A place of safety - midwives helping women to vote

By Gabrielle Bourke, Policy Advisor on 28 March 2019 RCM Annual Conference Safety Domestic Abuse

Find out how the RCM is supporting midwives to make sure women can exercise their right to vote safely.

You could be forgiven for wanting to take a break from politics recently. Between indicative votes and meaningful votes (that seem to feel meaningless) it’s all looking a bit of a mess.

But as MPs in the House of Commons squabble, what’s clear is how much the views of their constituents are playing on their minds as they struggle with Brexit. Whatever your views, the outcome of 48% vs 52% back in 2016 shows us how much every vote truly counts. The next elections in the UK are coming up soon and people need to be on the electoral roll by 12 April to be able to cast their vote in these.

But there’s a quirk in our system. Our right to vote is centred on where we live – this is what makes our local MPs and councillors truly ‘local’. And the list of everyone who’s enrolled to vote and where they live is a public document.

What if where you lived needed to be kept a secret? Would you risk enrolling to vote?

Sadly we live in a country where on average, two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner. Sometimes the places where women live are not safe if they are known to others. Midwives know this reality better than most – the link between violence and coercion, and pregnancy, is sadly well-established in abusive relationships.

When survivors of domestic abuse begin to rebuild their lives, they may be living in a refuge, or have moved far away from a perpetrator. They need to keep that address secret to stay safe.

So how can they exercise their right to vote? Happily, we have a system in the UK that allows people to register to vote and keep their address a secret from the general public. This is called anonymous voter registration. And midwives have a part to play.

Last year the governments across the UK changed the law to make it easier for survivors of abuse to be anonymous on the electoral roll. The system now allows for applications to be anonymous to be supported by a registered health professional, such as a midwife.

If a midwife believes a woman or her dependents would be at risk if her address was made public, she can make an ‘attestation’ to that effect. Midwives encounter women at risk every day and they refer and support appropriately. Anonymous voter registration is another part of a midwife’s toolkit: if she tells you or you believe that her address needs to stay a secret, you can help ensure her right to vote is still secure.

Midwives are trusted advocates for women and safeguarding is a key part of every midwife’s role. Midwives are there when others may not be; a friendly face, a listening ear, someone to say, ‘I hear you, I will help you stay safe’. Please read the RCM’s guide to Anonymous Voter Registration to help any woman cast her vote, and make the electoral roll a place of safety.

The next elections on 2 May are for local representatives in England and Northern Ireland and voters need to make sure they are on the electoral roll by 12 April. Make sure you, whoever you are, take up the cherished right to vote.