On June 16th 2016, a week before the UK European Referendum, Labour MP for Batley and Spen Jo Cox, who was actively campaigning for the remain, was shot and multiply stabbed by a far-right-wing terrorist. She died shortly after the assault, after being left to bleed on the pavement by her aggressor.
The murder of Jo Cox left the country in shock. Indeed, the last political murder that occurred in the United Kingdom took place more than 25 years ago, with the assassination of Ian Gow by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Political murders are perceived as something belonging to another, dark era.
As a sign of respect for the young MP, the Referendum campaign was suspended, and many politicians paid tribute to the respected parliamentarian, and beloved mother and wife. However, the murder of Jo Cox goes beyond the sphere of political murder, and a closer investigation of the circumstances of her death tells us a lot on the condition of women in the UK and their exposure to violence.
- Violence against women: a Third-World phenomenon?
It is difficult to give an exact definition to violence against women as it can take many different forms: it can be physical, psychological, sexual violence, etc. That is why in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN General Assembly decided to adopt a definition as large as possible: “any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”.
However, violence against women often tends to be depicted in the mainstream media as a phenomenon only occurring in the developing world. We often hear about mass rape in India, feminicides in Latin America, acid throwing in the Middle East… So much that it makes one wonder if people have forgotten that violence against women is an issue happening here in the United Kingdom as well.
- What Jo Cox’s murder tells us about violence against women in the UK
Violence against women is not a phenomenon typical of the developing world. Quite on the contrary, a large number of women in the United Kingdom, and more generally in developed countries, continue to be exposed to different forms of gendered violence. Jo Cox’s death is a terrible illustration of the violence women in politics face on a daily basis. If her murder has been motivated by anti-Europeanism, it was also “in line with the violence that female politicians around the world are subjected to regardless of their political affiliations or policy positions”. Women in politics are bullied by their male colleagues, they often endure sexual harassment, and almost always have to deal with death or violence threats on the social media. As matter of fact, Jo Cox was herself receiving a large amount of death and rape threats on twitter during the three months preceding her death.
But the violence experienced by women in politics only represents a small share of all the violence endured by women in the UK, because politicians do enjoy some mediatisation over their experiences. Jo Cox’s murder has become a state affair because she was an MP, but what about all the women that suffer in silence? Domestic violence is “one of the commonest crimes [that] seems to occur in almost all cultures and countries, across all known divisions of wealth, ethnicity, caste and social class”. According to the British Crime Survey Statistical Bulletin, domestic abuse affect 1 in 4 women. Furthermore, 47% of all female homicide victims are murdered by their partner or ex-partner. Rape is the other main factor of violence against women in the UK. According to the Government’s statistic, around 404.000 women report sexual assault every year to the police. However, one should bear in mind that this number might not be representative of the actual scope of the issue as many sexual assaults are left unreported by their victims.
- Lessons to be learned
Jo Cox’s murder cannot be forgotten. It has raised awareness on the situation of women in politics, and there have been calls to take more seriously violent threats towards female MPs. Parliamentarians should urgently legislate for the increasing of women’s protection, in politics but also at home. Jo Cox’s death is only one made-public event amongst many others equally tragic, but that we do not hear about. Her legacy must be honoured, and that is why, now more than ever, we must reinforce the fight for gender equality.
 Declaration on the elimination of violence against women. New York, United Nations, 23 February 1994 (Resolution No. A/RES/48/104).
 Hague and Malos, Domestic Violence, 1.