On a Wednesday night in Melbourne, a young woman goes to a comedy gig. Taking public transport home, she speaks with her sister on the phone. The young woman is attacked and sexually assaulted. The attacker leaves her behind some bushes where she lays injured for several hours. A passerby finds her the next morning, still clinging to life. But, her injuries are too severe and she dies.
Her name is Aiia Maasarwe and she will not be forgotten.
Aiia, you were a guest in our city and we are so very sorry that you were not safe here. Our hearts go out to your family and friends.
The outpouring of grief and emotion over recent days has been so deep and raw. It is all so very sad but all so enraging. This should not happen in Melbourne. Women and girls in our community should be able to get home safely without being killed on our streets.
Aiia’s father, Saeed Maasarwe, travelling from Israel to Melbourne, visited where his daughter was attacked. He looked shattered and heartbroken. Through tears, he said “I am sad because this is the last place my daughter was.” Over the weekend, the “flower tram” laden with mourners and bouquets, travelled along route 86, to where Aiia died. All along the way, through the city, through Northcote, Preston, and Bundoora, people laid flowers in the tram, paying tribute to Aiia, before being laid at the place where she died. One of these bouquets had the message “everyone has the right to get home safely.”
Much like the murders of Jill Meagher, Masa Vukotic or Eurydice Dixon, Aiia’s attack seems so random, so indiscriminate, making it all the more terrifying. At the vigil for Aiia on the steps of Parliament house over the weekend, I saw a young woman holding a sign saying “Am I Next?” So many women feel that it could have been my sister, my daughter, my mother. It could’ve been me. A post I saw on facebook said –
I shed a tear on the tram just now. A young female student, killed less than 1km from my home. On my tram line. Where I walk alone at night. My home, my city. It isn’t safe anymore…Anyone on this tram could be a killer.
We must do all we can to make sure that all women and girls are safe. We must do more to end violence against women. And as terrible as Aiia’s murder is, the shocking fact is that women are still much safer on the streets than we are in our own homes. Murders of women by strangers represent only 3 per cent of homicides. We are still much, much more likely to be injured or killed by our intimate partner.
It is unacceptable that one in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a partner. It is unacceptable that one in five women has experienced sexual violence. It is unacceptable that one woman in Australia is murdered every week by her current or former partner.
And yet, we are certainly living through a paradigm shift. The actions of men, even powerful men, are being called out. And there are finally some consequences. But as much as things have changed since the Me Too movement took off in 2017, we still have a long way to go. As soon as women talk about our fundamental rights to safety, to live without fear and without being attacked or murdered, there are still those in our community who shout us down, who see our demands for rights as a threat to male privilege.
After the murder of Eurydice Dixon in 2018, there was a debate in the federal Parliament on women’s safety and a motion was put up to allow women access to weapons like tasers and pepper spray. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, objecting that this puts the onus on women to defend themselves, interjected that “men should stop raping women.” Libertarian Senator David Leyonjelm shot back that Hanson-Young should stop “shagging men” before telling her to “f*** off.” After this incident, he explained his comments as an objection to misandry (hatred of men).
Another more recent example comes from the world of advertising. Last week, Gillette launched their new advertisement which tackles toxic masculinity. While showing depictions of sexual harassment and mansplaining, the narrator asks “Is this the best a man can get?” This is a reinvention of Gillette’s motto “the best a man can get.” The ad prompted a spirited and hysterical reaction from bigots and “men’s rights activists”, who described the ad as a “global assault on masculinity” and part of the “men are horrible campaign.”
And this is not to say that all men are guilty. But as Clementine Ford wrote over the weekend “sexism is the foundation of gendered violence.” Discrimination is the wellspring and violence against women the consequence. So yes, we need to stop violence against women. But we need to then back up our words with meaningful actions.
That means restoring the $35 million in funding to community legal centres and front-line services for domestic and family violence which the Liberal government gutted from the budget. That means properly funding crisis accommodation so that women and children, the overwhelming victims of family violence, have a place to stay. That also means, we must create specialist family violence courts, properly fund specialist services (crisis phone services, shelters, counselling etc), roll out perpetrator interventions, build affordable housing and enshrine paid domestic violence leave among many other initiatives. But it also means that women, especially women of colour, need to have an equal voice in our parliaments, our media, boardrooms, and institutions.
If we are appalled by Aiia’s murder, if we truly believe that women should be safe, that women should enjoy equality to men in all spheres of society, we demand real action.