Freedom, by definition, is the power to act, speak, or think as one wants. Although we would like to believe that everyone who deserves it has complete freedom, this has never been the case.
There always seem to be underlying rules which many of us are expected to follow in order to keep ourselves safe: always lock your doors, never get a lift from a stranger, and, if you are a woman, never walk alone at night.
Of course, a lot of these rules make sense, and will never really get in the way of how people go about their day-to-day lives. However, the same cannot be said for young women who are constantly lectured about organising safe ways to get home.
We get told not to walk alone at night, fine, but then we are told about the dangers of getting into a taxi, or a bus, or pretty much anywhere that doesn’t involve being personally escorted by a man. Everyone wants to keep themselves safe, but when a woman’s basic freedom, such as walking home, is scrutinised, it is not a rule to keep her safe, it is taking away her freedom.
This rule where women must be safe when they are alone at night has been something we have all recognised for a long time. However, it was the death of Sarah Everard that truly sparked the most recent attention regarding this issue.
Sarah Everard, on the evening of March 3rd, 2021, was walking alone after visiting a friend. On her walk home to her South London flat, she disappeared. One week later, a met police officer was arrested for her kidnapping, and after her body was found, he was also arrested for her murder.
This case sparked absolute outrage in the UK.
What makes her case shocking to so many, is that she was deemed to have done ‘all the right things’ that night. She called her boyfriend, she covered up with bright clothes, she walked on a lit street and she was sober.
Whist the principle that a woman should do the ‘right thing’ when she is walking home at night is familiar, it is also problematic. Can we forbid that a woman is ever drunk? Or claim that wearing a short dress is risking her own safety?
It became clear that women were not safe to walk home at night, whatever the circumstances. A woman’s freedom to walk alone was no longer a freedom, in fact, it had never been. This led to the ‘Reclaim the Streets’ movement, which took place all over the UK.
People are now challenging why women are often blamed for walking alone at night and asking why. ‘Reclaim the Streets’ got attention in many other countries and instilled particular passion in the UK in both men and women, to challenge these ideas and improve our way of thinking.
Sarah Everard’s heart-breaking death attempted to encourage positive change in the UK, and raised the following question: Do women now have freedom to walk alone, or is it still up to men?
Women and men both have been speaking up about this issue for years and women will continue to do all they can to change attitudes, but men, your role is also so important.
We have all heard of “locker-room chat”, or “lads’ banter”. It is settings like that where men hold the power, as these are some of the situations where sexist ideas can come from.
Men also have the opportunity to challenge sexism, to teach their friend who seems uneducated. You might argue that ‘not all men’ are capable of attacking someone, but all men are capable of actively challenging each other, just like women are.
For women to have freedoms like walking alone at night, men need to step up as well, and it has been incredible to see just how many men are starting to do this in the recent months.
Women’s rights and freedom, like many other social issues, are unfortunately not simple enough to be completely fixed by a few protests. Women’s rights issues extend far beyond the west and vast.
However, the ‘Reclaim the Streets’ protest sparked an important conversation, and with the help from men, women are so much closer to having the freedom to walk alone at night without being blamed for putting themselves in danger.
Featured Image Credit: The Conversation