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Speak out even though your voice shakes

Our Communications and Engagement Manager Alys Mumford blogs about the importance of bystander action in preventing inequality.

Elin Ersson refusing to sit down

Since I saw the video of Elin Ersson preventing the deportation of a man to Afghanistan from Sweden a few days ago, I just haven’t been able to get it out of my head. When I tell people about it I get goosebumps. It gives me hope in a world where hope seems naïve.

As young women, we are told not to take up space. To sit down and shut up, and never, never to inconvenience others. Elin does none of these things.

Just imagine the bravery that takes. You know that people on the flight are keen to get home, to start their holidays, to visit loved ones. You know that flight attendants are just doing their jobs, and have enough to deal with without this. You know that there are children on the flight who are scared (more by the shouting man who just stole your phone, than by your calm act of bravery). You know that you are drawing attention to yourself online, with all of the dangers that poses for women.

And still you stay standing, voice shaking, to save a life.

This bravery is not something which is only required elsewhere. The Windrush scandal highlighted the huge numbers of people being deported from the ‘hostile environment’ of the UK (and there are many many more cases that don’t face the same media scrutiny). Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire remains operational despite reports it was to close by the end of 2017. Islamophobic and racist attacks are increasing in Scotland, and despite legislative progress, hate speech and attacks against members of the LGBTI community are still not rare.

Of course not everyone can halt a plane or intervene to prevent harassment, and women must have due regard for their own safety. Elin is part of a network of activists, her plane ticket came from crowd-funding, and as a white woman she can expect better treatment by the media, fellow passengers and the justice system. And there are phenomenal women engaging in acts of bravery every day, which aren't documented on social media or featured in national news.

But at our recent event on women and media, I was struck by a comment from a panellist that when women of colour face racist and sexist attacks online, it is often only other women of colour who step in to defend, offer support, and thus expose themselves to similar attacks. Offering solidarity must be more than just sympathising after the fact. If we are not witnessing (and reporting) racism occurring online, we are not following enough women of colour. If we are ignoring homophobic abuse because we think someone else will step in, our silence is an act of endorsement. If we think these are problems which don’t exist here, we are simply not paying enough attention.

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