The UK national charity Women's Aid has consistently pioneered the safety of women and children, and despite 2021’s challenges, this year was no different. During the trial of Wayne Couzens, the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard, the nation watched in horror as details came to light. He had kidnapped and murdered Sarah by abusing his position as a police officer and using COVID regulations to make a false arrest. Women's Aid responded to his trial and life sentence by confirming that women's confidence in the police had dropped since the murder. They called for the sexism prevalent in the police force to be addressed, urging the government to do more to stop violence against women by investing in and creating cultural change.
During the same month of the trial, there was more news of a woman being murdered as she walked to meet a friend. This time it was a primary school teacher, Sabina Nessa. Women's Aid demanded justice using the hashtag #SaySabinasName when it became clear that her murder was not getting the same media attention or social media outrage that Sarah Everard's had. It highlighted yet again how violence against women of colour is often taken less seriously than violence against white women. It also showed that since Sarah Everard's murder, nothing had really changed regarding women's safety.
Women's Aid also conducts invaluable research, publishing data throughout the year showing that gender-based violence is more than just a few outliers committing random acts. Instead, it is ingrained deep in culture and driven by inherent systemic inequality. As news broke of these horrific crimes against women, posts filled social media with women sharing their own stories of feeling unsafe on the UK streets. The conversation shifted from telling women how to avoid an attack (aren’t we all fed up with being told to grasp our keys tightly between our knuckles when walking home?) to demanding the focus switch to men.
As well as calling for the government to make the streets safer for women, Women’s Aid also raised concerns about the response to the pandemic and how it negatively impacted survivors of domestic violence, especially minoritised women. Women's Aid found that 67% of survivors currently experiencing abuse say their abuser started using lockdown restrictions or COVID-19 in general as part of the abuse. To address this, they joined forces with other charities such as SafeLives and Rights of Women to form a domestic abuse strategic learning partnership, sharing expertise to tackle these issues. They aim to address the grim fact that, “61% of survivors living with the abuser said that the abuse had worsened and more than two-thirds said they felt they had no one to turn to during lockdown”.
They also launched the Deserve to be Heard campaign aiming to address the impact of domestic violence on women and children's mental health. The research shows that almost 1/2 of women living in refuges have reported feeling depressed. This campaign aims to create a platform for women to creatively share their own experiences of domestic abuse in any format they wish. Women have shared their stories through art and poetry to demystify mental health struggles. The campaign is pivotal as it amplifies the voices of survivors by sharing not just the struggles they have faced, but also their strength and hope.
Another great initiative that Women's Aid championed this year was their Rail to Refuge scheme, which was introduced by train operators during the first lockdown as a way for abuse survivors to access free train travel. It is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid where train operators cover the cost of train tickets for people fleeing to refuge accommodation. It's a vital initiative because many survivors not only experience emotional and physical abuse but also economic, making it harder for them to get away from their abuser.
Women’s Aid is a fantastic charity doing critical work to tackle gendered violence. If you would like to support them further, you can buy our hit anthology Retelling Her World with all proceeds going to the charity, or make a donation via their website.