I have been horrified by the events of the past ten days. The murder of Sarah Everard sparked outrage but also acted as a trigger for many women to share their stories of how they have been harassed or worse including when watching wildlife in the countryside.
Some of these stories have been told by friends and colleagues (see for example here). What I have heard has been very upsetting. But I also felt a sense of shame for not knowing or for not even thinking about these issues.
It is made worse by the stark conversation I had with my thirteen year old daughter who reports that her friends often talk about what self-defence tactics they should use if they find themselves in a vulnerable situation.
Some may say that it has always been like this. But THIS cannot be right.
As a man, I rarely think about my own safety even when out on my own. In fact, one of my great joys in life is walking or birding in the countryside on my own. I don’t feel on edge about who I meet on a path or a hide. I don’t worry about what people might say and I certainly don’t expect anyone to give me much attention.
But that clearly is not how many others feel and behave. Marina Hyde referred to “the nothing women” to describe the day-to-day harassment that is nearly accepted as part of the deal of simply being a woman. It serves as a shocking reminder of how far we have to go on gender equality.
Black Lives Matter last year was a wake up call for many, including the RSPB, to be more proactive about race and so must events this month be a wake up call to ensure we, including the RSPB, are more proactive to ensure everyone – staff, volunteers and visitors - is welcomed and feels safe in the countryside.
I say proactive, because it is not good enough simply to say I am not racist, sexist or harass people. It is not good enough simply to say, I am a good man. We have to be actively anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-intolerance in any of its many forms.
The RSPB clearly prioritises the health and safety of all its staff, volunteers and visitors. We have excellent people and systems. And through regular reporting and review, we nurture a good learning culture to help us improve.
But, this week has demonstrated that incidents do occur even if not reported at the time and many woman still don’t feel safe to go out on their own to go birding or wildlife-watching. This cannot be right. And this means, we need to do more. The RSPB will therefore reflect on what else it can do to make everyone feel safe, especially women. But, as many others have said this week, “we” must also mean we blokes particularly those of us that are lucky enough to work for a nature conservation organisation including those in leadership roles.
We should call out bad behaviour or language that is demeaning or threatening to women.
If something does happen, we should show support to a woman, check she’s ok, and intervene if a situation looks odd or someone looks scared or uncomfortable.
We should keep our distance to give women space and be aware of entering a space with a lone woman, or following a woman into an enclosed space like a hide.
We should not block routes including narrow paths.
We should signal our presence when we can rather than appearing out of nowhere
We should not stare at women.
We should offer to walk with female friends.
These are simple things, but they require thought, for us to listen, to be proactive and adapt our behaviour. It’s what being a good man means.
*Image of woodland at RSPB Coombes Valley and Consall Woods Nature Reserve, courtesy of the late Colin Wilkinson (rspb-images.com)
Thank you Martin for this really great overview of this delicate subject, one that, as you say often does not get "aired" often enough. Coupled with a heartfelt plea for others to read and take note of what you have eloquently suggested .
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