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18 October 2017

Why I am asking the Prime Minister to strip Harvey Weinstein of his CBE

As it stands, Britain is honouring Harvey Weinstein’s contribution to our film industry.

By Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah

Last week, together with shadow labour minister Jack Dromey, shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Dawn Butler, shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan, and chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party Jess Phillips I wrote to the Prime Minister to ask her to start the process of stripping Harvey Weinstein of his honorary CBE.

Having heard nothing, yesterday I wrote directly to the chair of the Home Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, asking him to refer Weinstein to the Honours Forfeiture Committee. I did that not to embarrass the Prime Minister – I’m not sure that is possible any more – but given the opaqueness of the honours system I wanted to be as certain as possible that the appropriate wheels had at the very least been set in motion.

Weinstein was awarded his CBE for his contribution to the British film industry.

Think about that. As it stands, Britain is honouring Harvey Weinstein’s contribution to our film industry. The British actresses who have shared their horrendous experiences in their chosen profession have no official recognition or honour, but the man facing allegations that he used his professional position to exploit and abuse them does. It is a matter, I think, of some urgency that his honour be expunged. (Weinstein continues to deny the most serious allegations). 

But it is also an opportunity, an opportunity to send a strong and unambiguous message that sexual harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated. Done. Gone. Eradicated. Out of our lives.

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Because the reason that the Weinstein revelations have struck such a chord is that they are not revelations. Yes, they are coming out of the glittering, star spangled, high profile world of “show business”, but everyone in that business knew about it and everyone in every other business knows about it too.

I do not know one woman who has not experienced sexual harassment in some form in their lives. The sheer volume of women braving public scrutiny to declare and share what they have experienced reflects the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in our culture. Like many women, I have not tweeted #MeToo because I do not believe my experiences are “serious” enough to justify that mantle but, for example, the memory of an evening spent in a pole dancing club as obligatory post tech conference “socialising” still leaves me embarrassed, uncomfortable, ashamed and complicit.

It has to change. And that requires that we see sexual harassment not as a “woman’s issue” but as an economic issue – men in positions of economic power over women exploiting that power sexually. The hashtag #HimThough seeks to change the story so men, too, shoulder the burden of sexual harassment.

Stripped of all the glitter of Tinseltown, this is an issue of workplace security and rights. Women, whether they are working in a film set or a department store, have an absolute right to engage in their profession without facing sexual harassment. When I think of all the energy women put into avoiding, dealing with and coming to terms with sexual harassment I can only imagine how much more productive our economy would be if that energy went into our economy instead.

Is it any wonder that we are so under-represented film industry, just 7 percent of directors are female. Only 38 percent of senior management across the UK-based broadcasting industry is female.

The lack of women at senior levels in the creative industries is just one example of lost potential. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that enabling women to match the role of men in labour markets could add as much as £21.24 trillion to the global annual GDP by 2025.

Diversity is not an optional add-on, it is an economic imperative. It needs to be at the heart of economic policy, because we cannot build a more prosperous economy without making use of the talents of everyone. Labour’s industrial strategy was written with this in mind.

As part of that strategy we are looking at diversity charters for each sector in the economy – inspired by and modelled on the Women in Finance Charter, launched last year. This will provide transparency and accountability, ensuring no company or sector can hide a dismal diversity record.

And first, let us take Weinstein’s CBE away from him. Instead of honouring a sexual predator, we can demonstrate that we honour and value the contribution women make to the workplace by making sure the workplace is a safe environment in which women can work.


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