The past month has been tumultuous to say the least. But rightly so; the activism and uproar sparked by the horrific death of Sarah Everard has brought the necessary conversation of women’s rights, safety and equality to the forefront again.
On March 3rd, Sarah, 33, disappeared whilst walking across Clapham Common back to her home in Brixton. It should have been a relaxing walk, just under an hour, on an evening brightly lit by the street lights of the paths she walked. To those arguing she wasn’t careful enough, Sarah wore brightly coloured clothes, stuck to mainly well-lit areas, and even stayed on the phone to her boyfriend. It’s a sad reality – women everywhere make sure to take extra precautions to ensure their safety from men, yet Sarah was still abducted, and worse still, by a police officer, whose very job is to protect us and make us feel safe. If anything, it proves women are still the target of men no matter how safe we try to be. The problem here is not how careful women are, how we dress, or how late at night we walk in public – it’s how the system educates, or rather fails to educate boys from a young age, who grow to be men that think treating women any way they please is acceptable. We’ve been fostering an environment in schools in which young men believe that it’s ‘cool’ to say crude remarks to girls, degrade them, to touch them when they want without consent, and in many cases rape them.
A statistic you may have seen over the last few weeks states that ‘97% of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed’. That should shock you.It did when I heard it. Around the UK, in response to Sarah’s death, thousands of painful accounts of rape have been shared on the website everyonesinvited.uk, specifically from schoolgirls and young women. Of the over 5,000 anonymous stories shared, many detail teachers turning a blind eye on the accounts of sexual harassment in state, grammar and private schools, where each are facing many allegations of sexual assault claims. In one of these schools, the pupils, from years 11 to 13, staged a protest in which female students walked out of class, to highlight the ‘vile and inhumane’ actions of male students that have been disregarded. Were they right to walk out from class? I’d argue they were. Change doesn’t happen unless something is actively done to make a point. Especially if that point is concerning the violation of human rights. Students standing together in solidarity sends a strong message to peers and other schools that this ‘rape culture’ should not and will not be tolerated, students will not be silenced, and something must be done to change the current attitudes of boys in school, which as such will change the way they grow to be men in the world. Simple changes, for example introducing classes at primary school in conjunction with sex education classes, will teach boys and girls to respect each other early on.
Why should we feel unsafe? Why should we need to take extra precautions? Why should we need to be careful, dress modestly just to protect ourselves from being sexualised by others, and not be able to walk freely when and where we please? Almost every woman has taken a longer route home, made a fake phone call, walked home scared, or even held keys in between her fingers, just in case. It’s something I’ve increasingly noticed myself doing – holding my breath as a group of men look me up and down, keeping my head down when being catcalled… the list goes on.
Although I’m wary of writing an article that feels as though I’m attacking men – which is not at all my intention – the attitude that it’s ‘not all men’ may be true, as voiced by boys, but to women all men do pose a threat until we know otherwise. Clearly, this is something that we need to make a change about. In order to create a safe society, men collectively need to make a fundamental difference in their behaviour towards women.
I am grateful, however, that at Brampton we have a safe environment in which the students seem to respect one another and understand the gravity of the recent climate. For me personally, it’s actually the most comfortable I’ve felt within a school community, and I’m appreciative of the efforts everyone has made surrounding Sarah’s death. Around the college, students have worn red clothing to show support, and sociological discussions have been held to discuss issues which have emerged, such as whether women are really safe. It’s important to note here, that there are many boys and men who support the movement and respect women – something that is hugely relieving to acknowledge. I hope by writing this, as a community at Brampton and schools everywhere, we can not only continue to raise awareness, but also feel the need to actively do something to make a change, by educating each other.
By Imaan Rashid, student