Emma Kelty. Woman. Sister, daughter, friend, undoubtedly beloved to many. Former head teacher. Adventurer and explorer. Inspiration. Intrepid and brave. Murdered while she camped in the Amazon rainforest.
Emma Kelty was already known to us for completing a 51 day, 700 mile, solo expedition (unassisted) to the South Pole and being only the 6th woman in world history to do so. The coldest and driest place on earth, this is a terrain that offers little to support human life. The average temperature for January (the month Emma undertook her challenge) reaches only -20 degrees although it plummets to -100 degrees in mid winter. Some of the hazards faced by Emma were dehydration, hypothermia, snow blindness, frostbite, starvation, altitude sickness and exhaustion. Indeed, the previous year an explorer died of exhaustion and dehydration just a few miles short of his goal.
Emma overcame all of these obstacles and claimed her place in Antarctic history.
Her next challenge was something equally dangerous and, for most of us, equally unfathomable. She planned to solo kayak 4000 miles down the Amazon river, a trip expected to take six months. Emma undertook a punishing training schedule to prepare her for the trials ahead. She did advanced whitewater rafting courses and learned all she could about the hazards she would meet – the wildlife, the poisonous plants, the insects.
But she could not prepare for the appearance of men with sawn-off shotguns as she rested in her tent after a day of hard rowing. None of her training and experience prepared her for what would in fact end her journey, and her life (at 43), only 42 days into her adventure.
Emma was not unaware of the risks posed by ‘pirate’ gangs in the area. She blogged and tweeted about it and also wrote of the warnings she received from many friends, some of whom begged her not to go. I imagine she assumed that she had already risked her life at the South Pole and so made the informed decision to follow her dreams and go anyway. And now she is dead.
At the time of writing, Emma’s body hasn’t yet been found. That powerful and strong body, which survived such extremes and challenges, was dumped in the river like rubbish.
Her death has upset me because, yes, yet another woman is dead at the hands of a man. But it is something more. Emma’s story shows us that no matter how brave, how fit, how intrepid, how prepared, how well trained, how knowledgeable, how determined, how adventurous, how ambitious a woman is she can be killed by a man in a moment. Just like the other 2+ British women murdered by men every week. And that all the natural hazards faced and overcome by Emma in her epic solo adventures counted for nothing against men who wanted her dead. Because going off alone into the Amazon is no more and no less dangerous than sharing a house with an abuser, or getting into a taxi with a serial killer, or telling a violent man you are leaving him. My point is that we curtail our movements (we are taught to do that from babyhood) because of the risks posed to us by men but limiting our ambitions and our lives will not save us. Emma knew she was facing the very real threat of rape and death but she made a choice to pursue her dreams. She made the decision to live her life as she wanted it. She chose freedom and believed beyond all hope that a woman should be able to roam on this planet without coming to harm from men. We can’t be limited and silenced. Like Emma, we have to, in our own way, seize our place in this world and fight for the right to be free and safe. For us and for our daughters.
Emma’s murder is an atrocity. Male violence is a plague.
RIP Emma Kelty, you fabulous warrior-woman, you dreamer and star-gazer. I won’t forget you.
“Ultimately I know, that this could be the last of my big adventures for a while but I have no regrets at all and will make every effort to continue this life that I am currently leading that I hope (and have been told) has made impact on other peoples lives too. The world is huge and so much more to explore, I wish that others would join me on this way of life.”