By Leah Berger
As women, we know that feeling. That familiar feeling when you notice someone behind you out of the corner of your eye and your stomach drops. Then there are those familiar thoughts: Is he following me? Should I call someone? Maybe if I act busy, he will walk away? Let me take the next turn to see if he is following me. Sadly, these are common thoughts that many women experience often. I think of them almost every time I am walking alone.
The UN recently released the statistic that 97% of all women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence, with women of colour and trans women the most vulnerable in our society. It seems that the societal guidelines we were raised with to keep us ‘safe’ are no longer working. Wearing conservative clothing definitely hasn’t made me any safer. Did these unofficial safety rules for women ever work though? It seems like there is nothing more we can do to remove the target from our backs.
And now in the midst of a pandemic I can’t help but wonder, is there a dual pandemic going on here. The second pandemic being one that happens behind closed doors. The deaths aren’t reported on the news and it certainly doesn’t make it to any headlines. Although the numbers are increasing and so is the death rate, there are no emergency plans to help those suffering from this pandemic.
The femicide is silent, creeping upon us, but starting to become more and more apparent. The sequence of lockdowns has left women more vulnerable than ever. That is because the sad reality is that 62% of women killed by men in the UK are killed by their partners. Although domestic abuse is often a hidden crime, the UK government has announced that the emergency services have reported receiving more domestic abuse calls now during the lockdown than ever before.
Despite being in the twenty-first century and having an awareness of worldwide inequalities, the toll of fatal violence against women has remained unchanged for a decade. The project ‘counting dead women’ records the killing of women by men. They recorded 35 murders of women by men in their households, with another 12 suspicious deaths, in the UK’s first lockdown between 23 March and the beginning of July 2020. During the first three months of COVID-19 restrictions, 40,000 calls were made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. In March 2019, at the beginning of the first national lockdown, Ruth Williams, 67, was strangled by her 70-year-old husband, Anthony Williams, in their home. He was recently charged with manslaughter and sentenced to prison for only 5 years. These charges may even be dropped, and he could be free within a year. Ruth Williams was one of the many victims of femicide.
I say femicide is a pandemic because it is a worldwide issue. Men’s violence against women is a leading cause of premature death for women globally. The increased tensions due to COVID-19 have caused other tensions to rise. People are starting to speak out against this injustice. We can see this in many places, for example, in Argentina thousands of people gathered outside the supreme court of Argentina to protest against gender-based violence after Ursula Bahillo, an 18-year-old was killed by her ex-boyfriend. He reportedly stabbed her 15 times. The young woman had filed several police reports against her ex-boyfriend but all of them were ignored. Nearly 300 femicides were reported in Argentina last year.
In South Africa, according to statistics from their Police Service every three hours, a woman is murdered in the country. In Venezuela, hundreds of people protested at the end of February following the murders of three young women. According to statistics from the Italian news agency ANSA, the number of victims of femicide in Italy equates to a woman killed every three days. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated femicides all over the Italian territory, with domestic killings accounting for 80.8% during the lockdown in Italy. After the murder of Sarah Everard in the UK women stood up against gender-based violence and the bad treatment of women by security forces at her vigil. On the 15th of March, demonstrators protested outside parliament where the UK MPs were debating a bill that was criticised for handing the police too much power to restrict protests.
This is a global issue with global consequences. Women are dying at the hands of men. They are being abused within their homes and ‘safe spaces’ and worldwide lockdowns may have aggravated the problem, but it has existed for centuries.
If you or someone you know needs support with domestic violence contact the free 24 hour helpline 0808 2000 247 or visit National Aid helpline.