What counting dead women tells us that Clare's Law cannot

Drawing connections between the murders of women by men is surprisingly rare. Attempting to accurately calculate women who died because of a sexist culture is even harder.

One day, Karen Ingala Smith started counting dead women and couldn’t stop. It was January 2012, and the year had begun with seven horrific incidents of domestic violence in its first three days: all women killed, in various ways, by their male partners. After a couple of months, Smith stopped restricting her attention to murders purely involving domestic violence. Instead, she focused on clear incidences of misogyny - serial killers who only targeted women, for instance, or men who killed the sisters or female friends of their girlfriends or wives.  

Smith’s reason for counting dead women is simple: to humanise and draw attention to the problem. Her argument for change is that the government should start recording and researching femicide in a way it never has done before. Most murders of women by men are not random, she believes; these murders should be seen in the context of a sexist society, where violence against women is endemic. “I want to see the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women,” she writes. “The statistic ‘on average two women a week [are] killed through domestic violence in England and Wales’ is well known. People seem to be able to repeat this without getting outraged or upset... [T]hrough connecting and naming the women killed, I’m trying to make the horror and unacceptability of what is happening feel more real.”

Drawing connections between the murders of women by men is surprisingly rare; attempting to accurately calculate the numbers of women who died because of a sexist culture is even harder. One woman on the @CountDeadWomen Twitter illustrates this best by her description of the suicide of a 15-year-old schoolfriend, who had been raped by her boyfriend and then jumped out of a window after fearing that her father would murder her for dishonouring the family. “She wasn’t killed by the hand of a man,” @marstrina conceded - but she was still the victim of a society that routinely blames the victim in cases of rape and still often sees women as the property of their male relatives. Deaths like these are not as far removed from domestic violence murders as conventional crime statistics might lead one to believe.

Smith’s tactic of naming women and documenting the way in which they were killed undoubtedly hits a nerve, and perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire project is the frequency with which she tweets the details of new victims. As she has pointed out, quoting statistics can only get anyone so far. But there are statistics worth bearing in mind beyond the oft-quoted ‘two women per week killed by former or current partners’ – for instance, the Women’s Aid data stating that in the case of domestic violence, an average of 35 assaults happen before the police are called. Or the fact that rates of domestic violence have increased by 17% during the recession, but the government has responded by cutting funding to violence against women programmes. In London alone, services for women seeking help from abusive relationships have been cut by £1.9 million since 2009. These numbers build a picture of serial political failures - meanwhile, Counting Dead Women continues to put a face to the effects of such policies.

So how should we respond? It was announced today that Clare’s Law, which allows people to check the police records of their partners and has been piloted in Greater Manchester, Wiltshire, Nottingham and Gwent since 2012, will now be expanded to cover all of England and Wales. The law’s namesake is Clare Wood, a young woman murdered in 2009 by a boyfriend with an extensive history of violence against women – but it’s unclear whether Clare’s Law would have actually saved her life. Domestic violence charity Refuge has raised issues with the law in the past and continues to do so, arguing that most abusers aren’t known to police and more deaths could be avoided by focusing on the police response to violence against women.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, stated at the disclosure scheme’s inception that “it is another way for the government to sound tough on domestic violence while actually doing very little.” I can’t help but agree. Rhetoric and emotively named laws are easy; identifying and changing a culture that trivialises misogyny is much more difficult. Telling women that they can visit their police force after a few dates with a new boyfriend and check that he hasn’t been convicted of GBH in the past is one thing. Questioning why violence against women is all too often treated flippantly by the police, on the other hand, involves a forbidding amount of self-examination. As Horley also pointed out, police already had the power to disclose the crimes of Clare Wood's partner to her - but for a number of reasons, they didn't use it.

Only when we start to acknowledge the links between violent acts against women can we tackle one of the most stubbornly persistent problems in the UK. Until then, we have no option but to continue counting dead women, all the while working towards a future when there will be no more victims to count.

A woman walks past a wall displaying 107 figures with the names of the women who have been killed by men in Italy during the year on November 25, 2012 in Rome as part as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Image: Getty
Holly Baxter is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for The Guardian and The New Statesman. She is also one half of The Vagenda and releases a book on the media in May 2014.
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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.