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Defining hate

Defining hate

I already had little appetite for celebrating International Women’s Day this year. While women felt so under attack, I had nothing of joy to impart and so kept silent.

With the grim first anniversary of COVID and my energy for the optimism of a more equal society sapped by the harsh reality that even a virus compounds women’s discrimination, I remained mute.

With women carrying the heavier burden for childcare, for working in the lowest paid jobs, for being more likely to be picked for furlough, for being at risk of redundancy, for working longer hours, and under greater exposure to the load of long-term financial insecurity, I kept quiet.

With lockdown resulting in an ever-increasing rise in cases of domestic violence, with refuges losing funding, and with just that creeping feeling that the clock was being turned back in so many ways, I had nothing to say.

And with women so disproportionately taking the economic and social hits of this terrible pandemic, I looked on.

But this week’s news has been grim. A seven-day rolling shocker that serves as a brutal reminder of why the fight must still go on. Why women must roar.

And for Sarah Everard, I have found my voice. 

For Scottish women, apparently excluded from what should be ground-breaking hate crime legislation, I want to speak.

For women like Meghan Markle who become the easy target of a man’s thick ego and his even thinner skin, I need to shout.

For all the women and girls that thought #MeToo had sparked a revolution, only to discover that men’s abuse goes on, I am screaming.

And for all the women told this week that the answer to their safety was to stay at home, I have this to say: you are not alone.

Among the mothers, daughters, sisters and friends we have a strength together and we must use it.

The death of Sarah Everard has served as a tragic reminder that our lives are at risk simply because of who we are.

I went on my first ‘Reclaim the Night’ march back in 1980. I am still marching 41 years later. And I am tired.

It’s an aide-mémoire to the fact that 118 women have been killed by men since this time last year simply because of their sex.

That three women a week die because of domestic abuse.

And as Labour MP Jess Phillips read out the names that collectively constitute the annual death toll of women killed in the UK at the hands of a man, of femicide, it was a salutary reminder that from the day that Sarah Everard went missing until the day her broken body was found another six women and one little girl had also been killed.

It took Phillips four minutes to read through that list of dead women and she ended with the name that a nation had prayed would not be there.

What happened to Sarah, snatched, it appears, in clear sight from a London street as she walked home, has cut many of us to the quick.

We recognise her journey. It’s one we play out in our own minds every day. Those rituals, the calculations.

We take the longer, better-lit route home, we hold our keys like a weapon, we take our headphones out, we phone ahead, we are hypervigilant, we wear trainers instead of high-heeled shoes, we might even take a taxi, but regardless, we still walk in fear.

I went on my first ‘Reclaim the Night’ march back in 1980. I am still marching 41 years later. And I am tired.

Our lives are shaped by fear. Fear that by just existing we put our lives in danger. That just by who we meet, what we wear, where we go we are at risk.

Every woman can reel off experiences of harassment and abuse. Incidents that start when we are so young and never truly end.

And in the wake of Sarah’s death, like they did after #MeToo, hundreds of thousands of women have shared their stories.

They’re painful but say nothing new because the weaponising of sex to humiliate, intimidate or hurt is the ancient backdrop to women’s everyday lives.

It’s in our psyche and the inherent threat that you are for the taking causes long-term damage.

Women are murdered day in and day out by men. This is how we live. Trapped by the fear of it.

Whoever we are. Wherever we go. Whatever we do.

This is our lived experience. It’s wearing, it’s relentless, it makes you sad and it never stops.

And yet just hours after the Metropolitan Police warned women not to go out on their own at night, and as Sarah Everard’s body was found, the Scottish Parliament was debating why women didn’t need to be included in a protection against hate crime.

We all stand against hate, of course we do, and the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill that has passed through parliament is, in the main, something that everyone could surely agree on.

But now, in this week, on that day when women were holding themselves tight, to specifically not include women in a bill that is all about hate just feels wrong.

The collective rage over the last few days tells you how tired women are. We are sick of our voices going unheard and of laws being made that exclude us.

Misogyny is real. And while the justice secretary will rightly point out that a working group has been separately set up to establish whether hatred towards women should in fact be retrospectively included, or even made a standalone offence, the point is that the work on women is being done after the event.

Women will become an asterisk on a piece of legislation that may well say, at some stage after the law is enacted, ‘women added later’.

On this day of all days, in the name of Sarah Everard and all the other women whose names appear on a list writ large with misogyny, women should not be an afterthought.

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