as me at cuts to services for survivors of violence against women, then hold the council to account. Ask public questions, scrutinise their decisions, write to the press. Domestic violence campaigners are often hidden, unable to be public about their abuse, so as women we all need to stand together and demand better. Violence against women, and the fear of violence, affects us all.
So my third and final wish for 2013, is that Croydon women get angry (or angrier!), get active, and demand a better deal for us all.
- Croydon Labour Women’s Forum will have its first meeting of the year on February 2 – watch this space for more details. All women welcome
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