Islington women's groups call for proactive change to make streets safer

Undated handout issued by the Metropolitan Police showing missing woman Sarah Everard, 33, who left

Sarah Everard went missing on her walk home this month. - Credit: PA

Women's organisations in Islington have called for a zero-tolerance approach to help eradicate harassment against women on London's streets.

Since Sarah Everard went missing on her walk home in south London at 9pm on March 3, women all over the country have come forward to recount their experiences feeling unsafe or scared in daily life.

Results of a survey by UN Women UK released on March 10 found 71 per cent of all women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, with the figure increasing to 86pc among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Co-leader of the Women's Equality Party branch in Islington Guilene Marco said the issues extend further than safety in public spaces: "There needs to be a whole system of believing women and taking violence against them seriously, whether it's on the street or at home.

"People say 'don't go out in the street, it's dangerous' – but this happens at home too so it's like 'don't go out and don't stay home'."

Co-leader of the Women's Equality Party branch in Islington, Guilene Marco

Co-leader of the Women's Equality Party branch in Islington, Guilene Marco - Credit: Siorna Ashby

Guilene continued: "We often say in our party – it might not be all men, but it is all women.

"Whether it's catcalling or assault, it's what we call rape culture. It starts with jokes, before getting to someone groping and then assault and we have to fight it at every stage with the appropriate policy."

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She said the conversation needs to acknowledge "every one" of the cases of violence against women from all races and backgrounds. 

"We have lots of elections coming up in May - local elections, London Assembly, PCC (police and crime commissioner) elections - we have an opportunity to make change happen in May by asking questions on the [candidate's] positions and policies on this. We can transform this angry movement into a policy movement and we need constructive policy in place."

A founding member of Islington4women, Anita Grant, added: "This will be triggering for many women and girls who will be thinking about experiences they have had where they haven’t felt safe."

She said greater numbers of women walking, cycling and using public space would help to make the streets feel safer, as well as a mechanism for easily reporting harassment and a zero-tolerance policy. 

"We need to get together and reclaim the street and outside space so that women and girls are safe to choose what to do and where to go."

Anita Grant is co-founder of the Islington for Women group. Picture: Polly Hancock

Anita Grant is co-founder of the Islington for Women group. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A vigil planned by Reclaim These Streets in tribute to Sarah on Saturday was cancelled by the Met Police amid the coronavirus pandemic, but when Clapham Common still attracted mourners, images of people being arrested sparked widespread criticism. 

Fiona Dwyer, the chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid, which has a branch in Angel, said: "Over the past week, before we heard about the tragic outcomes, we heard messages about women not walking by themselves late at night or doing other things that ‘put themselves at risk’.

"This is patronising towards women and does not highlight the key message that women should not have to change their own behaviours, but men should stop killing women. By all accounts, Sarah had planned her walk home based on what we as women learn from an early age – wear bright clothes, walk down well-lit main streets and keep in contact with others – this is an everyday occurrence for all women and this needs to change as it is not enough to protect women.

"The message is quite simple that men must stop their violence towards women."

Islington Council's member for community safety, Cllr Sue Lukes, added: “No one is safe until we are all safe, and like other women in Islington I have been shocked to be so brutally reminded of that by what happened to Sarah Everard.

"My heart goes out to her, her family and her friends, because they are suffering what we all fear when our daughters go out, when our friends are late home, when we make those complicated decisions about where and when to walk."

She said the authority has developed a network of more than 100 Safe Havens –  local shops, cafes, pubs, libraries – where anyone who feels threatened, harassed or unwell can get help.

"Of course we join all those who point out that men need to change their behaviour and call out those who do not, but meanwhile, we do all we can to keep Islington women safe on our streets and in our venues," she added.