Upskirting Is To Become A Criminal Offence England & Wales, But There's Still More Work To Be Done
Sometimes in the midst of anxiety-inducing articles about Trump and the latest baffling development in the Brexit debacle, there's some good news. The announcement that "upskirting" is to become a criminal offence in England and Wales is certainly that. The campaign to have the sexually intrusive act, which involves taking a photograph up a woman's skirt or down her top without her knowledge or consent reached the crucial milestone on Friday, when justice secretary Lucy Frazer confirmed she would support a bill to ban the practice.
The campaign was started by journalist Gina Martin after police refused to prosecute a man she alleged took photos up her skirt at a music festival, because she was wearing underwear. By 2020, the act will be treated as a sexual offence with offenders facing up to two years in prison.
Martin commented: "I want to hug every woman who has got in touch with me to say it's happened to them, to say that now — hopefully — we can get access to justice for all victims because the politicians listened.
"There's still a way to go, but it looks now like it will go through without too much of a hitch."
It's fantastic news and long overdue that this offensive and insidious act be made a crime. Like many people, I was surprised to find it wasn't already illegal. The ruling shines a light on the fact that much of the UK's legislation still isn't working for women. With that in mind, here five other changes that could help make the law fairer.
Being turned into a sex object against your will when you're just out and about trying to live your life is a major frustration that women shouldn't still be facing in 2018. Catcalling is not a compliment, it's harassment. It's intimidating, it's disrespectful, it's misogynistic, and it's still happening all the time. A 2016 YouGov survey found that 85% of women aged 18-24 received unwanted attention in public places. Earlier this year, Labour MP Melanie Onn called for sexist street harassment to be made a hate crime after Nottinghamshire police launched a scheme that treats misogyny as such. Fingers crossed this proposal follows upskirting into legislation.
2. Northern Ireland's Abortion Laws
Irish women, and their sisters around the world, celebrated last month when the country voted by a landslide to repeal the restrictive abortion laws that caused thousands of women to travel to the UK for terminations every year. The victory put neighbouring Northern Ireland in the spotlight for its similarly archaic abortion legislation which bans terminations unless it can be proved that the pregnancy poses a serious risk to a woman's mental or physical health. Despite being a part of the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act has never applied to the country. It's about time it was extended, if you ask me and the opinion polls.
3. Better Rights For Pregnant Women At Work
While the intentions of the 1975 Employment Protection Act, which made it illegal to fire women for being pregnant, were good, it's not working effectively for women. The UK's Equality and Human Rights commission estimates that over 50,000 women are still sacked every year for being pregnant. The legislation should be strengthened to remind companies that it's illegal to fire women for being pregnant and support those who feel they have been unfairly dismissed or denied adequate maternity leave.
4. The Tampon Tax
While legislation to scrap the Tampon Tax (the 5 percent VAT charge applied to sanitary products, because they are deemed non-essential items) was announced in 2016, due to Brexit, the timeline on when the law will be passed has become muddled to say the least. In 2017, chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that the money earned from the Tampon Tax would be donated to women's charities after its banning was delayed due to the UK's exit from the EU.
This might sound like a pretty decent compromise but actually the message that women should pay to solve issues like domestic violence and female genital mutilation that are caused by society's structural misogyny is pretty galling. Women's issues are everyone's issues. And, if that wasn't bad enough, it turns out the money has actually been donated to some pretty questionable organisations. Last year, The Observer reported that £250,000 of Tampon Tax funds were donated to anti-abortion campaign group Life. You couldn't make it up, could you? The tax needs to be scrapped, preferably asap, and women's charities need to be properly funded, and not just by women.
5. Sexist Dress Codes
Hands up if you hate heels? Hands up if you love heels? Either way, you shouldn't be forced to wear them against your will, right? Well unfortunately workplaces can still make female employees do exactly that as long as they are able to prove the request is "reasonable." Last year the government debated the issue after a petition that was started by Nicola Thorp, who was sent home without pay from a temporary receptionist job for wearing flats, received over 150,000 signatures. Unfortunately, the call to strengthen the existing laws that should prevent these kinds of gendered requests was rejected with the government describing them as "adequate." Eye roll.
While all of this might make for pretty disappointing reading, don't be disheartened. Knowledge is power and as Gina Martin's case proves, one woman can make a massive difference. So keep on keeping on — the fight to make the world a better place for women continues.