We #PasstheMic to those with enriching perspectives to share their views and lived experience. Today, after the tragic events of last week with the murder of Sarah Everard, Shereen our Global IDEA programme manager shares her lived experiences and learnings with us around the importance of Reclaim these Streets and gender equality.
Reclaim the Streets
Content warning: This blog contains content that may be harmful or triggering to some audiences.
Sarah Everard was abducted and murdered whilst walking home, her body was found last week and a police offer has been arrested in connection to her murder.
On Saturday, a #Reclaim these Streets vigil was organised
It was for Sarah and all the women who go missing from our streets, along with the 97% of young women in the UK who have suffered sexual harassment. Reclaim these streets are a 25 year old collective, who believe that streets should be safe for women, regardless of what you wear, where you live or what time of day or night it is.
Social media and the news is full of opinions and information about what happened at the vigil on Saturday. And I’m sure that everyone reading this has a different opinion about the events along with what was right or wrong. I would like to share my thoughts and experiences here.
I’ve spent most of my life caring about equal rights
Always caring about equal rights but in a separate, non-committal way. That was up until 4 years ago. I went out to work drinks and met the wrong man in the wrong bathroom. What happened is unimportant, what matters is how I and the world handled it. The two male police officers I spoke to stared blankly as I explained what happened, told me it was common and asked me if I encouraged him and was I sure I hadn’t? I lost count of how many men have asked me that question since.
This was the time my non-committal feminism turned to rage, with pure hatred for the man who attacked me, the men who allowed it and did nothing about it and the society which saw it as normal.
For Sarah and all the women who have felt like that
On Friday evening, I went for a walk to clear my head and a man happened to be walking behind me. After reading about Sarah all week and unintentionally reliving past events, I felt a similar pang of the fear I felt for months after that incident. I decided then, that no matter what any police officer, politician or anyone else said, I was going to light a candle for Sarah, myself and everyone else who has ever felt like that.
In respect, I walked the same walk Sarah did and arrived in Clapham Common at about 5.30 - it was beautiful. We were paying respects, laying flowers and candles and although I went alone and in a mask, I felt safe and welcome. A little while later an organiser was on stage speaking about our right to walk the streets. That we should all feel safe no matter what we’re doing, that these streets were ours as much as anyone else who choses to walk home at 9:30pm. It was truly empowering. We were social distancing, we didn’t have pickets and the people on the bandstand didn’t even have a microphone.
Then the sun came down
I watched as 7 police officers stormed the stage, stopped the women from speaking and tried to force everyone to get down. I just stood there, shocked and fascinated with what was happening. Until I witnessed 5 male officers tackling women with their backs turned to the ground. This was when the vigil turned into something illegal, we were not the perpetrators.
I felt that rage again. How dare they?! Covid is a pandemic, but so is violence against women - one of those battles has been fought and died for, for much, much longer than the other. With Covid, we’re telling people to stay inside to not harm others. When women are at risk, women are told to stay inside and change who we are so as not to get hurt. Why do we live in a society that tries to lock up and punish the victims of attacks when the perpetrators walk free and unchallenged???
Let us speak
It’s horrific that in 2021 we need a group saying that women have the right to feel safe on their own streets, the fact that the police and the world saw these comments as a threat is abhorrent.
I stood until the very end, amongst hundreds of others, screaming to let these women go. To let us speak. To get their hands, fists and elbows off of us. Not only did no-one respond, but countless police officers surrounded us and started to drag people to their vans through the crowd.
I am both furious and so, so proud of what happened on Saturday night. I watched as those in ‘authority’ tried violently to quieten and dismiss us but I also watched as hundreds of us stood up to them and said NO, YOU GO HOME.
I am done with this.
I am done with changing how I behave, where I walk and keeping my eyes down in a pub so as not to accidentally get a man’s attention. I should not be afraid to go into a bathroom or to walk home - this is fundamentally unacceptable. I will not be told to stand down by anyone, especially not by the very people who tell me to stay inside for ‘my own safety’.
This time, I’m choosing to keep that anger and will not be silenced, no matter what laws or legislation may be in place.