Savera UK Youth Questions Community Leaders

On the evening of 3rd March 2021, Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s home in South London. The last CCTV footage depicted her journey along a main road. Her death sparked a national outcry when a police officer was arrested on suspicion of murder. Protests were held up and down the country to show solidarity with every victim of femicide, but also to highlight the increasing problem of violence against women, the cases of which have been steadily increasing by about 10% each year.

Savera UK Youth held a panel discussion alongside faith leaders and community representatives to talk about the violence and abuse directed towards women in Britain, and to discuss why culture and religion are often used to justify violence towards women. Each of our panellists came from very different backgrounds, but it allowed us to cultivate varied conversations.

The panel opened with a question about young girls who felt unsafe and what could be done to ensure that within their communities, the risk of harm and violence was minimised. Coincidentally, Ofsted had released a report prior to the discussion which stated that girls within schools were now subjected to such high levels of sexual harassment that it had become normalised for educational institutes. Ofsted collected testimony from schoolgirls across the country and found that 90% of girls were subjected to harassment. Many of the panellists agreed that education was paramount to ensuring that the toxic culture was removed in schools and the wider community.

Education appeared several times during the discussion as it became apparent that tackling violence amongst communities had to start from a young age. One of the panellists described how because perpetrators of violence often have grown up in abusive homes, they become conditioned to think that the behaviour is acceptable. As much as girls need to be educated about the risks they face, boys from a young age should be taught how to treat women. Several speakers agreed that schools face an important role in the nurturing of a child, and their position means they need to be well equipped to teach children about the issue of violence.

“We need to look at our curriculum, within RSE to start teaching young people about this [harmful practices and gender-based violence], not just high school, it needs to go to primary schools as well.” Rabnawaz Akbar, a Labour councillor and one of the panellists stressed the importance of the inclusion of harmful practices to educate children from a young age.

A survey conducted after the murder of Sarah Everard showed that almost 97% of women in Britain have experienced some form of sexual harassment directed to them by a male. The number seems incredibly shocking, but as one of our panellists pointed out, it may well be higher. The issue of victim-blaming remains prevalent amongst survivors of violence; thus, leading to some women reluctant to speak out for fear of being judged.

The discussion also highlighted certain minorities such as the LGBTQI+ group and individuals who are part of the BAME community. As our panellist, Kieran Bohan, Co-ordinator at Open Table stated, minority groups are greatly affected with a lot of the abuse stemming from misogyny. The hashtag ‘#NotAllMen’ which began circulating after the death of Sarah Everard was used to show that not every male is a perpetrator. However, as Kieran mentioned, everyone needs to be a voice for change. “Men need to challenge other men – it’s not all men, but the men who are not perpetrators need to be part of the solution by calling out the attitudes which are abusive and violent.”

The role that these community leaders and representatives play in society is huge and their presence on the panel ensured that we were receiving answers from those who understood the problem in detail.

On International Women’s Day, MP Jess Phillips read out a list of names in Parliament. The names were women who had been ‘killed by male violence’. It was a poignant reminder that the epidemic of femicide remains in Britain. As our CEO, Afrah Qassim pointed out “This is nothing to do with women’s issues – it’s about abuse and violence and that is something all genders need to challenge.” It is vital that this behaviour is challenged to ensure that women are protected in the society of which they are part of.

We would like to thank the panellists and attendees for making the event an opportunity for learning and discussion. Everyone has a part to play in the eradication of violence towards women and girls, and that change needs to start now.

Written by Maryam Rana, Chair of the Savera UK Youth Advisory Board