“Are you home safe?”
“Did you get back OK?”
“Please let me know when you are home.”
These are all messages we have received and sent as women. Sadly, some of these go unanswered as the women receiving them have encountered a devastating end.
Being brought up in Sweden, I was conditioned from an early age by my parents to be careful and to always consider ways of keeping myself safe in public. I would actively choose to avoid things that would put me at higher risk of exposure.
Simple things, like walking back from the bus stop by myself after dark. Or going for a run in the woods, parking the car in a car park or a late-night visit to a friend always included a plan around safety.
Something which my male friends did not really consider.
Simply put, as a woman coming of age does not just involve the complexities of hormones, friendships, and bodily changes but also a huge aspect of it is focused on staying alive.
That might sound dramatic, but with the recent case of UK woman Sarah Everard’s abduction and murder the discussion has again ignited.
Are you safe?
The fact that we as women must continue to ask ourselves and our loved ones this question tells me we have some huge underlying societal issues.
One of my closest friends, the mother of teenage girls, tells me her biggest worry for her girls is that a decision (good or bad) could lead to one of her daughters being raped (or worse). As a mother of a daughter these are the types of thoughts that plague my mind. And the truth is, I am sure it plagued my parents as I came of age all those years ago.
So how do we put a stop to violence against women?
Firstly, although this might be controversial, all men, in my view need to take more accountability to ensure that women feel safe.
As a mother raising a son, I am committed to ensuring he is raised knowing what I expect from him as a woman:
Understand the meaning of NO – this starts from an early age. As he grows and matures, I am committed to talk to him about consent and ensuring that he understands the consequence of his actions.
Speak up – speak up for those who are vulnerable and have the courage to have conversations with others around their behaviour.
Take responsibility – it is your role to ensure a woman feels safe in your presence. I will teach him that as a man walking behind a woman on a lonely night, he needs to make his presence known. Do not catch her by surprise. Simple actions such as speaking on the phone, crossing the road, or leaving a gap can make a woman feel safer.
Offer to help – take care of your female friends. I had a male friend who frequently offered to meet me at the local bus stop and walk me home. It was such a small gesture but meant a huge amount to me as a teenager.
We as parents, raising our next generation of sons need to draw a line in the sand and ensure that they understand that safety is not an area where men and women are equitable and until it is equitable, men play a huge role in making women feel safe.