Sunday September 25, 2022

Shrinking spaces

March 16, 2021

On March 3, a 33-year-old British woman, Sarah Everard, disappeared in London. A little over a week later, her remains were discovered in woodland in Kent and a police officer was charged with kidnapping and murdering her.

It was amid this tragic news in the United Kingdom that we marked International Women’s Day as well as the first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s designation of the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

Everard’s murder comes on the heels of a massive increase in violence against women across the globe in the past year. This and the countless other violent attacks on women should be a wake-up call for societies.

Everard’s picture and story made front-page news, and as more information about the case came out, there was an outpouring of rage and sorrow across the country. On social media, many women shared their stories about experiences of sexual harassment and fears about walking alone at night. Female politicians from across the political spectrum have also gone public with their personal stories of sexual abuse and fear, demanding that the government do more to make “the UK safer for women”.

While Everard’s murder captured the attention of the media in the UK and abroad – most likely because she was a white, attractive middle-class woman – the public does not hear anything at all about the vast majority of cases of sexual harassment and deadly violence against women.

A recent survey from UN Women UK reports that among women aged 18-24, 97 percent said they had been sexually harassed while 80 percent of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. The statistics about violent deaths are also shocking: a woman is murdered every other day in the UK, with the majority killed by an intimate partner or someone known to the victim.

Domestic violence has worsened with the pandemic. In the first month after a lockdown was imposed in the UK, murders related to domestic abuse tripled compared to 2019 figures, while calls to domestic abuse services jumped by 50 percent.

Data from across the world shows similar dramatic increases in gender-based violence. A chilling report issued by UN Women reveals that violent crimes against women have intensified across the globe since March 2020. Many women experiencing violence at home are simply failing to receive any kind of support. The UN report concludes that the global rise in gender-based violence – at home and in the streets – needs to be understood as another kind of pandemic, a shadow pandemic.

The reality, as these statistics and reports lay bare and Everard’s murder highlights, is that misogyny, systemic male entitlement, and violence against women are thriving.

Excerpted: ‘The murder of Sarah Everard and the shadow pandemic’