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Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

In the months since the horrific kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, more than eighty women and girls have been murdered at the hands of men. Misogyny, harassment and violence is endemic in our society. We know that women and girls suffer harassment and abuse every single day. Earlier this year a YouGov national survey on behalf of UN Women UK found that among women aged 18-24, 97% said they had been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.

As a local councillor, I regularly hear from women who feel uneasy or unsafe, they want change and they want it supported by women and men.

A lot of the focus of the required change, has been centred around infrastructure, public transport, and physical changes that can be made. There has been some discussion about male culture change, for me, this is critical – especially in our more rural areas, where public transport has demised, so starting with a focus on culture change is essential.

I live in the rural market town of Witney, where I serve as an opposition councillor on West Oxfordshire District. I knew that working alone, I would not affect the changes I wanted to see, and more, that I didn’t want this motion to be just a politically performative one. I wanted real change. So, I approached my friend and local Conservative Councillor to discuss ways we could make an actual difference. As Chair of the Community Safety Partnership, and Chair of Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel, I hoped she would have insight into how we could create a rural VAWG strategy, as well as hold the PCC to account for his lack of emphasis over this important matter.

We devised a motion that requires the Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel ask the Police and Crime Commissioner to report on Thames Valley Police’s performance and strategy in tackling violence against women and girls. The motion also requires West Oxfordshire Community Safety Partnership – incorporating agencies such as Health, Fire, Police and Oxfordshire County Council – create a working group to focus on the production of a rural VAWG strategy.

The result of this cross party working was unanimous Council support for the motion, which calls for what I believe with be the UK’s first Rural VAWG Strategy to be created, adopted and implemented, this will be done co-operatively between several stakeholders.

Councillors across all parties spoke passionately and emotionally about their support for what we were trying to achieve, which means I have created the opportunity to make a real difference to women and girls in West Oxfordshire.

This motion has also been backed by Elmore Community Services, a charity in Oxford, who work closely with both the victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse – they also work with adult survivors of sexual exploitation. To have their backing is incredibly important – I am merely one of the 80% of women who have experience sexual harassment, but I recognise that I cannot offer the level of expertise of those working in this sector.

It would have been very easy for me to write a motion which called on the Council to recognise the dangers women face just going about their daily lives. But that would not have created real change. Instead, I choose to approach a fellow woman councillor who I knew felt as passionately about the subject as I did and work together to gain an outcome, I believe is the first rural approach in the UK. As a mother of a son – who I am raising to respect women and end toxic masculinity – as well as a mother raising a daughter to be everything she wants to be, free from harassment and misogyny, I believe this motion to be the proudest of my career so far.