Same sad question, where are women safe?

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Sydney mother of three, Sarah Lander at the Canberra March4Justice. Photo: Nathan Schmidt.

“Where are women safe? Not on the streets after dark, not at home with the increase in domestic violence over the past year and certainly not inside the hallowed halls of our national parliament,” writes columnist KATE MEIKLE. 

ON April 17, two years ago, I penned a column headed “Do men know how scared we are of them?” 

Kate Meikle.

It’s one of my proudest. It outlines my personal experiences of constantly adjusting my behaviour in order to mitigate potentially unsafe interactions with men. 

It challenges men to try to understand the constant threat we live in and for them to make adjustments too in order to support women (it’s here).

Sadly, there’s nothing in that column that has changed for the lived experience of women over the past two years. 

In my 2019 piece, I wrote about the then recent murders of women in Melbourne who were walking home at night. Now, we are tragically confronted with the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard in London when she was walking well-lit streets to her home. It shows again that sometimes women don’t have a chance. 

Be it walking across the street to avoid passing someone coming up ahead, holding keys at the ready as we walk to our cars at night, to politely manoeuvring ourselves out of interacting with men who won’t take the hint – every day women are adjusting our behaviour – always careful not to shove men off or tell them off for fear of abuse or violence. 

When I discuss this with the men in my life, it’s hard for them to fully understand why women do these things when you have generally been able to go through life free of prevailing threats to your safety, real or imagined. 

Where are women safe? Not on the streets after dark, not at home with the increase in domestic violence over the past year and certainly not inside the hallowed halls of our national parliament. 

In response to what feels like a tired argument,Enough” read many of the placards raised at the March4Justice protests across the country. 

Women are angry like never before, as demonstrated by the numbers who flocked to the peaceful protests around the country. And yet, we should be grateful that we were not answered with bullets!

“My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it is a painful reminder to women that if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere,” said Brittany Higgins in her address at the Canberra protest. 

It is a shame on all of those in power that what has been exposed by Ms Higgins and other brave women is the full extent of the toxic and dangerous culture of our national parliament. Those in leadership should be ashamed. 

What can be done? Listen to women, believe victims, create fairer and safer workplaces and take responsibility. That’s a start. 

Criminal arrests, independent inquiries, changed laws and influencing our entire culture from the very top is also another change we need to see. Education, I believe, can influence gender equality from young ages. Opening young minds beyond gender stereotypes that surround us, and calling out sexism can, in real time, role-model better ways to respect and understand diversity for the next generation. We can all play a part. 

But action needs to be taken now. This crisis will not go away. 

I hope that in the next two years, I can look back at this column with some sort of pride that action has been taken. 

Like the Prime Minister, I also have a daughter (he has two). I truly wish men and women can continue to work together for a future in which my daughter can move around this world, free from harm and fear. That she doesn’t have to constantly regulate her behaviour and look over her shoulder. That she is safe at home and at work. 

She should aspire to enter Parliament if she wishes, and if she does, I can only hope that the decisions our leaders make now have created a place and indeed, a country, where she can be safe, be respected, be herself and not look behind her shoulder wherever she goes.

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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is misandrist rubbish, penned by a woman who lives in one of the safest cities in one of the safest countries in the world. Where are women safe in Canberra? The unequivocal, undeniable answer is: EVERYWHERE!

    If, Kate Meikle, you are “constantly adjusting your behaviour to mitigate potentially unsafe interactions with men”, then I suggest you see a therapist. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy will help you to reevaluate your distorted and unrealistic understanding of the threat you face and, gradually, adjust your irrational, paranoid behavioural response.

    If a woman is murdered in Melbourne or another is murdered in London, that does not mean ALL women risk being murdered every time they leave the house. If a woman is raped at Parliament House, that does not mean ALL women risk being raped if they visit parliament.

    Isolated instances of violence, such as those you reference, are inevitable among a planet consisting of 7 billion people. Many more people die in car crashes or from falling off the toilet than are murdered, but we don’t stop driving cars or going to the toilet do we?

    I would suggest it is hard for the men in your life “to fully understand why women do these things” not because “they have generally been able to go through life free of prevailing threats to their safety, real or imagined”, but because those are precisely the conditions applicable to the women in their life, including you.

    Did any of the men in your life politely advise you that victims of violence (including murders) in this city, in this country and around the world, are primarily men? Yes, believe it or not; the majority of victims of violence are men.

    Did any of the men in your life also complain about the “entire culture from the very top”?

    Did any of them mention the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children; how the “entire culture from the very top” discriminates against, devalues and demeans male victims of violence and THEIR children?

    Did any of them mention the fact that the majority of perpetrators of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against children are women; in this city, this country and, indeed, the world over?

  2. Correction: With hindsight, in recent years I think the majority of murder victims in Canberra may, in fact, be women or children. I recall a couple of instances (around 2014-15 I think) of women being murdered by drug-fuelled, psychologically deranged male partners or ex-partners and several other cases involving mentally ill mothers murdering their children. Regardless, the number of murder victims in Canberra is so minuscule that it hardly rates a mention in the violence conversation. Maybe the numbers are so low due to Canberra women miraculously evading would-be murderers by crossing the street as they approach? What a load of rubbish. FYI, the overwhelming majority of murder victims know the perpetrator.

  3. Oh dear, Matt, you have no idea. If women in Canberra are safe everywhere, why do we need eight women’s refuges?

    Nobody has said that all women are unsafe every time they leave the house or visit parliament, in the same way that no-one will ever say that all men are rapists. The facts are that not all women are unsafe in those situations and not all men are rapists. But there are enough situations that are unsafe and enough men who rape that all women must be constantly aware. The shock around Brittany Higgin’s alleged rape is that even in the highest law-making building in the land a woman is not safe. Note, I said A woman, not ALL women.

    Yes, men are affected by violence, because for centuries, men have been encouraged to believe that “real” men can “take care of themselves” and solve their problems with their fists. The “patriarchy” has not been kind to women – it has equally not been kind to men, locking them into a belief that violence is the solution and denying them the opportunity to develop other ways to solve bad situations and handle negative emotions. Why are women killed or injured by male partners and ex-partners? Because many men aren’t taught any other way of dealing with negative emotions, and there aren’t the sort of support services for post-separation men as there are for women – places that will help them deal with the negative emotions of a break-up.

    All women adjust their behaviour to mitigate potentially unsafe interactions with men. You just don’t see it and don’t understand it Matt because, as my husband and son agreed on the weekend, you don’t see a problem if you’re not affected by it.

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