TRIGGER WARNING: Violence towards women, sexual harassment, sexual abuse
Two weeks ago we celebrated international women’s day, coming together to acknowledge and thank the women in our lives. The women who inspire us, support us, who we look up to, love, and cherish. We also reflected on the history of women’s rights and paid respects to those who lost their freedom and lives whilst advocating for gender equality. It was a bittersweet day for many.
Devastatingly, that same week we mourned the death of 33 year old Londoner Sarah Everard.
Sarah was a woman just trying to get home. She wore brightly coloured clothing, she called a friend to let her know she was on her way and she took a route consisting mainly of busy roads and well lit streets. Sarah did everything women are told to do in order to keep safe in the streets, but tragically, her life was taken. Sarah’s death has been upsetting for all but has particularly affected women and girls, who are acutely aware of the disproportionate dangers they face every single day. We know this because we, as young women, share in the fear, frustration and sadness that has been expressed in response to Sarah’s tragic death. Sarah’s death has also prompted us to remember other young women who have sadly lost their lives, including those who have, like Blessing Olusegun who’s case sadly still remains unsolved. Some of us have also shared or been reminded of our own experiences of gender-based abuse. We are aware that sadly, our experiences are not isolated.
Just this week, UN Women UK have reported that 97% of young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment or assault; often in spaces where we are supposed to feel safe like the home, school or on our streets. The British Youth Council firmly believes that all young people should be protected from sexual harassment, and their feelings and experiences taken seriously. No person should have to feel threatened because of their gender.
To all women: young people, our female colleagues, family and friends, we want you to know that we hear you. Your experiences are valid and living in this continued state of fear is not okay. As a board, we have collectively agreed more needs to be done to stand up against injustices towards women and marginalised genders, of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
We have written to Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, to express our deep concerns about women’s safety and the need to ensure the voices of young women are at the heart of decision making. Current protections are not enough to keep us safe, and young women need to be at the forefront of shaping a safer future. Although we do not have all of the answers, we are coming together with a shared passion and determination to challenge the systems, practices and behaviors which allow these awful crimes against women to continue to be committed.
As young women, we understand it has been emotional for many to process the events of this last week and the outpouring of personal testimonies and reflections. Our personal and communal reflections continue and our thoughts are with all of you during this difficult time.
We hear you. We believe you. We stand with you.
This blog has been written collaboratively by six female members of the British Youth Council’s board of trustees.