It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that Philip Davies is at it again. Like most vocal anti-feminists, the MP for Shipley struggles to cope with any situation in which he isn’t the centre of attention. Consequently, the controversy around Theresa May’s decision to cosy up to pussy-grabbing, Muslim-deporting President Trump seems to have made him determined to prove he’s just as capable of screwing over women and religious minorities from his position on the Conservative backbenches.
Not that he really needed an excuse. Davies has devoted his political career to being as contrarian and obnoxious as possible at every opportunity. When he’s not too busy writing bizarre columns alleging that men are victims of “political correctness”, his favourite tactic is filibustering – i.e. rambling on for as long as possible so that the time allotted to discuss a bill runs out before a vote can be held. Though he’s been known to use the anti-democratic manoeuvre in a variety of contexts, he’s particularly fond of attempting to block legislation that focuses on violence against women. His standard justification – that such bills fail to adequately recognise male victims – rang particularly hollow on Tuesday, when he threatened to filibuster a private members’ bill introduced by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani to protect victims of so-called “honour-based violence”.
Ghani, who is Muslim herself, has investigated the issue of domestic violence in minority religious communities extensively. Her bill proposes that the term “honour killing” be banned from official publications and presents measures to strengthen support given to women who suffer domestic violence whilst abroad. In the House of Commons, she argued that “it is impossible to deal with the early signs of abuse if we encourage the idea that ‘honour’ is an excuse for it”. Referencing conversations with officers in the North of England, she suggested that police sometimes fail to deal with such cases in the same way they would over incidences of domestic violence because “the term brings in so much other baggage” and “it just seems too complicated to deal with”.
Even more crucially, Ghani’s bill is intended to challenge stereotypes about minority religious communities which deter police from intervening as they would in other domestic violence cases
As far as I can tell, Davies has not bothered to do any such research himself. His opposition to the bill is based on the same lazy anti-feminist agenda he pushes at every available opportunity. While it’s important to acknowledge that men do also suffer domestic abuse, albeit at a lesser rate than women, the legislation proposed by Ghani aims to address a specific subset of violence borne from highly-gendered ideas about female sexual purity as a source of familial honour. Though cases of so-called “honour violence” against men aren’t unknown, they’re relatively rare. Of the 11,744 such crimes recorded by UK police between 2010 and 2014, the vast majority involved female victims. What’s more, experts believe these reported incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
Even more crucially, Ghani’s bill is intended to challenge stereotypes about minority religious communities which deter police from intervening as they would in other domestic violence cases. Gender norms are central to the issue. Ideas about the role of women in Islam and other minority religions are causing officers to abandon female victims. Changing the wording of the legislation to make it gender neutral might please blowhards like Philip Davies, but it masks the reality of the situation. This is a violence that is enacted overwhelmingly against women as a consequence of patriarchy. Victims are additionally failed by authorities because of patriarchal assumptions masquerading as cultural sensitivity. When Davies insists we maintain the illusion of gender parity, he tries to rob us of the ability to accurately describe the problem.
As misguided as it is, it might be easier to have some sympathy for his position if his concern for male victims of domestic violence seemed remotely genuine. Unsurprisingly, though, his interest in the issue seems to wane whenever he’s not using it as an excuse to obstruct efforts to help women. For the thousands of UK women affected by so-called “honour violence” every year, this insincere rhetorical game isn’t just insulting – it could be life threatening. It’s hard to know whether Davies fails to properly understand the consequences of his actions, or if he simply doesn’t care.