14 March 2021
This past week I have been thinking a lot about hiking alone as a woman and about safety. The cause of this is the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard last Wednesday, the 3rd of March.
Sarah Everard had visited a friend in Clapham, South London, and disappeared while walking home to Brixton, which should have been just a 50-minutes’ walk. She was last seen around 9.30pm.
9.30pm feels like daytime to me. Not that what happened to Sarah Everard would have been any less horrific if she had been walking home after midnight, but somehow, I have internalised 11pm as a threshold time. Before that I always feel safe walking or cycling home alone. After 11pm I will think about my safety and things I can do to make myself safer. Think fake-calling a friend, keeping my keys between my fingers, walking or cycling at a faster speed than I would normally do, taking a route that I know well, that is usually busy, and well-lit, and calling or texting a friend that I arrived home safely.
We all want to feel safe, I want to feel safe, but it saddens me that so many people, women particularly do not feel safe and consciously take measurements to reduce risk or to be prepared for unsafe situations. But even when you do everything ‘right’, things you did not ask for happen anyway. Like your boss calling you “lekker ding” (means something like hottie) in a message when asking you to work extra, or the guy driving around without trousers on and touching himself while asking you for directions, or the men commenting you do not need to hold your skirt down against the wind as they do not mind seeing what is underneath.
I know not only women feel like this, and I also realise that as a white woman I probably do not experience fear, vulnerability, and unsafety in the same way as a woman of colour would. But what saddens me is that certain groups of people are scared of certain other groups of people. Some of this fear might be nurtured or instilled by society, but an important part of this fear is definitely based on real experiences and real risks. Real experiences and real risks that should not exist.
I am lucky to be able to say that I have never had an experience where I was harmed or in danger. But knowing that so many women were not so lucky does make me feel vulnerable and scared. At the same time, not having had an experience in which I was harmed or in danger should not be a case of luck. It should be a given. Feelings of vulnerability or fear can be stifling while I want to feel safe and not having to think about whether or not walking alone is safe. I want to be able to take my safety for granted.
I think what also has affected me so much these past days is the fact that Sarah Everard is me, she is my friend, she is my sister. We are of the same age, she did something that we all do; we walk home after having met a friend. At the same time I feel embarrassed because I realise that I identify wih her because she was a white woman and I do not know if I had felt the same if she were not.
While this past week I thought a lot about this, I also know that I do not want it to affect my behaviour. I want to continue to walk alone in the city, outside the city, during the day, during the night. I do not want to feel scared and I want to claim public spaces as it being as much my space as anyone else’s, at any moment of the day or night.
I did not attend the vigil for Sarah Everard yesterday evening, but I did follow a live stream. Which was very upsetting. The images of women being pinned to the ground by the police just because they wanted to speak up and show up to express their fear, their worry, their anxiety, and their solidarity. If we cannot express our emotions and ask for a better society without being shut down violently, what kind of society are we taking part in?
I know I am not the only one whose mind has been occupied by this the past week, but I wanted to share my thoughts anyway.
My thoughts are with Sarah Everard, her friends, and her family and with all the other people who feel unsafe walking our own streets.