Dead Women Can’t Vote

Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group, recently made headlines with their intervention at the premier of ‘Suffragette’. Pluto is very pleased to present an exclusive contribution from one of their members, explaining the group’s position and outlook, as an expression of our solidarity with the ongoing struggle for women’s liberation in Britain.

‘Last week, Sisters Uncut stormed the red carpet of the premiere for the new film Suffragette. With Hollywood celebrating the historical struggles for women’s liberation, we wanted to remind the world that the fight is not over. oDoKg7NzAccording to Refuge, 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and at a time when women need more support, the Conservative government is giving less.

We believe the only way to achieve liberation is to disrupt the status quo, the everyday workings, of oppressive systems. Liberation is never given; it’s taken. The Suffragettes knew this well. Universal suffrage was not achieved not out of the kindness of politicians’ hearts but because the Suffragettes protested, disrupted, disobeyed, argued, theorised, mobilised and organised for the vote. They put their bodies on the line in their struggle for suffrage: hunger strikes, chaining themselves up, throwing themselves in front of horses. They put their livelihoods on the line: setting mailboxes on fire, smashing windows, setting off bombs. It’s within this disruptive, disobedient, unapologetic tradition of the Suffragettes that Sisters Uncut stands.

Our aim as a group is to build a mass movement of women and non-binary folk oppressed as women. A movement strong enough to take direct action to end the violence enacted upon us by men and defend domestic violence services from a state actively facilitating and creating violence. Two women a week are killed at the hands of a partner or ex-partner and this figure does not even include the hundreds of women a year who commit suicide due to domestic violence. And yet the Conservative government seems completely indifferent to this situation.

All the resources that women need to escape domestic abuse and live in safety – social housing, housing benefit, legal aid, tax credits, refuges and specialist services – are being brutally cut. The Tories are replacing them with what can only be called ‘PR tactics’, to give the appearance of fighting domestic violence without actually providing the resources to do so. In response to our protest at the Suffragette film premiere, a government spokesperson responded highlighting the budget for fighting violence against women, new “controlling behaviour” legislation and the ability to check a partner’s criminal record for a history of abuse. But this is at best misleading and at worst obscuring the fact the government are making it harder for women to leave abusive relationships.

First, the budget the government have for fighting violence against women is a fundamentally cut budget. Merely having a budget is not good enough if it’s made out of crumbs. Budget cuts to life saving services are lethal for the women who need them.

Second, what use is the ability to check a partner’s criminal history to a woman who finds herself in a violent relationship? She needs legal aid to get out of that relationship, not legal disclosures. Too often women are intimidated into not reporting their abusers to police and, even when they do, more often than not they are failed by the criminal justice system. There are thousands of abusive men out there without criminal records. It is absurd to think that it’s acceptable to cut life-saving domestic violence services because women can now check the criminal histories of abusive men who likely don’t have criminal histories anyway.

And, budgets and legislation aside, women’s safety is also being eroded by the neoliberal restructuring of the economy. Increasing use of part time employment, zero-hours contracts, under-employment and temporary work (all of which disproportionately affect women) are reducing women’s financial independence and, therefore, increasing their financial dependence on abusive men. Without economic independence abused women are increasingly having to choose between living on the streets or in the bed of an abuser; between not feeding their children or eating at the table of a violent man.

It’s for this reason Sisters Uncut organises intersectionally. We recognise the struggles of women against domestic violence are inextricably connected to the fight against exploitation and oppression more broadly. We recognise our trans sisters’ struggle for liberation is central to all women being able to live in safety; especially when trans women are disproportionately affected by violence of all kinds. Class, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and sexism are inseparable structures of exploitation and oppression that influence, structure and shape each other.

This is why we also protested outside the Daily Mail during the summer. The anti-migrant ideology of the Daily Mail is helping to create a toxic climate of xenophobia and racism that will make it harder for migrant women to flee violence. Many migrant women fear reporting domestic violence to the police because police often end up criminalising and questioning their immigration status instead of dealing with the violence of their perpetrator. Because a lot of migrant women also have no recourse to public funds they can’t access the vital resources that they need to be safe.

Similarly, some black and minority ethnic (BME) women have very specific needs that often can only be properly met by specialist domestic violence support. From basic access to a translator, to being able to get support from people who understand your cultural and religious needs, specialist services are crucial for providing these women the support they need. The Tories have made such drastic cuts to domestic violence services that between 2010 and 2014, 32 specialist refuges were closed. The xenophobic, racist immigration policies of the Tories and draconian cuts to specialist domestic violence services is nothing short of state violence against women.

We didn’t realise it at the time, but the whole world’s eyes were on the Suffragette film premiere last week. As a result of our action, the world is now talking about domestic violence and how the Tory government actively helps to facilitate it. The story of the Suffragettes is inspiring and Sisters Uncut are glad the story of women’s history is being told. However the struggle for suffrage is nearly 100 years old and when 2 women a week are killed by violent men in the UK, when migrant women are sexually and physically abused in British detention centres, when austerity is forcing women to remain in abusive relationships, the struggle is not over. Dead women can’t vote.’


Shanice McBean is a member of Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group.


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