Councillor 'disappointed' with her amended motion on abuse of women in politics

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Councillors divided over motion on abuse and bullying against women in politics (Picture: PCC Youtube)

During the full council at their online meeting, the motion was put forward by Cllr Dr Shabina Qayyum, herself the victim of a number of serious threatening and racist online attacks since her councillor campaign in 2018 until she became a councillor in May 2019. 

However, councillors were divided when a subsequent amendment put forward at the meeting looked to broaden that protection to include all political figures, not just women specifically. 

She has called it a ‘watering down’ of the original motion, adding that ‘it does not acknowledge the disproportionate amount of abuse women go through’ which she and several other councillors including Labour and Green party and Liberal Democratic councillors withdrew from supporting. 

Cllr Irene Walsh, in proposing the amendment altered the original words from: ‘…in relation to online abuse, bullying and harassment, particularly against female councillors’, to: ‘…in relation to online abuse, bullying and harassment, particularly but not exclusively against female councillors’. 

This small, but significant change in the wording prompted more than an hour of debate in the chamber as members argued over whether the motion should or should not be aimed exclusively at women, or, in the alternative, should include all persons who suffer from abuse, bullying and harassment from members of the public. 

Cllr Qayyum has previously described personal experiences of receiving hate emails, online attacks, both verbally abusive and racist, some of which are the subject on an ongoing investigation with a view to prosecution, as a contributing factor behind this motion. 

She said: “The motion was initiated as a result of my own experiences, and contacts – both men, though more women – who work in the same arena as myself. 

“I’ve been told by women that they don’t wish to come to come forward because they have no faith in the current system, and that they’ll be abused for simply who they are. 

“The abuse and threats directed against women in public office are increasingly the reason why there’s a poor public perception of politics, with the intimidation of women in political parties an all-round major barrier to participation. 

“There are many like me who face similar abuse, but don’t have the courage to speak out.” 

Cllr Walsh added: “I think that Cllr Qayyum has raised a very important issue in her motion, and I’m very sorry to hear of her personal experiences – they must’ve been very distressing indeed. 

“Online abuse, bullying and harassment can potentially affect all members of our communities and cause victims to suffer severe mental health issues. 

“It can affect people of all ages and sexual orientation. It can have a particularly harmful effect on young people, and their ability to cope and thrive. 

“I’m sure that there are many serving councillors who have been the victim of online abuse, and this abuse has the potential of causing serious distress, as well as preventing elected members from serving their communities as well as they would like. 

“Politics should not be like that. My amendment seeks to share the benefits that may derive from the Task and Finish Group with all councillors, because online abuse is not just a female issue.” 

What emerged from the subsequent debate was that almost every female councillor at Peterborough City Council has suffered some form of physical, mental, verbal or online abuse at some time since being elected to their office. 

Many of the female councillors were revealing this abuse for the very first time. 

Male councillors have also had abuse to deal with. 

After a lengthy and often emotional debate, the motion went to a vote. 

This resulted in a stalemate, with 28 votes for the motion (as amended by Cllr Walsh), and 28 councillors against the amendment. 

As is required by council protocol, the Mayor has the casting vote in such circumstances and Mayor Cllr Gul Nawaz voted in favour of the motion, with the amendment by Cllr Walsh. 

Speaking afterwards Cllr Qayyum said she was disappointed and there was never an option for her group to vote in favour of the amended motion.

“The motion on abuse in politics was very personal to me. From my 2018 campaign, I was the subject of a very vicious campaign, accused falsely and smeared. The sheer attention that women are given in the wrong way, makes them more vulnerable to this abuse on a daily basis. 

"The Human Rights Commission published a report in 2018,which was updated in 2019, stating specifically, women are more subjected to abuse in politics. Parliamentary committee also publishes a similar report. 

"We are extremely disappointed, that Cllr Walsh decided not to acknowledge at all the disproportionate level of abuse women go through, but acknowledged that women go through abuse.  

“But her rejection of the notion that women go through disproportionate amount of abuse shows the fact and leaves a gap to legitimise this type of misogyny. It leaves gaps for people to attack and continue to attack women and being in administration, give them the advantage to exercise that this is not a problem and it leaves us in the same position as we are, unable to address this problem and thus encourage women who do see this and make a change in the society to stand up for public office - because such decisions will let women feel vulnerable as long as they know people are in charge who aren't willing to take these concerns seriously. 

“It was heart-warming to have that support from every single fellow women colleague expressed their experiences. Just by changing a small word within my motion shows that Tories do not take seriously the abuse experienced by women. 

“It was also heart-warming to see Councillor Shaz Nawaz who seconded my motion, Councillor Jones, Councillor Amjad and Liberal Democrats who were males expressed solidarity. Also the Liberal Democrats actually changed their mind to not to support the amended motion following the debate, which was very heart-warming. 

“The Conservatives should know better because an MP of their party Priti Patel was attacked by a man on Tiktok only a week ago.

“The racist attacks I have received, led to a probable conviction of a man found guilty of writing hate emails to me and that was perpetrated by wrong posting of two noticeable figures of the opposition party. 

“That’s why we have to demonstrate we are going to take action."