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Opinion

Male decision makers have no idea how dangerous the UK is for women

A report released by UN Women UK that found that 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 had been sexually harassed, and four in five women of all ages had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces

Men have no idea what it is like to exist in a world that targets you just for being a woman. This is not news, even though the disappearance of Sarah Everard has made it so. This is the daily lived experience for women in the UK.

I first realised this when I was 23. I’d just moved to a village on the Wirral to study in Liverpool. I didn’t have any friends in the area or know it at all, but my fellow students on the course told me that there was a pretty marsh within easy walking distance of where I lived.

Shortly after moving, my friend Alex came to visit. I suggested we go and check out the famed marsh, given I’d not been able to visit it yet. “Sure!” said Alex, “but if it’s so nice, why haven’t you checked it out already?” 

I stared back at him, blankly. “Because obviously nobody in their right mind would go wandering alone around remote marshland in an area they don’t know”.

Alex looked back at me, equally blankly, and then answered: “Oh my goodness. That isn’t something I would ever consider. I would just…go.”

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That was the penny-drop moment where I realised that the overwhelming majority of men – even the good ones – have no idea of the degree to which women have to constrain their freedom to keep themselves safe. Because it’s not just remote marshes. It’s everywhere, and it’s every day. 

Limit your route to well-lit main roads. Keep your keys between your fingers. Call ahead so someone knows to expect you. Text your friend when you get home. Wear shoes you can run in. Walk close to the kerb. Clock any alleyways you could be dragged into. Stay alert: don’t use your headphones or look at your phone. 

And you can do all that, and still not make it home.

The devastating news about Sarah Everard was accompanied by a report released byUN Women UK that found that 97 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 had been sexually harassed, and four in five women of all ages had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. These phenomena are not unrelated.

The planning and strategising that women do daily to ensure their safety is constant. It’s time-consuming. It’s exhausting. It’s life-limiting. And it’s completely invisible to men.

We live in a country where too many decision-makers – MPs, councillors, board executives – are men who, like my friend Alex, are completely oblivious to how pervasively dangerous the world is to women. 

The result is that they fail to make ending VAWG — violence against women and girls — a priority. The fact the problem has received its own campaigning acronym should tell you how serious the issue has become. The fact it is an issue at all should spur you into action.

We need politicians and the police to take active responsibility to make London safe for women. Women are not responsible for the acts of perpetrators. Gender-based violence must become a top London policing priority, and that means recognising sexual harassment for the serious problem that it is.

That’s one of the reasons that I’m running for election to the Greater London Assembly as a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party on 6th May. If we want change to happen, we need women in the rooms where decisions are being made, loudly and persistently making the case for the change.

We also need men alongside us making the case just as loudly and persistently. It’s been encouraging to see how many men have reached out over recent days to ask “what can I do to make women safe?” 

There have been helpful Twitter threads and articles with some of the basics: don’t walk behind us at night, cross the street, keep your distance, walk your friend home if she asks, etc. While those tips are wonderful, and will be helpful, they won’t solve the problem. It’s not enough to be a nice guy and think sexism is bad. We need more from you than that.

We need you to fight alongside us. Listen to your female friends when they speak out about their experiences, instead of getting defensive. Join and donate to organisations that campaign to end VAWG. Vote for parties that demand it. Demand it from your MP, councillors and police crime commissioners. Hold them accountable.

Because trust me, we already know that it’s #NotAllMen – but the reality is that we need Every Single Man to get on board and sort this out. Without you, we’ll always be stuck in this grim Groundhog Day, and women will always be frightened for their lives.

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