Zara Aleena‘s name should have been everywhere this week, so why wasn’t it?
Blog by chief executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer
When Wayne Couzens horrifically kidnapped, assaulted and murdered Sarah Everard, the story was inescapable. National front page after national front page featured Sarah’s image and story. Infographics tracked her route home; CCTV footage showed us her green rain jacket; we were told she had bought red wine at a Sainsbury’s local.
The outpouring of grief, fear and rage on Sarah’s behalf was as overwhelming as it was overdue. Finally, it seemed, the world was watching. Every woman whose shoulders automatically tense, upon hearing footsteps in an alley; every woman who removes her headphones when hopping off a night bus, without consciously thinking about why; every woman who wakes up early to go for a run before work, as running after dark is unthinkable – finally, our efforts were noticed. Our constant fear of male violence – so habitual, so ingrained, so accepted, that it had become unnoticed, even by us – was finally in the spotlight. Sarah’s death was an unspeakable tragedy, but people were paying attention and surely things could only get better from this moment?
The saddest thing is that I’m actually not surprised when I say – wrong. Since Sarah’s death, there has been a steady stream of men murdering women. The most recent woman, of course, being Zara Aleena.
There are clearly some differences in the cases, but not enough to explain the gulf of difference in the reporting. Could you confidently identify Zara in a photograph? Do you know what she was wearing? What she was walking home from when a man robbed, sexually assaulted and murdered her? On the day after her family released their heartbreaking statement, The Sun was the only national newspaper to feature Zara on their front page. As chief executive of Women’s Aid, I have to ask – why? Has society, as Nicola Thorp suggests in the Metro, simply become so accustomed to men murdering women in the street that it’s becoming less newsworthy? Or, is there another factor that is not outlined in this comment piece?
The acceptance of misogyny, of women’s lives not being important, is part of the picture. The circumstances around the killings play a part, when the killer is a police officer and there are ongoing updates on the case – we know that is a factor in what makes news. But there is no doubt that race is a factor in which faces make the front pages, and the cases that receive the widest public empathy.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Jebina Nessa, sister of Sabina Nessa, who Koci Selamaj murdered last year, said of her sister: “She didn’t get the front pages on some of the papers and, in Sarah Everard’s case, she did. I think it’s just down to our ethnicity, to be honest. And I feel like if we were a normal British white family we would have been treated equally, I guess.”
This is not to say that Sarah Everard should have had an ounce of less coverage, far from it – but all women killed by men should receive equal outrage and their families equal empathy. This extends to older women as well, who we know can also receive less attention when killed by men, than younger women.
Zara Aleena’s face should have been everywhere this week, and to end violence against women we need to ask why it wasn’t. And why did we not see the words her family wrote across every newspaper, because her family couldn’t have summarised this any better:
“Sadly, Zara is not the only one who has had her life taken at the hands of a stranger. We all know women should be safe on our streets… We all need to be talking about what happened to OUR ZARA, we need to be talking about this tragedy.”