The murder of Sarah Everard has drawn public attention and protests against the violence and harassment endured by women.
Over two hundred women are killed each year in Britain. Unlike Sarah, most are killed by men they know, and many of them – perhaps especially those who are not white professionals – do not gain much media attention.
Action for Safety
For Tube workers, this is an everyday issue. On stations in particular, we help the targets of harassment and abuse. At work – and travelling to and from work – we may be the targets of it ourselves.
While management seem to think that the WAASB app and body-worn cameras keep us safe, we need more definite and effective action, such as:
• staff taxis taking us from a safe place at work to the front door of our home
• an end to lone working
• personal attack alarms for all
• safe parking (and no congestion charge) for those who need to drive to work
Not All Men?
Of course, both men and women get harassed and assaulted. But men attack and abuse women far more often – and more severely – than women attack and abuse men.
If your response to women mobilising against violence is to say ‘not all men are like that’, then you may be missing the point. You wouldn’t respond to a campaign against careless driving by saying ‘not all drivers are careless’, would you? – even though that would be factually correct.
Of course, not every man has raped or murdered a woman, but one is too many. And in any case, men don’t wear labels telling women whether they are one of the good guys or one of the bad guys!
To make matters worse, when women report abuse, they often receive a woefully inadequate response. We know of managers telling women staff who have been sexually harassed that they should be grateful for the attention – and of a manager who told a woman that if she didn’t want to be harassed, she shouldn’t come to work looking so nice. Women who have reported abuse to the police tell of inadequate, even humiliating, treatment from them.
These sexist, dismissive responses make it so much harder for women to speak out.
Moreover, everyday sexist behaviour at work can wear away at women’s confidence and underpin a culture in which some men feel entitled to go further. A woman may laugh along with mess room banter, or not say she objects to ‘harmless’ sexual comments or ‘friendly’ touching. But inside, it may make her uncomfortable and upset.
Fighting for Change
Specific actions by management, such as those listed above, would help. So would a further change in workplace culture. We know things have got better since, say, fifty years ago, but there is still a long way to go. The company could start by holding its own managers to account for how they handle these issues.
They will probably prefer blogs and online sessions, though. These are fine in themselves, but a long way short of the radical action we need. That action will only happen if our unions take up this fight, which will involve some change in their own culture too.