By Jess Phillips
Today, as I sit on the green benches in the House of Commons, I will think of all the children I met when I worked in a women's refuge. I will think of Anya, a 14 year old girl who had lived in refuges for most of her childhood. So disempowered was her mother by years of enslavement and abuse, Anya had stepped up to be another parent to her younger siblings. I will remember dancing around to Christmas songs with Anya at the refuge Christmas party, the physical scars of her abuse visible on her limbs as she span around to jingle bells. I will think of the women who will wake up on Christmas morning in every street in the UK and spend the day trying to do everything right, not speak out of line, not step on a crack, all in order that their children might have at least one day when the monster that lives in their home doesn't come out.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (The Istanbul Convention) doesn't trip off the tongue. But behind the bureaucratic terminology is something that matters to hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the UK who have suffered domestic and sexual violence.
The Istanbul Convention, described by UN women as a "gold standard", makes demands on the government to ensure counselling and support services for rape victims and refuges for victims of violence are sufficient.
In June 2012, the UK government signed the Istanbul Convention. Today, in 2016, the Convention has still not been ratified by the UK government which means at the moment it is essentially just a piece of paper. A postcard to victims from the UK – "Wish you were here, all our love." Victims don't need a piece of paper, they need action. So today, MPs from across the UK will demand the government sets out a timetable for when they will ratify this convention and move their commitment from lip service to actual support.
I don't really know why the government has dragged its feet. Credit where it is due, I do think that they care about the issue. Legislation on the Modern Slavery Bill, on Coercive Control and the removal of women in refuge from some of the welfare reforms, shows their commitment. But for some reason, stumbling blocks on compulsory sex, relationship and consent education, and now a tardiness on ratifying the Istanbul Convention, allow campaigners like me to question their commitment. They should put this to bed and take, what I'm sure would be politically popular, the opportunity to shut me up. I'd welcome it. I want to stop moaning about this too.
Private Members Bills are often "talked out" by a helpful Tory Backbencher sent by the government to chunter on for so long that the bill cannot pass. The ones who claim to be free thinking, shoot from the hip MPs, are simply the helpful fools deployed by government whips. Like the kid desperate to assimilate with a school bully, they pitch up in parliament and stand in the way of efforts to end parking charges for the carers of terminal ill people, or lifesaving first aid education for kids. Grovelling desperately to their masters, they stand in the way of real action that would help people.
We need a hundred MPs in the house to get the bill through. Today I hope enough MPs will have been pulled away from their very important constituency work to stop this practice of talking out. I hope the government realises that not letting this bill pass will damn any record they have in caring for women and children who are raped, beaten and abused by the people they should be able to trust.
Today I could spend the day writing Christmas cards to all the victims I worked with over the years. But a piece of paper wishing them well is not what they need. Today I will ask the law to stand up for them and for our country to prove we will do everything that we can to help. I hope the government will join me.
Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley
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