Society has 'far to go' to keep women safe, says Wales' education minister

Wales' education minister says society has "far to go" to keep women and girls safe, after the death of Sarah Everard saw vigils held across the country.

Speaking at the Welsh Government's coronavirus briefing, Kirsty Williams responded to a series of questions about women's safety in light of Ms Everard's death.

The 33-year-old had been missing since March 3 and was last seen walking home from a friend's house near Clapham Common in south London. Her body was found in Kent on Wednesday.

One question put to the minister was whether the Welsh Government would consider opening gyms "sooner rather than later" as a result of concerns raised by women about exercising alone.

Ms Williams replied, "Isn't it a damning indictment that women don't feel safe to be able to exercise alone?

"The answer, yes - as soon as we're able to - is to open gyms."

Ms Williams referenced a recent change to the rules, which now allows two people to exercise outdoors together in Wales.

"Many women felt that they could not take advantage of the ability to get out and exercise, especially in the winter months when the evenings draw in much earlier," she said.

"But the fact that we have to open gyms up because that's the only way of keeping women safe tells you how far we've got to go as a society.

"Women have to make those different choices because of fears and concerns."

Sarah Everard's death has sparked renewed calls for action to protect women and girls.

Ms Williams said we all have a role to play in challenging behaviours that might contribute to women feeling unsafe, "whether that’s a crass joke or pointed comments".

In particular, she said she believes education will create the societal change needed.

Every child in Wales will be entitled to relationship education as part of a "groundbreaking" new curriculum, she added.

It will cover topics such as consent, respect, and our roles as individuals in a safe and secure relationship.

Ms Williams added, "I know as [a woman] myself, and as a mother of three teenage girls, that the lived experience of many women demonstrates the need for us to make changes."

There was also praise from ministers following the "respectful" vigils for Sarah Everard that took place in Wales over the weekend.

Wales' First Minister responded to the events in an interview with Rob Osborne for Sharp End.

He said, "People in Wales will see a contrast between the way in which police in Wales responded to vigils which I thought was sensitive, proportionate and suitable to the occasion and the far more disturbing scenes we saw in London.

"We know that someone has been arrested from the Metropolitan Police and here was the same police service acting in ways that cannot but lead people to feel disturbed at what they saw."

Ms Williams said, "Can I say how grateful I am to women and men in Wales who, over this weekend, carried out vigils to mark the death of Sarah, and the wider issues that that death makes us confront as a society - and the police that oversaw those gatherings in a really respectful way.

"We have to remember we're still in the middle of a pandemic and we need people to be cognisant of that.

"But I would commend both those who wanted to have their voices heard this weekend in Wales, and the police for the sensitive way that that was handled."

Ms Williams compared it to the vigil held in Clapham, saying: "I don't think anybody that watched those scenes can't have been shocked by what they saw."

On Monday evening, protesters gathered outside Cardiff Central police station amid ongoing concerns over the safety of women.

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