The Wokingham Conservative group’s refusal to sign up to a pledge to end violence against women and girls has been met with outrage.

At a full council meeting, the Wokingham Conservative group did not sign up to the White Ribbon pledge calling on men and boys to take responsibility for violence against women and girls and not to remain silent.

The council was urged to sign up to the pledge and promote a campaign to criminalise street harassment in a motion introduced by Cllr David Hare (Liberal Democrats, Hawkedon).

Instead, Cllr Laura Blumenthal (Conservative, South Lake) amended the motion to refer it to the council’s equalities working group, which was passed by 25 votes to 18.

READ MORE: Wokingham Conservatives accused of watering down pledge to end violence against women and girls

The amendment to the motion has provoked fury from opposition councillors and activists.

Andy Croy, a former councillor and Labour party activist, trashed the amendment.

He said: “I’ve been on these sub committees, I know how they work.

“This was a most desperate act of political sabotage on this – of all issues.

“The Conservative councillors could not stomach being told what to do on such an important issue.”

During the meeting, Cllr Rachel Burgess, the leader of the Wokingham Labour party, said she was “appalled and astonished” that the Conservatives would not support the motion unamended.

Cllr Burgess said: “It’s not up to women to change their behaviour – yet so often the response to male violence is that it is women who should change. That has to stop now.

“All men can help to prevent violence against women by speaking out against poor behaviour, by not tolerating it, by calling it out.

“The fact that the Conservatives are denying to support White Ribbon Accreditation for the council, and are refusing to support action against street harassment now, is frankly insulting.”

Wokingham Labour has launched a petition calling for the council to re-introduce the motion, sign up to the White Ribbon pledge, and campaign to make street harassment a crime. 

You can view and sign the petition here.

You can also view Cllr Burgess’ full speech to the council here.

Cllr Hare, the Liberal Democrat who proposed the motion (Hawkedon), wrote: “It was with sadness that the Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council, who I had asked to second my motion, kicked everything into the long grass.

“They said it is covered in the equalities strategy the Council is rolling out.

This motion is about stopping men from violating women in any way, it is about equalities, but so much more, like personal safety, respect and education.

“I felt it unfair that the local Tories put their female members in a difficult position.

“As men we must stand tall and strong, saying that enough is enough, we will not have women, our wives, sisters, daughters, abused, violated, or downgraded, indeed we will confront all those who do harass or violate women, so that we start to build an equal, fair, safer society.”

READ MORE: Wokingham Conservatives accused of watering down pledge to end violence against women and girls

During the meeting, Cllr Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons) said: “Violence towards women and girls stems from the misogynistic culture that is prevalent in our society which has been normalised.

“Men who kill women do not suddenly kill women, they work up to it.  There is a direct correlation between the normalised objectification of women and girls, and the harassment and violence we are subjected to.

“We too easily as a society brush off the catcalling, the lewd gestures, the inappropriate comments about how we look, the sexist jokes.

“We have normalised this, and it must stop now, not once it’s gone to some talking shop.”

You can read Cllr Kerr’s speech and her reaction to the meeting in a blog post here:

For their part, the Conservatives argued the motion would ‘needlessly duplicate existing work’.

Cllr Blumenthal argued that referring the motion to the working group was the most appropriate action. Fellow Conservative Cllr Rebecca Margetts (Finchampstead South) said: “I agree wholeheartedly with the intentions behind the motion, but do not feel it goes far enough.

“We should look as a council as a whole as to how support all individuals who are suffering any kind of harassment.

“We should support all individuals who experience of sexual harassment by proposing that more ambitious and thorough recommendations be brought to council to debate and vote on at a later date.”

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.