Today (9th June 2022), the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and Rights of Women have released a joint statement responding to the new Public Order Bill. This statement, published to coincide with the first day of Committee stage in the House of Commons, is supported by a broad coalition of women’s rights organisations: Agenda, the Angelou Centre, Asian Women Resource Centre, the Centre for Women’s Justice, Cymorth i Ferched Cymru (Welsh Women’s Aid), Deaf Ethnic Women’s Association, Hull Sisters, Independent Domestic Abuse Services, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, nia, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Refuge, Southall Black Sisters, Standing Together, Women for Refugee Women and the Women’s Liberation Collective.
The Public Order Bill contains a number of alarming measures that were previously proposed as part of the Policing Bill, but were scrapped in the Lords as a result of immense opposition. The government is now doubling down on these plans by re-introducing them into the Public Order Bill.
Along with Rights of Women and a wide cross-section of society, EVAW has long called out the regressive, undemocratic and harmful measures in the new Policing Act. In our opposition to the Policing Act, we repeatedly highlighted how attacks on the right to protest and dissent are deeply harmful to women’s rights.
The right to protest is a feminist issue, firmly embedded in the struggle for women’s rights and all those fighting for equality.
Throughout history, protest has been central to feminist movements to end violence against women – from demonstrations of the Suffragettes, to anti-racist protests in Southall which led to the birth of EVAW member Southall Black Sisters, to the annual Million Women Rise marches and the vigil held in Clapham Common in 2020 to mourn the murder of Sarah Everard and protest police violence.
Proposals in the Public Order Bill once more hand the police an alarming range of powers which seek to stifle our right to dissent and protest issues such as police failures and state complicity in violence against women and girls.
Some of the Bill’s measures include:
- Protest banning orders which could include intrusive electronic surveillance of protesters
- Unlimited fines for those carrying items suspected as being for protest
- Further expansion of stop and search, including suspicion-less stop and search, which will increase surveillance and discriminatory treatment of already over-policed Black and minoritised communities
- A new offence of obstructing stop and search
These measures threaten our rights and systematically shut down our ability to hold the powerful to account.
This Bill comes in a context of a much-maligned Policing Bill becoming law despite strong public resistance; new, cynical attacks on our Human Rights Act; and a crisis in policing, including women’s lack of trust and confidence in the institution.
As the statement notes, it is misguided and dangerous to deliver yet more sweeping police powers at a time where there is an ongoing independent inquiry and review which have not concluded, constant revelations about police-perpetrated abuse, IOPC reports of institutional misogyny and a High Court ruling criticising the response to the vigil for Sarah Everard.
Janaya Walker, Public Affairs Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“How many times, in this year alone, have we gathered together to mourn our sisters, to expose injustice and to collectively demand change?
How could we be in favour of yet more legislation which seeks to repress our ability to do so? The Public Order Bill is a threat to us all. It is particularly galling at a time when we have seen a major uprising of women and girls coming together to call out the failures of the justice system and the state to keep us safe from violence and abuse, including the violence of the police themselves.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Rape Review in which the government acknowledged victims and survivors are being failed, the government is pressing ahead with yet more measures which stifle our ability to challenge these injustices – whether in the streets or in the courts.
The introduction of protest banning orders and the roll-out of suspicionless stop and search are likely to fall hardest on those already disproportionately facing human rights abuses, over-policing and state violence – such as Black and minoritised women, Deaf and disabled women and the LGBTQ+ community.
We will continue to stand with other women’s organisations, human rights groups, activists and large sections of the public in opposing these regressive measures.”
As specialist violence against women and girls (VAWG) and women’s rights organisations, we are united in standing together against the Public Order Bill and resisting its oppressive measures.
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, 07960 744 502 email@example.com