As the details of the murders of Sarah Everard and Wenjing Lin were released earlier this year, so was the frenzied advice about how we, as women and girls, can shrink and modify ourselves to avoid becoming the next harrowing statistic.

Here’s the thing though - Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving police officer who approached her on the street, while Wenjing Lin was murdered in her home and place of work by a family friend. Their lives, circumstances and actions were all incredibly different, yet they were both still taken in the same week, by men who chose to enact violence.

Self-protection is unfortunately woven into the fabric of what it means to be female. I’ve never come across a woman who doesn’t routinely modify their behaviour - from the seemingly mundane such as where to sit on a bus, to the profound such as if and when to leave their house.

The escalating narrative that places the onus on women to do more as the proposed cure for abuse happening to them isn’t only patronising, it simply doesn’t work.

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As a woman, you can squash yourself into the mould of someone who society deems to be perfectly behaved and still be a victim. It can still happen because the problem isn’t you; it isn’t what you wear, how you move, where you travel to, what you drink or smoke, where you work, the route you jog. Those things are all variable, they alter woman to woman, over time, with circumstance, privilege and access, and yet 1 in 3 women in Wales who all occupy spaces differently will experience violence or abuse in their lifetime.

At least 126 women in the UK so far this year, who all had different hobbies and beliefs and self-expression, were murdered.

We are individuals and we are not the problem.

The one thing that isn’t variable is the root cause - sexism and misogyny. It might morph into different forms such as spiking, non-consensual rough sex, following someone, sending unsolicited nudes, wolf-whistling, rape or domestic murder. But at any point along this spectrum of violence, sexism and misogyny are the constants.

We must view all these issues not as disjointed acts, but as pieces of the same sprawling jigsaw. We must focus on prevention instead of panicked reaction. We need sustainable and strategic funding that can enable good preventative work to be developed and embedded, and knowledgeable, fairly paid people to embed it.

Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women - a extremely long title which is reflective of the extremely long process of genuine elimination. There are no quick fixes and every one of us has a part to play and must make an active decision to work collaboratively towards genuine cultural change.

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Some also refer to the 25th as White Ribbon Day - a time focused on male allyship. We saw many official schemes launched around the country yesterday with a lot of ambition and promises made. For that enthusiasm and commitment to carry past the calendar day and through the year will be what is truly beneficial to women.

As we witness a rise in conversations around making places and institutions ‘safe’, it’s crucial to note that simply labelling something as safe doesn’t make it so. Safety is a complex concept. What is safe evolves and takes time, investment and patience. It requires a re-evaluation of power and examination through a truly intersectional lens.

Asking for - and access to - safety is harder if you are a woman who is disabled, who is Black or minority ethnic, who is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and for whom English is a second language. The list of barriers and associated fears is extensive; all are valid and deserve to be listened to.

If you want to be part of the change and learn how to effectively challenge misogyny and sexism, then take the time to listen to, centre and believe women and girls in your community. Engage with specialist services, learn about their work, the support they provide and the training they can offer.

A world where violence against women and girls isn’t inevitable must not be just a hope we cling to; we must work together to make it a reality.

 

Welsh Government funded Live Fear Free helpline for anyone affected by violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence
Phone: 0808 80 10 800
Text: 07860 077333

Sophie Weeks is the Campaigns and Communications Manager for Welsh Women’s Aid.

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