Call me when you get in
One in three women will experience violence in her lifetime, according to Amnesty International. Her experience will deprive her of human rights, put her at risk of mental and physical health problems, and potentially trap her in poverty.
I only realised the extent of the problem in the UK in early March following the public outcry caused by the murder of Sarah Everard a 33-year-old marketing executive who had gone missing after leaving a friend’s house near Clapham Common to walk home. A week later, Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit, was arrested in Deal, Kent, firstly on suspicion of Everard’s kidnapping and later suspicion of her murder. Human remains were discovered in woodland in Kent on 10 March and Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder two days later following identification of the remains as those of Everard.
I was perhaps naïve that violence against women wasn’t as big an issue in the developed countries such as the UK. Yes, of course, we read of rape, domestic violence, and murder ever so often but the stories from other parts of the world, like gang rapes in India or women’s murders in Turkey grabbing headlines almost weekly seemed more prominent.
Statistics show that two women are killed by their partner every week in England and Wales. Of all female homicides, 40 per cent are killed by gendered violence. The UK police receive a call every minute about domestic abuse, 89% of which are about a woman being abused by a man, and only 24% of cases of domestic violence are actually reported.
UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” and Major General Patrick Carnmaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DRC, says, “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in conflict.”
Aside from violence and sexual abuse used as weapons of war, we are actually talking about peace-time violence against women in both the developed and developing countries, and it seems no woman is safe, anywhere in the world. 35% of women in the world in 2013 have experienced violence. That could be physical or sexual violence from someone they know or sexual violence from a stranger.
Shortly after the news of Sarah Everard’s murder, “She was just walking home” started trending on social media.
In a poignant opinion piece in The Daily Beast, Elizabeth Hunt Brockway wrote:
“Sarah Everard was just walking home. She had listened to the advice those around her gave. She was being safe. She was just trying to lead a normal life of a young woman during a time that has been anything but. Unfortunately for her and all who loved her, she was the victim of something far too normal in this world.
Sarah Everard was just walking home. And she never got there.
I’ve made it home every time I’ve tried. But I’m lucky. I just hope my luck doesn’t run out.”
I think of the many times I was just walking home, both in my native Istanbul earlier on in my teens – the numerous times I would be at the receiving end of a leering gaze or a grimy hand reaching out to grab, one I couldn’t outmanoeuvre which stroked the side of my left breast in the middle of a public place in broad daylight – then in London in my twenties. The many late nights or early mornings I made it home when I might have been just another victim.
Violence against women caused a huge outcry in Nigeria last summer following the murder of 22-year-old university student Uwavera Omozuwa who was brutally raped and bludgeoned to death in a church.
This was one of the numerous cases that led to street protests, an online petition signed by thousands, and a Twitter hashtag #WeAreTired.
Looking at statistics, you may be fooled into thinking Nigeria is this idyl where there is no such thing as violence against women. 2017 statistics show that while there are 2,279 reported cases of rape and indecent assault and 1,164 reported cases of “unnatural offences” (i.e. anal sex), zero convictions are reported by the police. The results of a survey published by NOIPolls in July 2019 suggested that up to one in every three girls living in Nigeria could have experienced at least one form of sexual assault by the time they reach 25.
Whether you are in Nigeria, or Turkey, or India, or the UK, being a woman makes you an easy target of assault, abuse, and rape. This is why the statement “She was just walking home” resonated so deeply globally. Because let’s face it, “Call/text me when you get in” seems to be a universal code amongst women – you will never hear men leaving a party or a football game telling each other this. For women, no matter the part of the world, part of the day, no matter what language it is said in, it is one sentence that means the women’s code of safety: Let me know you are safe.
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