By, Oba, 18, Hertfordshire, UK
The disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard on the 3rd March 2021 sent shockwaves across the U.K. Like many others, the circumstances surrounding Ms. Everard’s death resonated with me personally. I have an older sister who lives in London and I thought of her soon after first hearing the news. Ms. Everard was abducted, by a police officer, while walking home from a friend’s house; an act that is so engrained in everyday life. Although many of us can attest to having walked home from a friends house, perhaps even later than Ms. Everard did, her death is not simply an issue of public safety. It is an issue of women’s safety specifically and is symptomatic of a wider societal problem. Many of my female friends, and women around the world, began to speak of their own experiences, following Ms. Everard’s murder; these ranged from discomfort to blatant sexual harassment and even assault. They spoke of the anxiety that comes with walking down an empty street alone, particularly late at night, the unease of walking past construction sites to the sound of men heckling them and the fear of being drugged should they leave their drink unattended. These are just a few of the many examples I have come across in recent weeks.
Sarah Everard’s death did not just spark conversations about the treatment of women in society in general, it also led to a specific focus on the treatment of young women in schools and universities. I was not oblivious to instances of sexual harassment in my own school, and others like it, but I only truly became aware of how deep rooted the issue was after a being shared the link to the online website ‘Everyone’s Invited’. The website, founded by the university student Sara Soma, provides people with a platform to anonymously share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. All the accounts I read on the website were deeply troubling and some of my female friends privately revealed that they had either witnessed or experienced much of what was being described in the website’s posts. After reading a number of articles and scrolling through the website, I began to reflect on my own experiences. I asked myself: what is the root cause of the misogynistic culture that is rife in many schools and lingers in others, and how can it be solved?
I do not have the perfect solution and I cannot comprehensively answer the questions I have posed in a such a short article, but I can offer a few thoughts. In my own school, I believe that a lack of education coupled with a lack of recognition is at the centre of the problem. Sexual harassment and the general mistreatment of women at school, cannot be seen as the result of a ‘few bad apples’. It cannot be addressed by gathering both male and female pupils in hall and lecturing them about consent. I think that schools must first recognise that a culture of misogyny does exist and replace generic consent talks with lectures focused on the general treatment of women in society, before zeroing in on sexism within school specifically. This could help foster a culture of respect, that could help reduce instances of sexual misconduct. I also agree with the suggestion that men must play the most central role in trying tackle the problem of sexual harassment and violence against women. As obvious as this may sound, too often is the blame shifted onto women or so-called ‘bad men’. In an attempt to distance themselves from allegations of misogyny, some of my male peers have used the ‘not all men’ defence. All men however, must take responsibility and become a solution to rather than a part of the problem. Although these are by no means revolutionary ideas, I believe places we can start, in schools in particular, are with the eradication of the willingness to tolerate misogynistic jokes, and encouragement of others to do so as well, listening to and believing female peers as they share their concerns and experiences and being on the lookout for inappropriate behaviour amongst friends.
These are only small steps, but I believe they are a good place to start.