Changing the conversation: from women's safety to women's freedom

Professor Liz Kelly, Director of London Met's Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, asks what it is about our culture that allows women to be harmed, and what it would take to change this

Date: 16 March 2021

I am sitting listening to the Home Secretary Priti Patel make a statement to the House of Commons following the police response to the vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday.  Both she and the Labour shadow spokesperson referred to the ‘safety work’ women do every day, automatically, as we navigate public spaces, the nighttime economy and our own households.  We teach about this on our Woman and Child Abuse Studies MA, and it was at the core of Fiona Vera Grey’s PhD, which became The Right Amount of Panic.

The response to the murder of Sarah Everard from countless women has been an outpouring of grief, rage and recognition: grief at the loss of another woman who was just walking home; rage that this should have been at the core of public policy but is not; and recognition of how much our freedom is limited by having to think constantly about our own safety.  The issues are framed by politicians and the media as being about fear and women’s safety, but it is so much more than this.

The necessity of safety work steals our time and our energy – being vigilant means it is seldom possible to just be in public space, to feel joy in exercise or noticing the changing seasons.  We are not free to allow our imaginations to wander, to catch the thought that is the golden thread for an essay, a dissertation chapter, a journal paper.  We are not free to experience an ease in our own bodies.

These restrictions chimed with the police refusing permission for the socially distanced vigil planned by Reclaim These Streets – it felt like more of the same.  So thousands of women refused, many thousands more lit a candle.  This is a moment for reflection, on what it is about our culture that allows women to be killed, raped and assaulted and what it would take to change this.  It is a reflection that we need to have in London Met as a community committed to social justice – these things have happened and will continue to happen to us.


group of women holding the light of their phones up in the darkness