In January 2012, Karen Ingala Smith began a campaign called Counting Dead Women, in which she records and commemorates the women killed by men.
There are times when I am unable to read the twitter feed #CountingDeadWomen, because the details are heavy and brutal and they make my heart hurt as I weep for them. Yet scrolling past the details and to turn away from the suffering of women feels wrong. I am in awe of the painful work that Karen takes onto her shoulders to ensure that their names are heard and remembered. To see this work juxtaposed with repeated claims that each and every one of these incidents is an isolated one is enraging. Each “isolated incident” builds on the foundations laid by misogyny. And the efforts to diminish the systemic brutality faced by women often feels like proactive and wilful ignorance.
In 2017, Jean Hatchet began a personal tribute to honour women murdered by men by dedicating a cycle ride to individual women. Each ride is named after an individual woman who was murdered. It is a beautiful gesture; taking a ride that they are no longer able to take for themselves. To take a moment to honour their life, and to quietly mourn them.
I found it immensely moving each time Jean tweeted #RideForMurderedWomen. A humble tribute to a life lost.
As part of the feminist group Womanchester, we often talk about Jean’s tributes, and about Karen’s immensely painful and necessary work in building the femicide census. We regularly hear the fact that between 2 and 3 women are killed through male violence every single week in the UK in conversations and in campaigning. We talk about the fact that the numbers of women killed by men is going up. We hear about the isolated incidents that create an epidemic. Imagine 3 women a week being killed in any other way and it would not be so easily dismissed.
We wanted to make our own tribute to our sisters.
And so our #HeartsForMurderedWomen campaign was born. As a group we made a heart for every woman murdered in 2018. We made them from clay, from cardboard, from fabric, from wood. We sat and embroidered, coloured, drew, stuck. Each heart unique. Each one a tribute.
On December 8th 2019, we stood outside the library in central Manchester, and we hung a washing line across the trees. We pegged 165 hearts onto the line. We handed out flyers to passers by telling them about the campaign and invited them to take a heart with them and to continue to honour the women for whom they were made.
I spoke to a woman who took a heart and she told me that she knew one of the women who was killed in 2018, she asked me if she could take a heart to give to the woman’s mother.
I spoke to a woman who took a heart and broke down and said she was so very nearly the 166th heart and it is a miracle she is standing joining the tribute instead.
Some women quietly took a flyer, and quietly took a heart, wiped tears away and kept walking.
This year, we will make hearts for the women we lost in 2019, and we will have to make more than 166.