ALL over the world, people are reading the tragic story of Sarah Everard. Women everywhere feel for her and her family.
This is because what happened to her is every woman’s worst nightmare.
From childhood, we are constantly warned about the danger that lurks outside our door. We are told to take care whenever we are around men.
Are you a woman? If so, did your father ever look askance at the clothes you planned to wear on a night out?
Did he ever order you to change them?
I remember teenage me putting on a pair of hotpants to go to a school disco. I thought I looked fabulous, but my conservative father did not agree.
He marched me to my bedroom where I had to change into something more acceptable before I was allowed to leave the house.
I understand now why he wanted me to take off those hotpants. But I also understand that the clothes women wear makes little or no difference.
There is always a risk involved in leaving our homes.
Is there a woman in the world who hasn’t felt fear when walking home alone? A woman who hasn’t felt her heart drop in terror when she realised a man was walking behind her?
A woman who hasn’t immediately reached for her keys so that she might have some sort of weapon to use as protection against him?
A woman who hasn’t prayed to God to bring her home safely?
Or a woman who hasn’t shaken with relief when she managed to close her front door safely behind her?
Sarah was not so lucky.
Women don’t have to leave their homes to be in danger. Many are at risk in their own homes.
A report called A Legacy of Loss: Femicide Watch was published in Ireland in 2019. It examined the cases of the 230 women who were violently killed in the years between 1996 and 2019.
141 were killed in their own homes. 100 were killed by partners or former partners.
A male relative killed a further 20 and 37 more were killed by a man of their acquaintance. Of all the women killed, nine out of ten of them were killed by men they knew.
It’s no wonder girls are taught to be fearful of men.
I remember living in Cork and there being a problem with the water in the house.
I called the plumber but was too afraid to tell him to come immediately. I asked him to come at a time I knew I would not be at home alone.
I remember the countless occasions when I’ve been waiting for friends in bars and men have tried to engage me in conversation.
The only thing that ever worked in getting them to leave me alone was to say that I was waiting for my boyfriend.
That would let them know I belonged to another man and they would then stop annoying me.
It was never enough to say that I wasn’t interested.
That could lead to them getting angry and no woman wants to anger a man she doesn’t know. Life has taught her to treat unknown men with care.
There are wonderful men in this world, and I am lucky to count my father, brothers, partner, and many friends among them. I am trying my best to make sure my son will join their ranks too.
But in my life so far, I have met many men who frightened me.
The young men who tried to break down the door of my student accommodation in France. The man a friend and I had to flee from one night in Galway.
I can think of many more. I’m sure every woman reading this could.
Men frighten women every day. They hurt them. They rape them. They kill them.
The question that has to be asked is: what is wrong with men?
Who are so many of them so angry? If we understood why, perhaps something could be done about it.
In the meantime, we have to protect women and we have to punish the men who hurt them.
This world is ours too. Every one of us deserves to get home safely.