Monday, March 13, 2006
WOMEN MARCH AGAINST VIOLENCE
Scores of women braved freezing temperatures to "reclaim" a walkway in memory of murder victim Farah Noor Adams. The Kelvin Walkway in Glasgow was the sight of the brutal rape and murder of the 34-year-old.
Organised by the Crossroads Youth and Community Association - where Farah worked - and women's community arts group the Cailleach Collective, the walk was aimed at highlighting violence against women.
The following is from The Herald.
Women march for the right to feel safe
The Kelvin Walkway winds unobtrusively through Glasgow's urban landscape. For generations it has afforded its users a welcome break from the bustling city streets nearby. A green and pleasant path popular with runners and cyclists, the nine-mile stretch links the north bank of the River Clyde with the start of the West Highland Way, in Milngavie.
However, on a grey, cold autumn morning last October the local walkway – specifically, a secluded stretch running through Maryhill – assumed national significance in the most macabre of circumstances.
At the point where lock 24 of the Forth and Clyde canal meets the River Kelvin, 34-year-old Farah Noor Adams was brutally raped and murdered by Thomas Waddell, a local teenager, while out power walking in broad daylight. The savagery of the incident – Waddell raped the single mother twice and smashed her nose with a brick before killing her – sent shockwaves through Farah's local community of Maryhill and beyond.
Almost immediately, hundreds of female users felt in grave danger – the simple act of using the pathway unaccompanied was now out of the question. If something so terrible and so random could have befallen Farah, then it could just as easily happen to one of them, the thinking went.
In recent months, women have rarely used the pathway alone, either through personal choice or at the behest of concerned relatives. It is a highly unsatisfactory situation, one reminiscent of a time where women were afraid to go out at night unaccompanied in safety.
Yesterday, as a symbol of solidarity and remembrance, a group of about 100 women, children and some male supporters gathered near the river to protest at violence against women in general, and their inability to exercise their right to use the walkway in particular. Before the heavy snowfall on Saturday night, organisers had intended to "Reclaim the Path" by marching from the Botanical Gardens to the spot where Farah's battered body was found. There, they had hoped to hear tributes from colleagues of the Citizens' Advice Bureau where she worked, and then drop flowers into the river.
Instead, those who were able to surmount the whiteout conditions had to settle for a low-key affair. The police ban on marching the walkway necessitated a stationary protest outside the Botanical Gardens, but the wintry conditions failed to dampen the collective warmth and united front of those gathered. Jude Stewart, an organiser, was delighted at the turnout. "When we saw the depth of snow we couldn't believe it, but we just wanted to carry on. It just goes to show the strength of feeling about the issues involved. We want this event to inspire confidence in women of all ages to get back out using public spaces. We enjoy the right to exercise and the right to enjoy the fine, green spaces we have in Glasgow. That's what Farah was doing that day. We need to get out there and not be afraid."
The group's brightly coloured woolly hats were only outshone by their smiles and laughter. The power in the protest was not only to be found in its sincerity but also its positivity. Susan Douglas-Scott bravely sang Reclaim the Night by Peggy Seger unaccompanied, while protesters – holding carefully-made placards and banners bearing solemn messages such as 'WE WANT JUSTICE', 'WE ARE ANGRY' and 'STOP MURDERING WOMEN' – joined in with the chorus. "We are here because we care. We are not just here to commemorate Farah, but all women who are victims of violence and to protest at the unacceptable number of women murdered annually," said Gerrie Douglas-Scott, opening the proceedings.
In so many ways, Farah Adams lives on. On witnessing yesterday's event it is clear she has become an emblem – not just for the women of Maryhill, but for all those who defend and cherish the right to venture out unaccompanied in public, whether that be first thing in the morning, as Farah did, or last thing at night.
The event's organisers from the Crossroads Youth and Community Association, where Farah worked, and the Cailleach Collective, a local arts group, say they will continue to fight for safer public spaces and greater awareness of the horrific violence suffered by thousands of women every year in Scotland.
Janet Hay, a lay worker for Maryhill community health project, was at the march. Prior to Farah's murder she often used the walkway on her way home. "It was more scenic than the main road. Walking along there gave you a chance to calm down and unwind before you got home for the evening. I think a lot of women miss using the pathway. It never crossed my mind that the walkway would be unsafe. You just assume you're safe. I think that is what has knocked so many women in the area. Farah was super-fit and streetwise, it was in the morning, she had her mobile phone with her. I still think there are many women who are struggling to know what to do in terms of getting some exercise. There is a lot of fear out there," she says.
Sue McVie, a criminologist and a senior research fellow at Edinburgh University school of law, says there is a saying in the criminal-justice fraternity. "'The fear of crime is often more of a problem than the crime itself'. The truth is, we do not really know what constitutes the fear of crime. But we do know that it inhibits people from doing what they would normally do and in this case that means fewer people using the Kelvin Walkway. Walking to reclaim the Kelvin is such a positive statement, those involved should be very proud," she adds.
"This sort of crime could have happened anywhere as these sorts of attacks are so rare and the chances of being attacked in that way are so low. By avoiding places such as the walkway for fear of a crime happening to you could actually increase the number of attacks because people [like Waddell] think they have a better chance of getting away with a certain crime because no-one else will be about. Of course, it is important that people take personal safety seriously, but if as a society we start to avoid places that have been a crime scene then we all lose out."
Although it is unclear just how women can practically and safely reclaim the Kelvin Walkway in their everyday lives, the belief exists that it can be done. "The message today is that we will not lose the walkway. In the short-term, a way forward could be to set up a buddy system between joggers and walkers in addition to increasing police patrols of the area," says Ms Hay.
Areas around the Kelvin Walkway in Maryhill are gradually being cleared and pathways widened and extended. While such measures may not ultimately deter a criminal such as Waddell, every step helps in restoring public confidence.
Superintendent Peter McLaughlin, a sub-divisional officer, concludes: "Following Farah's death we implemented high-visibility policing on and around the Kelvin Walkway and canal tow paths to reassure the public and reduce their fear of crime. I can assure members of the community that we are committed to reducing crime and the fear of crime and these patrols, with the exception of the mounted branch, are still deployed. We are continuing to work closely with Glasgow City Council and British Waterways in an effort to improve the general area and make the walkway safe."