THE Conservative Party in Wokingham has been accused of watering down a pledge to end violence against women and girls.

At last night’s full council meeting (Thursday, November 18), councillor David Hare (Liberal Democrats, Hawkedon) introduced a motion urging all male councillors to sign up to the White Ribbon campaign.

The campaign engages with men and boys to take a stand against gender-based violence.

However, the Conservative Party refused to support the motion, arguing that ending violence against women is within the council’s Equality Strategy, and that enacting it would ‘needlessly duplicate existing work’.

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In a passionate speech introducing the motion, Cllr Hare said: “The truth is that often women can’t get away from violence from men, at work, in a controlling marriage, with family, or with total strangers.

“As a man I feel reasonably safe walking the dog at night. I used to leave my wife Nicola to do that, but then I realised how selfish I was, expecting her to go out in the increasing dark.

“I’m sure that all of us men have, in some way, worried, concerned, scared or intimidated women by our actions, speech or gestures.

“Many of us I know have done this unintentionally but ignorance is no excuse in the law. This motion seeks to help us as members to lead people especially men and boys in ending violence that is physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, financial and spiritual violence against women.

“We need to take our place in stopping this violence when we hear or see it, not to stand by and let things drift on, but being active in changing the shape of society for the better.”

The motion asked Wokingham Borough Council to:

  • Seek White Ribbon Accreditation
  • Appoint a male councillor as  an Ambassador for White Ribbon
  • Promote the Our Streets Now campaign to make street harassment of women a crime, which is a petition on which has 457,253 signatures. You can sign it here:
  • Ask the chief executive Susan Parsonage to write to the Home Secretary, the four local MPs, and the Police and Crime Commissioner to show their support for this campaign by signing the petition
  • Ask schools, academies and colleges to develop a clear policy on tackling physical, mental, emotional or spiritual harassment of female pupils or staff, separate to their bullying policy and ask them to include education to prevent public sexual harassment, as part of their PSHE education.

However,  Conservative Cllr Laura Blumenthal (South Lake) deputy executive member for equalities, chose to amend the motion to refer it to the council’s cross party equalities working group instead.

Cllr Blumenthal said: “I totally agree with the spirit of the motion, this council is committed to doing everything it can to protect residents from violence and harassment.

“This includes educating staff and councillors on speaking out when witnessing abuse, and that’s exactly what this council is doing.

“However, the motion would spend taxpayers’ money duplicating work already being done by Conservatives on this council and in Government, and for that reason, we put down an amendment for a working group to examine whether there were any benefits to what the motion proposes.”

Cllr Hare refused to support the amendment, saying: “This is being kicked into the long grass, this is something we need to do now.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Pauline Jorgensen (Conservative, Hillside) angrily accused Cllr Hare of doing two speeches.

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In a vote on Cllr Blumenthal’s amendment, almost all the Conservatives, 25, voted in favour of it – whereas all Liberal Democrats (16) and Labour members (two) voting against it.

Cllr Keith Baker (Conservative, Coronation), the borough mayor, and deputy mayor Cllr Abdul Loyes (Conservative, Loddon) both abstained to maintain political neutrality.

Cllr Jim Frewin (Independent, Shinfield South) also abstained.

A vote was not held on Cllr Hare’s original motion.

You can watch the meeting in full and view tweet coverage below:

White Ribbon Day will be held on November 25 to raise awareness of the campaign.

A demonstration will be held outside the council offices in Shute End from 6pm to 7pm that day in protest against the failure to accept the White Ribbon motion.