A bill to help end violence against women has passed to the next stage with a sweeping 138-1 votes in its favour, despite a male Tory MP making a concerted effort to stand in its way.
Conservative MP Philip Davies was met with exasperation after he spent an hour and a half attempting to oppose a bill tabled by SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford to ratify the Istanbul Convention during its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday.
The Istanbul Convention is considered to be a groundbreaking legal framework that outlines minimum standards for a country’s response to violence against women and girls. The UK government signed up to it in 2012, but it has never been ratified into UK law.
"If anything, I actually feel sorry for him and his ego," Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy tweeted. "I'm proud to support Istanbul Convention and stand against domestic violence."
Davies, the MP for Shipley, was accused of filibustering – despite prime minister Theresa May having openly discouraged such derailing techniques when she urged MPs to vote to ratify the bill at PMQs on Wednesday – but eventually sat down and made way for other speakers, failing to block the vote.
"This convention is about preventing and responding to violence against women – it's extremely disappointing to hear speeches attempting to deny or minimise the prevalence and impact of violence against women in parliament," a spokesperson for the charity End Violence Against Women told BuzzFeed News.
"In objecting to and attempting to delay, MPs put thousands of women at continued risk of violence, meted out because they are women."
Jenn Selby, who has experienced sexual violence and is a lead campaigner for IC Change, which worked to bring the bill to parliament, told us she was "baffled" anyone would want to talk it down.
"As a survivor of rape," she said, "I'm not just disgusted at his misunderstood attempt to filibuster the bill, but insulted that he chose to play politics with our suffering in this way. Davies' lack of humanity and empathy is really quite incredible."
During the reading, Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the women and equalities select committee, tweeted from the Commons: "How can anyone want to block measures that prevent domestic violence & offer support to victims?"
Davies has long been opposed to the bill, arguing that it is discriminatory to men and boys, and during its second reading in December spent 78 minutes attempting to reject it.
Speaking in the Commons on Friday, Whiteford accused Davies of wilful misconception of the gendered nature of the bill, arguing that it sought to protect all victims of violence, which is disproportionately perpetrated against women by men.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, told us: "It is not acceptable for Philip Davies wilfully to ignore that the Istanbul Convention acknowledges the needs of male victims, while also being clear that the majority are women – a fact which nobody with knowledge of domestic abuse would dispute.
"He is trying to stand in the way of a law which would save women's lives. Women's Aid asks him to stand aside."
Davies also argued that the bill should be abandoned after five years if it cannot be proven that instances of violence against women have been reduced.
He argued that ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which is recognised by several countries across Europe, challenged the government's sovereignty and added unnecessary bureaucracy to supporting victims of violence.
"It's not going to make a jot of difference to people suffering violence," Davies said. "It's a pen-pusher's dream to explain away why the government is not doing anything."
He said that in countries where it had been introduced, it had not helped reduce violence, citing Sweden, which ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2014 but has not seen a reduction in such figures.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg then drew a comparison between US president Donald Trump's comments attributing immigration in Sweden to an increase in violence.
Campaigners have argued that better support for women experiencing violence may encourage them to report abuse when they previously may not have, which could explain figures not showing violence being reduced.
Davies speculated that other countries that have ratified the Istanbul Convention have not reported figures on incidents of violence because they were "embarrassed that they went the wrong way".
"I’ve got no evidence to support this, I’m making an assertion,” he added.
Davies also said men were overall twice as likely as women to be the victims of violence. Whiteford, who originally tabled the bill, dismissed Davies' claim, stating that women are disproportionately victims of violence perpetrated by men.
She noted the killing of popular children's author Helen Bailey, whose husband was this week sentenced to 34 years in prison for her murder. “I’m glad her killer has been brought to justice,” Whiteford added.
Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence support in the UK, told us that on any given day it is supporting around 5,000 women and children escaping domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.
One in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 16, and around 85,000 women are raped every year, according to Home Office and Office of National Statistics data.
On average, two women in England and Wales are killed every week by a current or former male partner, according to Women’s Aid.
“Seeing most MPs talk about these issues with passion, understanding and humanity gave me hope that women and girls in the future won’t have to go through the same trauma as I did," Ann*, a rape survivor, said.
After being voted through on Friday, the bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention will now move to the House of Lords.
A spokesperson for End Violence Against Women said the charity was "delighted".
Robyn Boosey, co-director of IC Change campaign, said the support for ratifying the bill had been uplifting. "We are thrilled that the bill has passed its third reading," she said. "It is a testament to the tenacity of all the organisations and individuals that have campaigned and the MPs that have showed up in support of women's lives.
"We are thrilled that MPs have taken this important step towards bringing in a life-saving law.”
On behalf of Women's Aid, Neate said she wished to thank campaigns like IC Change, as well as the 138 MPs who voted in favour of moving the bill to the next stage. "Today we are one step closer to a major victory for the rights of women experiencing violence and abuse," she said.
"It’s fantastic that political support for the Istanbul Convention is gaining such momentum.
"At a time when specialist domestic abuse services are struggling to keep their doors open, and local authorities are regularly making short-sighted decisions to decommission them, the convention makes clear that these life-saving services must continue to be funded."
* Not her real name.
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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