Zara Aleena Walked Because She Loved To Walk. We Should All Be Able To

Another woman gets murdered and the response is the same.
Zara Aleena: "She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers."
Metropolitan Police via PA Media
Zara Aleena: "She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers."

When Sabina Nessa was tragically killed in 2021, people asked why she walked through a park to get to her destination. When Ashling Murphy was murdered while out on a jog, people said she “was just running”. When Sarah Everard was killed last year by a police officer, “she was just walking home” began to trend.

Now we are taking in the devastating news that Zara Aleena was killed in the early hours of Sunday morning while walking just 10 minutes from her home in Ilford, east London.

The 35-year-old was found dead after suffering extensive head injuries and a man has now been charged with her murder, and attempted rape and robbery.

Already, in what is proving an exhausting cycle of victim-blaming when it comes to women facing gendered violence, people are asking why she was out walking so late at night.

Zara was walking because she loved to walk, her loved ones have said. And it doesn’t matter that she was walking late at night, or that Sabina had crossed through a park, nor that Sarah also chose to walk, while Ashling chose to jog.

Many are pointing out that it doesn’t matter what activities women engage in – they never deserve to be murdered.

The family of Zara Aleena, who had recently started a job in the Royal Courts of Justice, stressed that she not only loved to walk – but believed in women’s right to do so freely and safely.

In a statement, they wrote: “She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers. She walked. Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home. Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken.”

They also drew parallels with other young women murdered while out in a public space.

“She’s not the only woman who has lost her life like this. In the moment of this tragedy, we extend our deepest sympathy and love to the families of Bibaa Henry; Nicole Smallman; Sarah Everard; Sabina Nessa; Ashling Murphy and many more women.”

The widespread and victim-blaming attitude must be stopped, says Deniz Uğur, deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).

“Zara had every right to be safe walking home. We all have the right to be free from violence and the threat of it in every part of our lives, whether that’s in our homes, workplaces or out in public,” she tells HuffPost UK.

She adds: “No woman is ever responsible for their own abuse or assaults against them. What women are doing or wearing or where they choose to be is absolutely irrelevant. Let us be clear that by focusing on what women are doing, wearing or where they choose to be is yet another form of victim blaming.”

So what needs to change?

Uğur calls for “a clear focus on perpetrators and their harmful beliefs and devastating actions” and outlines what this involves. “This means properly funding meaningful work to address men and boys’ attitudes and the underlying inequality that drives male violence against women and girls,” she says.

“This means a commitment to working with young people in schools and public campaigns that make sure violence against women is no longer tolerated or normalised in our society.

“We demand justice, accountability and an end to violence against women and girls.”

Sophie Gallagher, author of the upcoming book, How Men Can Help, was one to echo this frustration at a narrative that blames victims, not perpetrators.

“Where’s the energy for telling men where to be? How to feel? Women are not the issue,” she tweeted.

When Ashling Murphy died, Laura Bates, author of Men Who Hate Women told HuffPost UK that it doesn’t matter that she was “just running”.

Bates argued that such framing “devalues women’s lives” and plays into the insidious narrative of “the perfect victim who deserves our sympathy and our grief because she did absolutely everything right. She didn’t deserve it”.

“Of course she fucking didn’t,” she added. “But when we say that, no matter how unintentional, there’s a tiny, unsaid implication that some women do deserve it. A tiny reinforcement of the rules that bind us so tightly we can’t breathe, because if we step outside of them we know people will think we deserved our own deaths. A tiny little dehumanisation on top of a million other tiny cuts. It doesn’t matter what she was doing. It doesn’t matter. She shouldn’t be dead.”

Equally, it doesn’t matter that Zara Aleena was out alone at 2am. She was a mere 10 minutes away from home.

And even if she had been further away, or been wearing ‘revealing clothes’, been under the influence, or been a sex-working woman, she still wouldn’t deserve to die.