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Opinion Tech, self-defense tips or pepper spray won’t save women

A woman cries at a memorial at the Clapham Common Bandstand in London, following the kidnapping and killing of Sarah Everard, on March 13. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

As women around the world continue to react in outrage to the killing of Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old woman who was found dead days after she disappeared while walking home alone from a friend’s apartment in London, a whole range of “solutions” have gone viral aimed at helping women stay safe.

There are self-defense tips circulating and petitions to allow women to carry pepper spray legally in the United Kingdom. There’s invisaWear, a company that develops wearable GPS devices that look like jewelry or keychains; once activated, they allow the user to send out a signal to up to five trusted people, letting them know that you are in danger. There is also nail polish that, when dipped into a drink, can detect traces of a date rape drug. Lipstick-looking pepper sprays, pink tasers and other wearable protective technologies have also become part of this misogynistic world. There are even viral TikTok videos that women can use when they feel unsafe in a ride-share vehicle, which lets them pretend there is a man on the other end of a FaceTime video call waiting for them at their destination.

Yet none of these solutions address the underlying problem. The reality is that even when we follow the “rules” and take all the precautions, women are still targeted. Approximately 1 in 3 women worldwide still face intimate partner and sexual violence.

Our training to survive begins as children — from “don’t go out at night” to “don’t wear revealing clothing” — but these warnings have done little to protect us. In fact, we have taken the burden of the pain and death caused by violent men and placed it on the victims: women. It is still up to us to prevent being attacked.

The inherent injustice of these expectations is just highlighted by the recent cases involving women who had “done everything right” and still ended up dead. Everard was walking home on a well-lit street, on the phone with her boyfriend, but she was still kidnapped and allegedly killed by a police officer. In late January, Andrea Bharatt took a taxi on her way home from work in Trinidad and Tobago but never made it. The 23-year-old woman did everything “right.” She was dressed “appropriately,” headed straight home from work, and despite all her precautions, she was still kidnapped, possibly raped and killed. On International Women’s Day, thousands of women across Latin America marched to address the region’s high numbers of violence against women.

The Everard case was the latest reminder of an alarming global trend. Women are still being killed at an alarming rate. In recent days women have turned to social media to share their experiences of fear and precautions. Women do not know when they will get into a bus, an Uber or walk down the wrong alley and end up like Everard or Bharatt. The #SheWasJustWalkingHome and #NotAllMen hashtags began to trend. The former was about a universal reality, the latter about carving out exemptions. In the end the #NotAllMen comments are of little use to women — we are still forced to be cautious because dangerous men don’t come with a warning label. Think of all the things women do to stay safe that men never have to consider: We keep keys in our hands before we walk to our cars; we have pepper spray hooked at our hips when going for a night run; we walk only on well-lit streets, text our friends or family members when we’re on our way home or share our location via cellphone.

We shouldn’t have to do this. Of course we will take all the precautions necessary to stay safe — but when will the threat finally be neutralized. Technology won’t “save” us. Many of the tech companies that have been touted for the safety they might offer women, like ride-sharing apps, have also been slow to react to violence against them. Social media giants have done little to curtail the threats and harassment many women experience on their platforms.

But it is unfair to demand women drive the change. Ending misogyny should be an all-encompassing cultural and social project. We should not be forced to keep finding more workaround solutions. Instead, we need to uproot the problem and destroy it. Education on gender violence must begin early on, and it should be taught to boys and girls. We can keep developing new gadgets, pretend videos, safety protocols, but unless there is a systematic change in how we raise men and boys, we will be failing victims like Sarah Everard and Andrea Bharatt — and many more women in the future.

Read more:

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