A BID to stamp out violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls in Wokingham has been met with stern words between councillors.

At a full council meeting last night (Thursday, January 20) the council adopted an Anti-Abuse Charter which commits it to preventing any form of violence or abuse against anyone in the borough.

The charter also calls for officers and councillors to champion a culture of high standards by reporting abuse and supporting victims throughout their recovery, which involves being aware of signs of trauma and preventing victim blaming.

However, a separate ‘White Ribbon motion’ introduced by the Conservatives proved controversial.

READ MORE: Concerns raised over new Wokingham domestic abuse strategy

The Conservatives had previously been accused of watering down a motion by councillor David Hare (Liberal Democrats, Hawkedon) which would have signed the council up to the White Ribbon campaign in November 2021.

The Liberal Democrats attempted to amend the fresh motion, which was devised by the cross party equalities working group.

Councillor Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons) said: “To the public, what we warned would happen has come to fruition.

“A private group where no members of the public can watch or even see minutes of, has pulled apart the intention of the motion and watered it down so much that it’s not even about ending male violence against women.

“It doesn’t deserve the name White Ribbon Motion because it does not mention tackling male violence against women even once in it.

Bracknell News: Councillor Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons). Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / YoutubeCouncillor Sarah Kerr (Liberal Democrats, Evendons). Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / Youtube

“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 needs to stop.

“The recommendations from the equalities working group do not address this.”

READ MORE: Outrage across Wokingham as Conservatives fail to endorse White Ribbon campaign

She continued by urging the Conservatives to give the opposition the courtesy of supporting the amendment.

Cllr Kerr added: “For the sake of all the women out there who are fed up with being told to change their behaviours and actions to avoid violence from men, I simply ask that the ruling group reciprocate.

“Instead of turning down motions, amendments, and recommendations because they are being presented by the opposition, look for reasons to support.

“It is in the best interests of those we are elected to represent.”

The new White Ribbon motion involves four actions:

  1. Council explore how it can improve communications to residents on what it is doing to support domestic violence victims;
  2. Council Officers explore whether there is a more comprehensive accreditation to certify how the council is performing when it comes to domestic violence provision;
  3. Calls on the leader of the council to write to the Home Secretary in support of making public sexual harassment a specific offence and impress the need for wider cultural change and write to the areas four MPs and the Police and Crime Commissioner to encourage them to support that;
  4. Urges the executive member for childrens services to write to schools to gauge how they are upolding the ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ policy on public sexual harassment.

Cllr Laura Blumenthal, (Conservative, South Lake), deputy executive member for equalities, accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘playing politics’ by being supportive of the charter in the working group, but criticising it during the council meeting.

Cllr Blumenthal said: “I’m appalled by the offensive remarks of Liberal Democrat councillors.

“How dare they accuse me or any of my colleagues of just doing as we’re told, or being ignorant of the experience of women.

“A cross-party working group looked at the benefits and drawbacks of getting White Ribbon accreditation, and I also separately met with the charity to discuss the Council’s work on violence and harassment culture change.

“On balance, we found that the Council is already advanced on improving internal culture and training and a more comprehensive accreditation would be more appropriate, not just focusing on male violence against women.

Bracknell News: Councillor Laura Blumenthal (Conservative, South Lake). Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / YoutubeCouncillor Laura Blumenthal (Conservative, South Lake). Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / Youtube

“We will still continue working with charities like White Ribbon to ensure that our response to tackling domestic abuse and harassment is the best that it can be.

“It’s unbelievably hypocritical for the Liberal Democrats to support this at the working group, but oppose it when it came to Council.

“That’s politics, I suppose, but frankly, residents deserve better.”

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The Anti-Abuse Charter was passed unanimously by all councillors present.

However, the White Ribbon motion caused a split.

The Liberal Democrat amendment would have committed the council to Seek White Ribbon Accreditation and appoint a male councillor to serve as an ambassador to the campaign.

Yet the amendment failed, with 25 votes against and 18 votes for.

The original motion was passed with 25 votes for, 17 abstentions, and cllr Maria Gee (Liberal Democrats, Wescott) voting against.