The reaction to the alleged murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer in the UK marks a watershed moment in the fight to end sexual harassment and femicide. Why? Because, the focus is no longer on women, but on men. It is not women who are to blame for sexual harassment or femicide, it is – statistically – men. Therefore, the responsibility, the onus, the lens, must shift and is shifting. This shift is what is different to previous women’s rights protests to reclaim the streets and reclaim the night, the fact that we are no longer thinking inwardly at what women can do differently, but rather shifting focus to ‘what can men do to change their behaviour’. Until there are more men at a women’s right protest, more men actively fighting to end violence against women and girls, we will not achieve gender equality.
Everyone has a role to play. The media by a simple change of phrase and syntax, can place the responsibility on ‘the man’ in headlines and in reporting. The police should not instil fear in women, but instead put the responsibility on men. Just last week, women in South London were asked to ‘stay at home’, this shouldn’t have been the case. Applying the mantra of ‘men’s collective responsibility’, the police should have asked men to stay home. Unfortunately, we haven’t got the means to put every man under house arrest just to filter out the dangerous ones, and we know that the police can be incredibly dangerous too as we saw this weekend, and as we saw with Black Lives Matter. Police brutality is real and it must be stopped.
It shouldn’t have to take a police officer murdering a woman on her way home for society and policymakers to understand the seriousness of violence against women, and that it is not women who should feel restricted, but men who should actively take responsibility to ensure that women are made to feel safe. We must change societal norms together. All women and all men, cisgendered, trans, non binary – we are all harmed by the patriarchy and by men as perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence.
If you are a man reading this, and you’re thinking ‘but I’m not violent, what am I meant to do?’. Well, small actions can make a great different. Next time you are walking home in the evening and you happen to be walking behind a woman, cross the road. She will feel safer if you do. If you are a father, mother or guardian reading this, instead of telling your daughter to be careful and to not wear revealing clothing, tell your son about the absolute necessity of consent and healthy relationships, and to never catcall a young woman. Same goes for teachers and the power of reshaping the narrative in education to focus on consent as opposed to ‘not getting pregnant’ by putting condoms on bananas. Trust me, there is nothing to be learnt from protecting a banana. There is everything to gain from telling a group of teenagers the absolute necessity of consent in every sexual relationship.
Ending vawg and sexual harassment demands collective action. From in the home, to education, to conversations with friends, to legislation in Parliament.
Sexual harassment is a pandemic. Violence against women and girls is a pandemic. Both are obstructing our ability to solve other social issues and of course the most pressing issue of our time: the climate emergency.