Why is it still not safe for women to walk home at night?

concrete road towards the forest

I seriously need people to stop asking women what they were wearing or what they were doing there. As though just by being there, consent to be violated was granted. Sarah Everard was clearly fully covered with layers of clothing and her face was masked! She was minding her business and on her way home from visiting a friend. The next victim-blaming question to ask is why was she walking home alone late at night?! Forgetting that she had probably walked that route several times before with no cause for concern. Perhaps she committed the most heinous crime of having the audacity to feel safe in her neighbourhood, as a woman. Seriously what can women do right? Why should walking home at around 9 pm end up being a “justifiable” death sentence because she shouldn’t have?

I need people to start focussing on the real issues that we face. Listen when the women in your life speak up about their experiences. Listen to victims. When cases like this happen to break the news, because there are many that don’t, it should be an opportunity to have serious conversations. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day was #choosetochallenge. In order to #choosetochallenge you must first be aware. There is a lot that we can learn from listening to women tell their stories. Ask women you know about their experiences of sexism and micro-aggression or simply what challenges they face just by virtue of being a woman and be prepared to listen. It is imperative that we realise that our responses and reactions to the stories that make the news can ultimately help or hinder people close to us. A lot of times it will inform their judgment on whether they seek support or not when they experience violence or abuse.

As much as people think the feminist agenda is to conquer the world and take it over, most women just want an opportunity to live free from the potent fear of violence that we are faced with daily; to be able to walk home at night without fear or concern! A few years ago a friend gave me a lift home after an evening out. Before we even got to my door, I opened my bag and took out my keys. I held them in my hand. When he asked why I did that, I told him it’s just a habit I had developed. I didn’t want to go into it or expose my vulnerability.

To this day I cannot reconcile his response. With an approving nod, he told me; “You’re good. Men like that.” Excuse me? Apparently, men hate having to wait on women while they dig into their bags to find their keys. I was organised and he approved. Most women reading this would know why I had my keys in my hand. He was completely oblivious! I didn’t have the energy or the patience to let him know I didn’t t need his approval and to explain the real reason why I didn’t have the luxury of being “disorganised”. The fact that he didn’t feel the need to wait for me to get into my house safely before driving off said a lot.

There are several things that women have to think about and do on a regular basis to protect themselves. Things that they shouldn’t have to do. But society has decided to accept male violence as the norm, therefore putting the onus on women to protect themselves by any means necessary. Here is a list of ten things that I do out of fear as a routine, but should not have to:

  1. Wedge my keys between my fingers ready to use as a weapon.
  2. Share my Uber rides with friends or family members so they can keep track in the event that anything happens.
  3. Pretend to talk on the phone when I feel unsafe so that a potential perpetrator will think that there is a virtual witness.
  4. Pretend I am waiting for someone who is on their way when a stranger tries to engage in conversation with me
  5. Cross the street if I feel like I am being followed and see if they follow.
  6. Sometimes I keep my earphones in and pretend to be occupied but the music is off because I know I have to be aware of my surroundings.
  7. Avoid stairs or elevators in areas that are not crowded.
  8. Stay still and pretend I am not home if someone knocks or the doorbell rings. I never open the door unless I am expecting someone.
  9. Claim to be in a relationship or wear a ring on my wedding ring finger to wad off unwanted attention.
  10. Have 999 on speed dial.

As women, we do all these things knowing that they may not even make a difference. Last winter, when it was snowing heavily, a story went viral about a woman who went out and saw 1F had been traced on the ice that settled on her wheelie bin. She took a picture of it and posted it online asking what it meant. Someone replied back to say “It looks like you have been tagged as a single female.” Then a series of responses ensued from other women:

“Call the police so they can watch out for you. Someone is watching you or trying to kidnap you. It stands for 1 female.”

“Put a cookie under your porch mat and if broken when you get back that means someone was there looking through your letter box for you or knocking.”

“1F means one female. You are being targeted. So put fresh snow on the lid and write 3M on it for three males to scare them off.”

“Get a weapon.”

And then there was the final tweet in the thread which was a kind message from a lady who knew all too well the collective anxiety that women face when these things happen; reassuring everyone that the original poster had gone to live with her mum temporarily until she could feel safe in her home.

Tonight, I can’t help but think about Sarah Everard and the many women who will share in that collective anxiety. Some would have experienced near misses in the past, others would fear that at any time, it could be them. Too many would have been reminded of those they have lost under similar circumstances. I am angry! I have walked home alone late at night on many occasions. Some of those times, I had no choice! I can only hope that one day, we will change the narrative and the questions will be not why, but why not? Only then can we begin to have meaningful conversations about how we can bring about much-needed change. And no – a blanket curfew for men is not the change we need!

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