“Violence against women continues to blight our society… while support services continue to be cut and we are put at risk by the very people who are meant to protect us.”Apsana Begum MP
On International Women’s Day 2023, Apsana Begum MP spoke at an online rally celebrating Women for Socialist Change, you can read an edited version of her speech below.
On International Women’s Day (IWD), many take the opportunity to highlight women’s achievements.
I am proud of being the first ever British Bangladeshi woman elected as Secretary of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and then the first hijab wearing MP.
And recently, I was absolutely delighted that I won the Young People’s MP of the Year award. But International Women’s Day (IWD) is not just about celebrating individuals, but about a history of collective strike action and socialism.
I laid out in my First Speech during a similar debate in 2020, in East London, we have a rich history of women’s struggles for social justice. Whether that is the Matchgirls’ Strikers, the East London Federation of Suffragettes, the Poplar Rates rebellion, the Battle of Cable Street, or women, like my mother, who had to overcome the racism they faced on a daily basis from the late 1960 onwards.
Is not a question of simply commemorating the past, but about looking back in order to look forward.
Women still face structural economic inequality throughout their lives, and this intersects with other structures of inequality including race and disability. The cost-of-living crisis comes after the pandemic and over twelve years of Conservative austerity. Women, particularly Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women, continue to account for around two thirds of low earners and are more likely to be working on zero hour or part time contracts. The increased overlap of working and caring responsibilities has added to the ongoing reality that caring continues to be a major factor in women’s ability to participate on equal terms.
Next week (Budget week) the Government can give public sector workers, a large proportion of which are women, a fair pay rise. They could increase the Minimum Wage to a real living wage lifting millions of women out of in-work poverty. They could invest in social security- including raising carers allowance – and invest in childcare, and they could ensure that our public services which women rely on are properly funded. Instead, assaults on civil liberties explicitly targets those of us most at risk: migrants, Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women, and GRT communities. The hostile and racist immigration system tightens around women fleeing violence and persecution.
The latest inhumane attack on migrant rights, the Illegal Migration Bill, will not only fail women who need our solidarity but inflict further degradations upon them.
Violence against women continues to blight our society – as people die, and are dying, every day, while support services continue to be cut and we are put at risk by the very people who are meant to protect us. The level of violence against trans women, in particular, is alarming – along with the disturbing way in which they are increasingly being targeted in the political mainstream. Yet, all people deserve equal rights under the law, equal access to services and be able to live in dignity and with pride.
The cost-of-living crisis is especially dangerous for those experiencing violence and domestic abuse who are too often being faced with a choice – remaining in an unsafe home or facing financial destitution or homelessness. I will continue to urge the Government to scrap the No Recourse to Public Funds rule as a matter of urgency and use the Budget next week to ensure that all survivors have the services they need.
I know personally that the ongoing impact of domestic abuse can be devastating. I know the many barriers and challenges facing survivors when trying to access help and move on. People often ask me all the time what the “latest” is with my situation. The only answer I can give them unfortunately is that things are still very much the same. I continue to have to speak out about how I am being targeted and prevented from being able to participate fully in public life. The wall of gaslighting and silencing is extremely painful and continues to damage my health and wellbeing, and I think that survivors all over will recognise this pattern of persistence.
But the history of challenging Violence Against Women has always had pioneering activism, fighting for social change, at its heart. The movement has been driven by the bravery of so many who spoke out and organised despite the challenges against them, and it is this that keeps me going. I will never ever allow my voice to be silenced or accept anything that would devalue or undermine the enormous step I have taken in speaking out – facing huge stigma and backlash. And I urge anyone who is experiencing abuse to reach out for support.
Whilst International Women’s Day is about challenging ongoing injustices, it is also about signposting the way to overcome. The wave of women engaged in fighting for their rights now – nurses, teachers, civil servants, lecturer, cleaner, unpaid carers and so on – continue to inspire us.
Whether it is standing up against violence and austerity or struggling for better working conditions or demanding equal pay, women have always been at the heart of the struggle for social justice — rallying, organising, inspiring millions of us and – yes – winning against the odds.
- Apsana Begum is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow Apsana on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- This article is an edited version of the speech given by Apsana Begum at the International Women’s Day 2023 rally – Women for Socialist Change. You can watch it in full here.
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