Do you feel safe? It’s a question a lot of women in the UK are asking themselves after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London. I have often felt unsafe as a woman, both in the UK and around the globe.
Feeling unsafe as a woman
One of my top queries whenever I move country is whether I’d feel safe. Safe not just as a human, but as a woman. Because it is different.
An ‘On my way!’ message from my husband is code for: I’ll be back soon to help with the kids, whereas for me it means: call for help if I’m not back in an hour.
Being safe as woman
A YouGov poll for UN Women found that in the UK, 7 out of 10 women had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public (9 out of 10 for younger women).
- Over half of women had experienced catcalling
- 4 out of 10 had been groped or faced unwelcome touching
- A third of women had been followed
- 1 in 5 had faced indecent exposure
I’ve experienced all of the above in the UK. And I’ve experienced all of the above abroad, too.
Last week a friend told me how her ex (thank goodness) catcalled a woman while she was in the car with him. Apparently he considered it flattering for the woman.
Well, for the record guys: it’s a nervous smile, I’m probably just scared.
In my twenties I was educated to keep my thumb over a bottle in a nightclub to stop it getting spiked, not to run with earphones so I could hear a potential attacker and keep my keys interlaced in between my fingers for any fight back.
But it’s a messed up way of thinking, right?
Surely the answer is more about better education and policing?
But as change is too slow, in the meantime I’ll be packing hairspray in my handbag (legal pepper spray).
The Catcalling Law – La Loi Shiappa
In 2018, France introduced a law against verbal sexual harassment. Those breaking the law face potential on-the-spot fines from 90 to 750 euros (or 1,500 euros if there are aggravating circumstances, such as the victim is under 15).
It’s a start, but it’s not enough to feel safe. To be safe.
A while ago I saw a post on an Ecuador Facebook group about ‘teens getting pregnant’. In fact it was about men raping children. In Chile, I remember a cleaning lady who worked with us tut tutting about young girls getting pregnant. I pointed out that women don’t magically find themselves pregnant. Unfortunately semantics weren’t enough to convince her.
I’m learning, too. I’ve laughed off catcalls. At a nightclub in my youth, I joked awkwardly to girlfriends when a guy put his hand where I didn’t want it. Looking back, I wish I didn’t think it was normal. I wish I felt the anger I do today.
I lived in France in 2001 and again in 2004. I remember feeling that France was particularly bad in terms of catcalling, but it was all part of France. The stereotypical French womaniser (aka attacker) was all part and parcel of le brand francais. Now I’m having a rethink.
Ironically, the safest I have ever felt was in (pre-civil war) Syria. What about Islamic oppression, you say? To be honest, I was just grateful to feel safer than I did in France.
Yes, a few guys did read my uncovered blonde hair as an invitation for a dirty chat up, but men (and women) launched in to defend me, too. I’m not saying Syria was a shining beacon of equality and justice, but tough policing made me feel safer than I have in other parts of the world.
I felt much more at ease in Jordan and Lebanon, too… but not Egypt or Morocco.
I’ve been fine in India, but friends haven’t. I had a bad experience in Germany, but others were fine. Is anywhere truly safe?
Feeling unsafe as a woman – fact vs feeling
I’m aware that a feeling of safety is not the same as actual safety. Whatsmore, statistics can be skewed depending on the news source.
Yes, I felt safer in Syria, but who knows if I actually was safer?
It’s not walking alone in the dark which is the problem
I did not feel safe as a woman in Ecuador. I do not feel safe walking in the dark pretty much anywhere, in fact. I check crime stats before a move, and rely on my gut instinct, too.
One thing is for sure: when a woman is harassed, attacked or murdered it’s not because she walked alone at night. It’s not because she disrespected local culture. It’s not because she deviated from a tourist area. It’s because a man did it to her.
The murder of Sarah Everard has brought on a lot of soul searching about what needs to change. My mentality already has.