This week began with International Women’s Day and ended with the court appearance of the man accused of kidnapping and murdering Sarah Everard in London. Social media has pulsed with women sharing their stories of sexual harassment, the violence that has been perpetrated toward them by men, and swapping tips on how to stay safe at night. There has also been a conversation about what men can do while walking at night to signal to women that they are not a threat, and the government has received over 20,000 women’s testimonies detailing the casual misogyny they are subjected to daily: the everyday sexism that shapes women’s minds and imprints patterns of fear, which develop into calculations women constantly subconsciously compute in a bid to avoid harm.
Today also marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of Breonna Taylor by police, who shot the unarmed black woman in her own home after entering under a no-knock warrant. To date, no one has been tried in a court of law for this killing, and her family is still campaigning for those responsible to be brought to justice. The man being held for the murder of Sarah Everard was also a serving police officer.
It is difficult to condense into a single blog post the emotional whiplash of this week. It would maybe be easier to litter this post with statistics about women’s lives lost to gender-based violence but these statistics are not new – while they are shocking, they do not surprise us. We all know these numbers, and to some extent, we have quietly accepted them. In my various group chats with friends, we have all been buzzing in a soup of cognitive dissonance – reaching out to celebrate each other at the start of the week, before swiftly moving to console each other in the wake of yet another horrific story that proves that women are not safe. And if anything, the pandemic has set women back even further.
The question we all want the answer to is: when will it stop? What will it take to finally bring about a future without gender-based violence? Without racist violence? Or one in which the instruments of the state charged with meting out the ‘legitimate use of physical force’ don’t turn violence on innocent citizens with impunity? You might be wondering whether these questions are anything to do with us as medical students. But I would argue that in our medical practice, we will daily come into contact with those whose health and wellbeing is directly impacted by these various forms of violence that so often go unseen and unacknowledged. If we are serious about our responsibilities to reduce the burden of ill health in society, we have a role in speaking out and standing up to misogynistic and racist systems that are so deeply embedded within the institutions that purportedly exist to protect us.