Blog: To walk without fear

The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has jump-started a conversation about how it can be acceptable that so many women experience fear so often

hands raised, facing palms out to stop violence, against a dark background

The terrible abduction and murder of Sarah Everard as she walked home has shocked the entire country and on behalf of everyone at UNISON, I extend our sympathies to all her family and friends.

But this terrible crime has jump-started a national conversation about male violence towards women that we must build on and ensure results in positive action for the future. Because the tragic reality is that in 2021 women still do not feel safe on our streets.

We change our plans so that we are not out alone after dark. Normal, everyday activities like going for a run or walking home are off limits to half of the population once it gets dark. Girls are taught to walk with their keys in their hands so they can defend themselves.

I live less than two miles from the street where Sarah Everard was abducted and I’m fully aware of the way taking precautions is an everyday part of my and my daughter’s and my female friends lives.

Not because this a particularly dangerous area but because it’s what we always do. If I’m coming home after dark from my local train station I always walk the long way round rather than take the shortcut, which is a lane that goes down the side of the train track.

Recent polling shows that 97% of women aged 18 to 24 have been sexually harassed, while 80% of women in all age groups reported having experienced sexual harassment in a public place.

In the UK alone, 118 women were killed by men in the last year. That’s almost one every three days. Jess Phillips read their names out in Parliament in the International Women’s Day debate this week – as she reads out the names of women killed by men in the past year every year.  This time it took her over four minutes.

Women living in fear every day. How can any of this be acceptable?

As women and as a trade union we must not be silent. Violence and fear thrive when they aren’t talked about. And as the UK’s biggest women’s organisation of course we have a part to play.

Just recently we successfully campaigned to get key amendments included in the Domestic Abuse Bill and we will carry on working and campaigning to ensure that the government takes this problem more seriously and introduces changes in the criminal justice system that better protect all women.

We are clear that at work, or at home or on the streets, women should be safe. Anywhere and everywhere. Whatever time of night or day. And many men can and actively do support this work.

We can all vow to remember Sarah Everard and all the other victims of male violence towards women. And we renew our fight to do all we can to make sure that her tragic death leads to a better future for all women in this country.