The rape clause is just the latest attack on women's rights

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 7 April 2017 in Editor's note

Despite having women in power. women's rights are under concerted attack

In response to the revelation that just 17 per cent of Scottish Conservative council candidates were women, the Tory MSP Annie Wells said that her party had produced two female prime ministers and that Ruth Davidson was living proof that women can get to the top.

Well, bully for you, Annie. Your female PM has just presided over the introduction of an offensive ‘rape clause’ which limits tax credits to a woman’s first two children unless she can prove any subsequent children were conceived as a result of rape.

She has ensured that the so-called ‘tampon tax’ – the five per cent VAT applied to sanitary products that penalises women simply for their biology, that your party originally said it would scrap and then use to fund women’s charities – is now directly going into funding, among others, the anti-abortion organisation that has described abortion following rape as a “death penalty” for the foetus.


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Surely, it is an anathema that you tax women for their bodies menstruating and then give this money to an organisation which seeks to restrict what women can do with their bodies?

Writing it down in black and white reveals the absurdity.

And so too, the increasing reports of period poverty in 2017 are shocking, with girls not going to school because they can’t afford tampons or towels, sanitary products being dished out at foodbanks and women having to resort to using rags and newspaper to improvise for pads.

We live in 2017, not the Dark Ages. This is an expense that women have little choice about. And shouldn’t have to pay.

But to then discover that some of that uniquely female expenditure is diverted into funding bodies that restricts women’s rights just heaps insult on injury.

And yet that same warped logic can also be applied to the newly implemented ‘rape clause’. The policy, which came into force last week, limits tax credits to a woman’s first two children, but provides four exemptions, including one for subsequent children conceived by rape. That have to be named on the form.

First announced in George Osborne’s 2015 budget, and whisked through parliament last Wednesday night with no debate, the measure is designed to penalise bigger families – but not, it would seem, if you can prove your extra children arrived as a consequence of a sex crime.

There are so many abhorrent elements to this ‘rape clause’, but perhaps the ugliest is the fact that the UK Government has deliberately created a financial carrot for women to report rape even when they know there is a significant problem about women being believed in the first place.

And it is almost impossible to believe that a government could create circumstances where making up an allegation of rape might feel like a rational decision to a desperate woman looking out for the best interests of her child.

Scotland’s Minister for Social Security Jeane Freeman has called the UK Government’s welfare policy a “fundamental violation of human rights” and to be fair, it is hard to imagine that such a policy would ever see the light of day in a wholly Scottish social security system.

But Scotland too needs to look to its laurels. In a country where women lead the government and the two main opposition parties and where a woman is also in charge of health, we have a growing scandal about transvaginal mesh implants that could yet bankrupt the NHS and a forensic medical service which is resolutely failing to provide just the very basics of human kindness.

There was nothing more haunting than the revelation that women who have been raped in some of Scotland’s more isolated communities can wait for up to three days for a forensic examination by a female doctor.

Three days after a vicious sexual assault without being able to wash. Think of the humiliation, the degradation and think, we have a woman First Minister and a woman in charge of health.

Scottish Government guidelines, agreed by both the cabinet secretaries for health and justice at the time, have been sitting since 2013.

Four years when rapes didn’t stop but the SNP government failed to do its job.

Having a vagina is not shameful, but it is a fact of many women’s lives, that despite all the words, despite all the women in power, that they are still having to pay a heavy price for their gender.

Speaking in New York at the United Nations last week, Nicola Sturgeon, said it would take 170 years for the world to achieve gender equality and that we couldn’t afford to wait that long.

She said that she could vividly remember that one of the things that really moved her when she first became First Minister was how many women and girls took the opportunity to write or speak to her expressing how much it meant to them to see a woman in the highest political job in the country.

She is yet to speak to any of the women involved in the transvaginal mesh campaign. They need her help not just her example.

Women’s rights are currently under concerted attack and women political leaders need to man up. They must get behind the women that need them who have been raped, humiliated, impoverished and damaged by a patronising and patriarchal establishment that ironically, now has women at the top.

And we have to get beyond the coy.

When one journalist tried to persuade her male editor to first run with the transvaginal mesh story, he pointed to the newspaper and told her, ‘we don’t have fannies in here’, to which she replied, ‘yes, we do, they’ve been working on the newsdesk for years’.

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