By Isla Whateley
Content note: discussion of rape and the law around rape
As a woman in politics, you are a minority. In both Westminster (UK) and Holyrood (Scotland) parliaments, about a third of elected politicians are women. Both the UK Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister are women, however, and some may say this is an ‘achievement’ for women and feminism. But this is not necessarily the case.
The Conservative government, led by Theresa May (the second ever woman Prime Minister), has just put forward changes to child tax credits. Child tax credits are part of the welfare system in the UK; a benefit that low-income working parents get. As a child in a low-income, lone parent family, I benefitted hugely from the tax credits that we received. They were introduced by the Labour government that were in power for 13 years, 1997 to 2010, for almost all of my childhood. Although I was an only child, there was no cap for the amount of tax credits you received based on the number of children you had. My mum and I have a lot to thank Labour for and we wouldn’t have been able to get by without it.
Fast forward to now. Theresa May and the Conservatives have put a cap on child tax credits to two children – the ‘family cap’. Sounds unfair, right? It gets worse. If you have more than two children, sorry, no welfare for you. Unless one of these children is a result of a rape. You are forced to disclose this if you want to receive this welfare.
First of all, this completely undermines and ignores the extreme trauma rape causes. Rape is a violent crime, and many survivors suffer from mental illnesses such PTSD, depression and anxiety as a result. The legal system is rigged against women and survivors – hence, rape is ridiculously under-reported and under-convicted. Imagine undergoing all of that, and then being forced to disclose this highly sensitive, traumatic information in order to put food on the table for your children. It is clear that no survivors, sexual assault charities or women’s organisations were consulted in the formulation of this clause. At best, it is anti-feminist and undermines survivor’s autonomy . At worst, it will result in death.
On April 25th, in the Scottish Parliament, there was a debate on this issue. Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, read out a letter from a rape victim and attacked Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, for being the only Scottish party leader to not have condemned the clause. Davidson, like May, is a prominent Tory and a woman. Neither of them seem to care about this.
So how did a government led by a woman let this go through? Sadly, being a woman does not equal being a feminist. This goes for politicians too. The Tories have actively pursued an austerity agenda since being in government, in order to combat the deficit, and there is extensive evidence that austerity disproportionately affects marginalised groups. This most definitely includes women – who are most likely to be affected by the rape clause.
For me, feminism is intersectional and must represent all women – especially if they are single parents, rape survivors, or low-income. It is one thing having Conservative men promote the rape clause, but a completely different issue when Ruth Davidson refuses to comment. Her silence and inaction says so much more than words could – that she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care enough to fight against this horrific injustice. In Scotland, we can’t do anything to stop it apart from lobby the Westminster government. Ruth Davidson is my local MSP, and I can say for sure that she represents survivors of sexual assault in this constituency. Her silence is abhorrent and very telling of the nature of many women Conservatives in the public eye.
Thankfully, many other Scottish politicians and activists are taking a stand. Two protests have taken place already – one in Glasgow, on Thursday 13th April, and one in Edinburgh on Thursday 20th April. At both, prominent campaigners and politicians spoke against the clauses, and hundreds of people turned up to show their support. There is a petition that can be signed here to bring further awareness to the issue, if you are a UK citizen. It is also important to vote against the Tories in the upcoming snap General Election – they are actively damaging to women and our rights. Register to vote here by 22nd May 2017!