by Clare Sweeney
Photos by Chris McCaughey
In my house International Women’s day is something we look forward to, we think about what we will do to raise awareness and share stories about the important and inspirational women in our lives.
Life as women can be tough and thanks to the pandemic the past two years have made it even tougher with women juggling home schooling, caring responsibilities and their own jobs.
Women have been almost twice as likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic, with many more women having to reduce hours or leave their role because of caring responsibilities.
The covid lockdowns also led to a huge increase in domestic violence against women.
I’m not naïve enough to think gender inequality can be cured overnight or even in 365 nights.
I know so much work needs to be done to educate and challenge gender stereotyping.
I understand that will take years, but I don’t think I’m asking too much to expect basic changes which make us feel safer.
My local authority – West Dunbartonshire has the second-worst rate of domestic abuse in Scotland, the area has also seen sexual assaults rise by almost 25% in the last year.
Women are scared and rightly so.
Despite two recent sexual assaults at my local train station it remains unmanned, the path leading down remains poorly lit and uneven.
Myself and many others have had to buy super-powered outside security lights to help light the way to our front door because our new, not fit for purpose, energy [cough] money-saving, street lights don’t do the job.
We heard countless times how Sarah Everard and many other woman shouldn’t have been walking late at night, but with a local bus service barely existing after 6pm and taxi waits in excess of an hour the norm, what else can we do?
I’ll say to you all what I said to my daughter, we don’t accept it.
We make our voices heard, we share our stories, we teach ourselves and each other that we deserve better, and we don’t stop until we get what we need to make us feel valued and safe and equal.
I’m part of Dumbarton West Community Events Group and before the pandemic we used to organise family days.
Last year we decided to try something different and applied to the Dumbarton West Community Grants for funding to run a women’s self-defence workshop in our community.
We invited two local councillors who are passionate feminists to take part in the session.
They both agreed there wasn’t enough being done to keep women safe and want to help change this.
The workshop was great, it gave us confidence.
We realised you don’t need to be a karate expert to protect yourself.
Robert and Barbara, from SKMS Krav Maga, gave us survival techniques – not avoidance tips – because we should all be able to be active participants in our lives without fear.
They also reinforced we all have the right to walk down the street, day or night, dressed how we want and being attacked is never your fault.
It was an intense day which was rounded off with a meditation and we all received a safety pack, funded by a donation from Unite’s West Dunbartonshire branch.
But we also came away with something more.
We had a desire to make this the start of something bigger for all the women and children in our community.
We live in an area badly affected by poverty and disability, at the very least we should be entitled to reliable public transport and decent street lighting.
Because a woman’s safety shouldn’t come down to a good funding application.
If you would like to get involved with the Dumbarton West Events Group email Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org