YESTERDAY’S International Women’s Day was a chance to celebrate, support and empower women.
As patron of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid — and of course as a Spice Girl — it is everything I stand for.
But it is also an important moment to look back on the year.
Today, we will hear Labour MP Jess Phillips read out in Parliament the names of every woman who has been killed by a man this year.
And as we listen, I want you to think about how many women are currently living in fear of their lives.
Also today, the family of Joanna Simpson, who was bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer by her estranged husband Robert Brown within earshot of their two small children, will meet Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.
Brown is due for automatic release this year after serving just 13 years of a 26-year sentence. For manslaughter.
The Sun has been campaigning with Joanna’s mother Diana Parkes for Mr Raab to block the release.
It is for women like Joanna I became a campaigner. If you’d told me five years ago how my life would change, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Putting together my book, Brutally Honest, with my friend, writerLouise Gannon, I was coming to terms with my own experience of coercive control.
To be honest, I hadn’t even realised I was in a coercive relationship. I had never even heard of that expression, or what it meant.
All I knew was that my life was in pieces, I was isolated from my family and friends, I had zero self-confidence and had been pushed to the brink of suicide because of this man who I believed would love me.
Finally I was heard, I was believed and I spoke my truth.
Thanks to The Sun, it led me to Women’s Aid. And they told me how much my story could help other women. When they asked me to become patron, I met other survivors, who are some of the most incredible women I have ever met.
Last year, my work for charity and vulnerable women saw me being awarded an MBE by Prince William.
I had my mother by my side, and fellow Spice Girl Victoria Beckham made dresses for us both. It was an incredible day.
My MBE was not just for me but for every other survivor of abuse and it made me even more determined.
Last week I spoke at a Women’s Aid conference and challenged Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to increase his five priorities to six — adding a major focus on the issue of domestic abuse.
He took on my challenge but I’m still waiting for him to formally announce it. Come on Sir Keir, we are waiting.
I give the same challenge to PM Rishi Sunak, extend your five priorities to six and show us your commitment to end violence against women.
My conversation with Sir Keir took place in a room full of women’s campaigners and those running domestic abuse services, as well as survivors. Scores of strong, incredible women who try every day to make change.
It is my duty to stand up and ensure our voices are heard in every room where decisions are being made about women’s and children’s lives. Violence against women should be a priority for any politician in this country.
This is an epidemic and there needs to be massive change in the classroom, in the courtroom and in police forces to deal with it.
Children need to be educated, the family courts need reforming. Doctors, police and therapists must be trained to understand every aspect of abuse.
There are many positive things happening, including better protection under the Domestic Abuse Act.
And while we need to extend this to help all women, including migrant women, we are seeing real progress.
Important new laws, such as the one that came in last year for non-fatal strangulation — abusers often terrify victims by suffocating and strangling them — will help many survivors.
TV drama Happy Valley, whose final series was a massive hit this year, had a domestic abuse storyline that really put the issue on the agenda — and it really touched me.
When I talked about this, Mollie Winnard, who played Joanna Hepworth in the drama, said I was a “true inspiration” for sharing my story. That really meant the world.
Joanna told me: “Playing Joanna in Happy Valley has opened my eyes to the daily struggles so many women in domestic violent relationships face.
“I was just playing a part but for many women, this is their reality. This needs to change. Women are not a possession or a punching bag. Every women has the right to her own mind. Every women has the right to make her own choices.
“Every women has the right to a violence-free home.
“I stand with all the inspirational women who live in fear and are struggling to make it through the day. You are stronger than you feel.”
When we are campaigning for change, it’s not women versus men, it’s the opposite. As the Women’s Aid Come Together campaign says, we can only end abuse together.
So step up and do what you can, speak out and make your voice heard.
Staying silent keeps things the same, and abuse thrives in silence.
While I am still surviving the long-term effects of abuse, which includes PTSD and the outdated attitudes of the family courts, I am proud to be a woman who is here for other women and other survivors of domestic abuse.