Cllr Gail Harris on the safety of women in Norwich, and remembering Sarah Everard
Cllr Gail Harris on the safety of women in Norwich, and remembering Sarah Everard

At tonight’s Norwich City Council full council meeting, deputy leader Cllr Gail Harris has spoken on the safety of women in Norwich and in remembrance of Sarah Everard. You can read Cllr Harris’ speech in full below.

I wanted to speak tonight in order to remember Sarah Everard.

A young woman murdered at the hands of a man and discarded in woodland. Another woman dead, but this cannot be just another statistic – enough is enough.

We need to ask ourselves as a society as to why such violent attacks happen again and again and again – murder, rape and domestic violence. It is getting worse, not better. Just why do we accept this?

Perhaps the answer lays in the lived experience of all women, but we need to fight back. We must demand to have our voices heard and we must stand together and share our experiences.

So I shall give some of my story and thoughts as part of this discussion.

For me it starts with the individual – about how we live as individuals in a wider society and a wider world. Growing up in Norwich, in a working class community in the 1950s, I was always aware of how unequal the society I lived within was for women like me. How certain men could make sexist comments, touch women, behave inappropriately and yet live and indeed prosper with seeming impunity. How opportunities afforded to men were something I could dream of. I still to this day remember a family member, on hearing that I had passed the 11+ to secure a place at a grammar school, with the opportunity that it would give me, commented: “why waste the money on the uniform, she is only a girl.” That comment has stayed with me all of my life and I am grateful that my parents were forward thinking enough to give me the opportunity that they knew I should have. If you live in such a world, it is so easy to become conditioned by it and almost unknowingly even begin to accept it.

The same thing happened in the workplace. The touching, the inappropriate comments – I would like to think that it would not happen now. Please don’t say “well you should just have gone and done something about it” without understanding the dynamics of the time – gender discrimination and the appalling attitudes which existed in so many work places leading to a woman fearing for their job. Perhaps that is what encouraged me to be a Union Rep many years later.

So thinking of the individual we need men to think about their role in society. Whether we like it, or not, they have power and influence, but this needs to be used in a positive way. The importance of family relationships, the importance of them being a positive role model for their children and their role in the workplace.

We also need to think about society. We are conditioned by the opportunities society chooses to afford us and the securities it chooses to give us.

Also, let’s be honest and I am happy to say it loud and clear parts of society simply stink at the moment. When those in power chose, willingly, to destroy the services we use and need, there is a consequence to it. When the Tories, embarked on austerity, they also launched an attack on the rights and institutions and the very laws which should serve to protect us and empower us to reach our full potential. There is a price to pay for it.

So over ten years ago, when the street lights got turned off by Norfolk County Council to provide “savings”, they are savings that are paid for by women like myself when we walk home alone at night through dark streets. My fear is supposedly a price worth paying – I know that in the evening I choose different routes to avoid dark isolated areas and that indeed on occasion I have simply fled when faced with a man approaching and trying to talk to me. When you destroy the probation service, slash funding for domestic abuse refuges, cut the police and the specialist officers who investigate crimes against people, often women, you need to expect the consequences. When you cut the funding for schools, so that the learning environment allows for less time to teach children about life and how to respect each other, expect a consequence. When you reduce women to poverty, to use foodbanks, to not have money to feed their hungry children, expect consequences. I could go on and on.

There is fear and hardship coursing through our society and it didn’t just happen by accident. It wasn’t just some chance of fate. It was the consequence of decisions taken by those who should have known better – they decided that the world we live in today was just good enough for the likes of us. One rule for them, one rule for us.

Lastly, we need to think global. We need to think how women are treated in the world that we all share. That starts by not electing men like Trump with his complete disrespect for women. It means changing power over resource and who gets to use it and which priorities are made. It means thinking and acting about how we protect all women and girls in this world, so that one day the world itself will be a better place for women and men too.

Here locally, I know that this council does much to help. It does that because we care and we prioritise it. We can always do more and with strong partners we will always aim to do more.

But tonight, let’s just stop for a moment and think of Sarah – let’s take time to think about the family and friends she has left behind and in solidarity send our love to them.

Each of us, in our different ways, can keep on building a better city, a better country and indeed a better world.

It will be a foolish person who underestimates the power of women standing together. We will be heard.

Despite the horror of recent weeks I am still hopeful of a better world and I am more determined than ever to help shape it for the better.


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