On Monday we celebrated International Women’s Day; we thanked our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, we celebrated our strength and remembered the women who forged our path. The week that followed was one that no woman will forget in a hurry - but we hope, one that will instigate real and lasting change for women across the world.
On Tuesday, we watched uncomfortably as Piers Morgan tore down the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, yet again, following the Oprah interview that had premiered in the UK the previous evening. In the interview, Meghan had expressed that she had felt suicidal during her pregnancy, however when discussing this particular revelation on popular news-show Good Morning Britain on Monday, Piers had proudly stated that he “didn’t believe a word she said”. In response to Piers’ comments, a total of 41,015 complaints were made to media watchdog Ofcom by mid-afternoon on Tuesday (the second highest number of complaints in Ofcom’s 17-year history). Piers announced his departure from GMB on Tuesday afternoon although it is still unclear whether he was asked to leave by ITV.
Many felt that the criticisms directed solely at Meghan, both by Piers and the wider media, were unfair considering that her husband, Prince Harry, had also taken part in the controversial interview. However you feel about Meghan Markle, it's difficult to ignore the sexist undertones of the media campaign against her. You can read more about Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah here.
The Murder of Sarah Everard
On Wednesday, we grieved together as human remains found in Kent woodland were confirmed to be those of Sarah Everard, the missing 33-year-old woman last seen on Clapham Common on the evening of March 3rd. Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old police officer had already been arrested on Tuesday in connection with Sarah’s disappearance.
The confirmation of Sarah’s murder released a torrent of anger among those who felt that not enough was being done to make the streets safe for women. Sarah had taken a number of safety precautions; she had worn brightly coloured clothing, she had worn comfortable shoes, she had chosen a brightly-lit and well-populated route home and even called her partner to let him know she was on her way. She did everything right but still wasn’t safe, and as women across the country heard the confirmation, we were painfully aware that Sarah’s story could so easily have been our own.
#NotAllMen but 97% of Women
Over the course of Thursday and Friday, a number of important conversations took place in the media, in the government and in our homes. We saw the 97% figure plastered across the media and wondered if any woman was truly surprised? We also saw #notallmen began to trend on Twitter and we fought back. We defended our right to walk the streets without fear, we shared our stories and we rallied for change. We argued that while it may be #notallmen, it certainly is all women.
The Clapham Common Vigil
The vigil had been officially cancelled by original organisers Reclaim These Streets after police made it clear that a mass gathering would be considered illegal, but thousands of women still went along to Clapham Common to lay flowers, light candles and to pay their respects to Sarah and her family. As the evening went on, the crowd gathered around the Common’s bandstand to hear speeches being made, it was at this point (at around 6pm) that police began to try and break up the gathering, claiming that it posed a risk to people’s health in light of Covid-19. The scenes that followed were troubling; women were pushed and pulled from the bandstand, while others were tackled to the floor and arrested. Patsy Stevenson, whose arrest picture became viral, was pinned to the floor by a male police-officer and handcuffed. At a time where violence against women is under a spotlight, these scenes evoked a sense of frustration across the country, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson stating he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the footage.
Just days after the country watched police tear apart a vigil for Sarah Everard, the government introduced its new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which has significantly increased police powers to crackdown on protests. The bill includes reforms that allow the police to impose start and finish times, maximum noise limits and to prevent protests taking place around Parliament. The bill aims to allow the police greater command when it comes to ‘static’ protests (such as the ones organised by Extinction Rebellion last October that brought London to a standstill).
The bill has faced mass criticism, most notably from Labour leader Keir Starmer who actively instructed his MPs to vote against the policing bill. Starmer says he felt the bill did not provide enough in terms of countering violence against women and girls, but had “lots of stuff on statues”. The bill also attracted attention from over 150 rights organisations (including Liberty, Big Brother Watch, Unite, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Unlock Democracy and Extinction Rebellion) who came together in a letter to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, stating that parts of the bill would constitute “an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens”.
On Sunday, still reeling from a week that so painfully highlighted the widespread mistreatment of women, we celebrated our mothers. It was impossible not to think of Sarah Everard’s mother facing her first Mother’s Day without her daughter - and to feel angry for her, for Sarah, and for all the women who suffer due to the actions of a few men. It is important we remember this anger in the months to come and that we use it for good - perhaps this week can finally be the catalyst for meaningful change.
Words By: Rosie Harkin-Adams
Edited By: Dasha Pitts-Yushchenko