My daughter lives in Clapham Common. She walks, runs, socialises & loves the buzz of living in the area where I was born & went to school.
She’s 26 and has been distressed, anxious & angry about what’s happened & when I went to have lunch with her yesterday as I turned into Clapham Common I burst into tears as what happened to Sarah Everard could have so easily have happened to my daughter.
We all have stories of feeling unsafe, holding keys & crossing roads. I even went on a self defence course run by the police in my 20’s & often felt relief as I got into my car to drive home instead of having to walk or take public transport.
But why should we as women have to accept that wearing trainers in case we need to run, phoning a friend or loved one while walking alone, being vigilant to the men around us & texting when we get home is just par for the course?
Yes, we can teach our daughters about ways to stay safe but social media is flooded with women’s accounts of street harassment and feeling unsafe in public.
There is no city or country in the world where women and girls live free of the fear of violence
Whether walking city streets, using public transport, going to school, or selling goods at the market, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence.
This reality of daily life limits women’s freedom to get an education, to work, to participate in politics – or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhoods.
Yet despite its prevalence, violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it.
That so many women are continuing to come forward, in the wake of the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard, and saying that so little appears to have changed in the 40 years since serial killer Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror, is a depressing indictment of modern society.
And while the arrest of a serving police officer on suspicion of murder has added to the public distress, it should not detract from wider societal issues that always come to the fore and all too quickly disappear, at times like this.
What these harrowing personal accounts reveal is how one half of the adult population feels threatened, and has to take more extreme personal safety precautions, because they feel vulnerable when they step out to go to work or meet friends.
Data shows men are more likely to be attacked – but Sarah Everard’s case has left many of us angry as we know the fear – and as the mother of a similar aged daughter whose flat actually overlooks Clapham Common and lives on the route Sarah Everard took home, my anxiety & empathy is through the roof.
The challenges extend beyond knee-jerk debates about tougher sentences for offenders, policing levels or politics, because it’s profoundly more than just about scoring cheap political points on the back this latest case.
It’s about listening, understanding, and comprehending the significance of how women have to live our lives.
The the roll-call of women killed by violence – at the hands of men – since the last International Women’s Day was a powerful & important message read out by Jess Phillips MP in the House of Commons.
What is it that makes women going about their daily lives feel afraid – and how do men, and wider society, need to respond?
For too long the narrative has been too focused on what women must do in order to stay safe, what changes women should make and what limitations women should place on their liberties in order to keep safe.
It is time to stop blaming the victims, and start understanding the destructive power of misogyny in the daily lives of women the world over. Only then can we even begin to hope for safer streets for everyone, but for women in particular.
People need to call out unacceptable behaviour towards women and misogyny.
Andy Burnham Mayor of Manchester called it out clearly enough.
‘No woman or girl should have to live in fear of going out. No woman or girl should have to think about changing their normal route, whether or not to wear headphones, hold keys between their fingers, wear trainers in case they feel threatened and need to run or have to let family and friends know they got home safely.
Women shouldn’t have to change their behaviour because of unacceptable behaviour by men. But women have been doing this all their lives because the threats and dangers to women and girls are still all too real and prevalent in our society.
‘As men, we need to take responsibility for this and consider what changes we all need to make to our behaviour so that all women in Greater Manchester are able to live their lives with freedom from fear, harassment, intimidation and violence.
‘We all need to call out the unacceptable behaviour and misogyny that makes women the target for so much abuse and violence.’
So what can be done?
One approach is the Safe Cities global initiative. This partnership of municipal governments, local communities and organisations, and the UN, is working to make urban environments safer for women and girls.
UN Women and UN-Habitat with five pilot cities launched an initiative – and one of the most important lessons they have learned is that each city is unique and requires a local response.
This can only be achieved by conducting a diagnostic study with data and evidence, and engaging community members.
Cities have taken actions to improving the lighting and design of streets and buildings, training and sensitising police, and hiring more women police officers. These practical responses can make a world of difference.
There’s no quick fix – making cities smarter, safer and more sustainable requires partnership and collaboration – between residents, government, the private sector and civil society.
By including women in decision-making, city governments will be in a better position to fulfill their responsibility to ensure the safety of their residents, especially women and girls but change within society around misogyny & domestic violence needs to be addressed as all families need to take responsibility for ‘talking & teaching’ respect for women.
I think Harriet Harman, Labour’s chair of the human rights select committee, who told Times Radio on Thursday: ‘This is an issue for men’s behaviour, more than it is of women’s behaviour’ is right.
It’s time to make this an important topic of discussion and change.
Meanwhile my daughter will attend wearing a mask & socially distancing to pay her respects at the vigil, titled ‘Reclaim These Streets’ taking place on Clapham Common bandstand at 6pm on Saturday, near where Sarah Everard was last seen as she made her way home to Brixton last week.
I will be there in spirit.