Indecent exposure, vile abuse and the sexist hate faced by a Wolverhampton councillor

By Gurdip ThandiLocal Democracy Reporter

“I didn’t choose to be a woman. I’m proud to be a woman but I shouldn’t receive abuse for simply being a woman.”

Vile sexist insults on social media channels are depressingly and frustratingly nothing new for Wolverhampton Labour councillor Beverley Momenabadi.

The 30-year-old balances her job in the aerospace industry with her political career which has seen her rise to become Wolverhampton’s youngest ever female cabinet member, looking after the Children and Young People portfolio.

But despite her success – she was crowned the national Young Councillor of the Year last November – the Ettingshall ward member still runs a gauntlet of abuse on channels such as Twitter and Facebook.

Worryingly, this has led to frightening face-to-face incidents – the worst of which happened two years ago when a depraved man confronted her in the street as she delivered election leaflets and indecently exposed himself to her.

While he was later charged and convicted, Councillor Momenabadi said it highlighted how anonymous trolling on social media can lead to physical violence and is calling for more action to be taken to stop it.

She has also backed MP Stella Creasy’s campaign to make misogyny a hate crime.

Councillor Momenabadi said: “Sadly, this isn’t new behaviour. Not just for me but for other women in politics.

“I guess I’m used to the comments online now but the serious end to this kind of misogynistic abuse is it leads to physical violence.

“The indecent expose was really frightening. I was out doing casework last week and as I walked down the street alone, a man pulled up beside me and started shouting stuff out the window. It made me feel anxious.

“I actually don’t think some men who are doing this openly actually understand the damage they’re doing and the effect they are having women.

“I’m cautious about using public transport on my own. If I go out leafleting now, I carry a rape alarm with me. It’s those experiences as a woman in politics that my male colleagues don’t have.

“The two industries I work in are traditionally male-dominated environments – politics and aerospace. I’m a woman excelling in those two sectors because of hard work.

“But we always come back to the way I look. I don’t want to talk about the way I look, I want to talk about policy and what I’ve been employed and elected to do. I want to deliver for my residents and it doesn’t matter what I look like, how I dress – it should be about my actions.

“At least 50 per cent of the time I walk into a meeting, someone will comment on what I am wearing.”

She is currently at the Labour Party conference and even received sexist abuse in response to photos she had posted on Twitter.

She said: “(At the conference) Kier Starmer announced under a Labour government, he would introduce tougher sentences for sexual crimes such as rape, stalking and domestic violence.

“I wholeheartedly agree with this and feel it would be a very significant step for women.”

Councillor Momenabadi says there are a number of other things that need to be done for women to feel safer, not least tightening up controls on social media.

She said: “I don’t think online platforms do enough to protect women. I think you should have to provide identification to sign up to platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

“If we have platforms that allow us to be able to find out the ID of people, I’m sure some of this abuse will stop. It doesn’t completely get rid of the problem but it at least creates space for women to feel safe online.

“There needs to be pressure put on these social media giants from the Government to make these women feel safer and one of the ways to do that is ID verification.

“The other thing is we have to have role models who promote good behaviour towards women but I think we lack that. We have a prime minister who has made comments such as ‘just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way’.

“We need to have leaders who role model really good behaviour and demonstrate what is acceptable and what’s not.”

She added: “Misogyny isn’t classed as a crime in law. Other forms of hate are criminal offences and so they should be. But misogyny isn’t.

“I joined Stella Creasy’s campaign around making misogyny a hate crime. If we came to a point where it was, people would be held to account for making women like me fearful because of my gender.”

She has received welcome support from male colleagues but knows there are still battles ahead.

She said: “We need to bring men into this conversation. I think some of my biggest allies in the fight against misogyny have been male colleagues such as Councillor Chris Burden and Pat McFadden MP. These are people who really take a stand.

“I’m definitely aware I’m treated differently to my male colleagues and my feelings range from frustration and sadness to fear.

“I’m the youngest female cabinet member ever in Wolverhampton and I’m up for election in May but these are my experiences online and in person.

“But this makes me want to do this more. It makes me want change things and try to make misogyny a hate crime.”