I have been running since I was fifteen. Because of COVID-19, I now run alone rather than with those in my club of six years and over the twelve months, I have grown to miss running with other people more and more; chatting makes the miles seem shorter and the long-runs on dark, winter nights bearable. It means I spend less time trying to sort out which playlist I’m in the mood for or maxing out my excuses when motivation is low. It also means I spend less time worrying about how dark it is outside or which route I can take, how loud I can safely keep my headphones or which clothes I wear.
This International Women’s Day coincided with the disappearance of Sarah Everard in southwest London. Sarah was walking home from a friends house around 9pm, on a Wednesday evening in early March when she went missing, her remains discovered a week later in Kent woodlands. Sarah’s story has consumed social media, with threads of Irish women taking to Twitter to share in the heartbreak and grief of what happened to her and what happens to so many women.
Derry Girls star and Cork woman Siobhán McSweeney said: “I love walking. I dream of walking through forests at night. Like how peaceful it would be. Or exploring train tracks, those strange in-between places in big cities. I’d love to walk along the Thames at night, feeling the pulse of the sleeping city. I’d love to do that.”
There are replies to the tweet of many men encouraging Siobhán to experience their walking routes; “I did just that yesterday,” one man responded, but ultimately missed her point. Those strange in-between places can be as threatening as familiar main roads when it is dark enough – or sometimes in the middle of the day.
Often, when I’m running, I don’t feel as if there is space for me. Not physically, but enough space to exist for myself in a way that is safe and protected. I have had to turn around when there aren’t enough streetlights, or when the curve of an alley, or lane, or tunnel blocks the way out from my view. These barriers to enjoying a long run – including those human ones, who shout at you from cars or block your path – are experienced by women and others every day, in so many parts of their lives. Merely adding more street lights won’t help.
In this issue, we speak about student experiences during COVID-19, the responses shared with us were expansive and all exposed that different people are experiencing different vulnerabilities, different barriers to coping during a pandemic. On International Women’s Day, we hear of the progress being made in terms of female leadership, but the absence of women at the decision-making table on COVID-19. Merely adding another chair won’t help.
‘Making space’ means more than ‘moving over,’ it means calling out unacceptable behaviour even when it’s your friends, it means working every day to create a culture where women and others can walk home, can go to work, can go to school or on a night out and not get hurt.