What brings thousands of women out on a cold, wet, dark November night in London? What would make us angry enough to march through the streets of London waving placards, singing, blowing whistles and foghorns?
Every year in the UK alone, 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 80,000 women are raped, says the British Crime Survey. This survey also shows that at least one in four women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes. As if that isn’t bad enough, we, as women are often blamed for this violence; one third of people surveyed in an ICM poll thought women were wholly or partly to blame for being raped.
‘You shouldn’t have been out alone in the dark,’ we are told, ‘You were drunk,’ or ‘You were wearing provocative clothing’ – in short – ‘You made him do it – you were asking for it.’
That is why we went marching – to end violence against women. To stop the victim-blaming, to say that we have every right to walk our streets at whatever time of the day or night, alone or with others, wearing whatever we want to wear without threat from male harassment and violence. Because this, sadly, is a right women have been fighting for, but still have yet to gain, for centuries. That is why we set out to Reclaim the Night.
Reclaim the Night 2012
The first Reclaim the Night march took place in the UK in 1977; at a time when it was still legal for men to rape their wives (this wasn’t outlawed in the UK till 1991), when Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ was busy murdering women and only 10 years after abortion was legalised in the UK. Step back into the present day and women are still under threat, even more so under this Con-Dem government led by white, middle-class men.
The whole world has suffered under the recession – the UK has been feeling the effects for over four years now. Times of austerity are hard, but they’re particularly hard on women. At times when money is tight, what are some of the first things to go? Not funding for wars and armies or nuclear weapons, no – it is services which help the most vulnerable in society.
According to the Fawcett Society, funding for violence against women services such as refuges and helplines have been severely cut; so much so that Women’s Aid were turning 230 women away every day from their refuges in 2011 because of lack of space. Instead, they were forced to suggest ‘safe’ places to sleep on the streets – places like night bus shelters. Meanwhile, single mothers have been hit hardest by the government’s decision to cut housing benefits and women are disproportionately affected by public sector job cuts. Fawcett estimates that 74% of the £14.9 billion of recent benefit cuts were taken from women’s incomes.
My Video of Reclaim the Night London
What use is marching, you might be wondering? What’s the point; what will it achieve? The police closed down the streets of London for us to march, we walked straight through central London, through Trafalgar Square and Tottenham Court Road, through the rain and puddles as a mass of chants and cheering, song-sheets and laughter, whistles and foghorns, placards and banners – and people stopped.
They stopped and looked.
From the bus driver laughing and tooting his horn to the students leaning out of their halls and waving, to the men stood on street corners clapping their support and the families watching from their living room windows, people paused long enough to wonder why and then hopefully to think and care. I can’t describe how great it felt to march – here’s some of my footage which I think says it better than I can.
End Violence against Women – a Global Issue
Women suffer male violence, poverty and oppression all over the world and I know, as we set out on our travels in March we’ll be faced with this stark reality every day. How we’ll deal with this and whether we can find some small way to help – be it through finding an ethical way to volunteer to writing about what we find out to simply spending our money to help local businesses – remains to be seen.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, authors of ‘Half the Sky’, report that:
- Worldwide, around three million women and girls, as well as a small number of boys are currently trapped in the sex trade
- Women aged 15-45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined
- According to the World Health Organisation, Up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners
- 2 million girls are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation worldwide every year
- 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence isn’t illegal
- More than 2.6 million women live in countries where rape within marriage isn’t illegal
I marched because I have hope that one day we can end violence against women all over the world.
“Whatever we wear, Wherever we go – Yes means Yes and No means No”
For more information see:
Reclaim the Night
The Fawcett Society
Half the Sky – How to Change the World, by Nicholas D.Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
The Industrial Vagina, The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade by Sheila Jeffreys
The Price of Sex, a documentary film by Mimi Chakarova