Rachel Lampard, Team Leader of the Joint Public Issues Team, considers the way forward for women’s safety following the death of Sarah Everard.
It’s felt like a long week. Last Sunday, ahead of International Women’s Day, I watched the Netflix film Moxie with my family. In the film, a young girl moves from passive acceptance of casual, everyday sexism in her American high school to recapture the feminism of her mother’s generation.
It’s a “feel good” film in the best sense, dealing with difficult subjects, but leaving me inspired to do better. It led to great conversations with my children, who were outraged by the sexism portrayed by staff and students, and left me giving thanks for the school education they receive in our small corner of the world.
But at the same time, there was a growing sense of fear for a young woman, Sarah Everard, who had gone missing, not far from where I used to live. And then there are all the women we don’t hear about in the media. On International Women’s Day, Jess Phillips MP read in Parliament the names of the 118 women killed by men over the last year. On social media, women started telling stories of how they had experienced assault. The stories of how they had changed their behaviour because of the fear of what might happen.
Not every man, but certainly every woman.
Remembering all my own experiences with a sense of heaviness, I went out running early in the morning as I often do. I was aware I was always in a state of hyper-alertness, mindful of every person walking near me, watching out of the corner of my eye, being ready to change direction or speed up. I was grateful that I have already had the conversation with my older son about crossing the road rather than running up behind women walking along the street. And I had the heavy feeling in my gut that my daughter has all this to come.
Why do we put up with this? Why is it “just the way things are”? Why are women told to take care, to stay safe? Yet again this is about the invisibility of women’s experiences, of the male norm.
But then we come face to face with Jesus’s ministry. Jesus saw those who were dismissed by the society they lived in, or were told they had to put up with their circumstances: the woman who experienced non-stop menstrual bleeding; the woman at the well who had multiple husbands; the woman, dismissed by the men for who she was seen to be, who anointed Jesus’s feet. Jesus saw these women, he saw they were created in God’s image, and they were truly loved. He did not accept society’s norms – in fact he rejected the messages that he should not speak to these women or honour them.
What norms do we have to overturn to make this a society where each person will feel valued? Where women don’t walk in fear? Where our daughters don’t need to be taught to fear?
There is so much to do, but we can start with the very basic step of making crimes based on the hatred of women recordable. The Domestic Abuse Bill will be in the Lords this week. Amendment 87B has been tabled, with cross-party support, which would require all police forces to record where crimes are motivated by hatred of women. Hostility towards women drives criminal offences. Instead of telling women that they should stay home at night if they want to be safe, this amendment will give the basic message that women should be able to live free from fear of harm from those who target them simply for who they are.
Moxie showed how a group of girls (and some great boy allies) decide not to put up with being objectified and assaulted – and discover just how precious they are. Jesus’s ministry challenges us to look at the things we are “putting up with” – on our own behalf or more dangerously for others – and, through undermining them, see the value and worth of each child of God.