Women’s safety should be a priority—not a luxury

Woman being followed by a man

Women shouldn’t have to stay home past dark to stay safe.

In response to Sarah Everard’s kidnapping and murder, women across the globe have shared their experiences of harassment and discomfort on the streets—and what they do to protect themselves. For the everyday woman, these stories come as no surprise.

Women have been conditioned their whole lives to look out for themselves. When women go missing, get raped, or face violence, justice can be hard to come by. Women are warned, mostly by other women, to protect themselves.

Tweets and text posts recently circulated social media, in which men asked what they could do to make women feel safer. This is a positive step toward rethinking women’s safety by putting the responsibility to act on those making women feel unsafe in the first place: men. Some even suggested enforcing a curfew for men, instead of women, as an example of a safety mechanism that doesn’t take away women’s freedom and places the consequences of male violence toward women on men for once.

But women feeling unsafe goes beyond the streets when it’s dark outside. Abduction and murder might be the extremes of the violence women experience, but the smaller, everyday harassment women face on a day-to-day basis contributes equally to misogyny.

Something that might seem inconsequential to men—like flirting in an inappropriate setting, walking too closely behind someone at night, or laughing at a rape joke—are, in reality, harmful to women.

Though small, these kinds of actions foster an environment where men feel superior enough to do what they like without regard for how their actions affect women, even if that means taking a woman’s life.

#NotAllMen has been trending on Twitter, which is a direct display of many men’s unwillingness to change their habits or even listen to women’s calls to action. Ninety-seven per cent of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment in a public space. #NotAllMen misses the point: it might not be all men, but it’s a lot more than most men would like to believe.

Anyone who perceives women calling for an end to violence as an attack on men is twisting the narrative entirely. The #NotAllMen rhetoric centres men as the focus of the conversation, demanding protection for the male ego and placing the responsibility for that protection on women, who often can’t protect themselves from real threats. Women just want to feel safe when they go out at night alone. That should be a right—not a privilege reserved for men.

Everard’s suspected murderer is a police officer, proving the systems in place do little to protect women from violence. When women can’t trust the structures meant to support them—including police, authorities, and courts—the onus of protection is pushed back on them. This needs to end.

Everyone should have the freedom to feel safe on the streets. That can’t happen until we take a collective stand against women’s violence and start holding men accountable for their actions—no matter how small.

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