It was with great joy and enthusiasm that myself and (soon-to-be regular Uplift blogger!) Dearbhaile Kitt attended the Reclaim The Night march on Saturday. It might seem strange to outsiders that this march protesting violence towards women would be so happy and exuberant but, for me, those emotions felt totally right.
Along with over 2000 other women marching through central London, I was able to gain the strength to process my anger and sadness at having been harassed and sexually assaulted whilst walking alone on the streets at night (and during the day!) and evolve those feelings from fear into a powerful assertion that all women should have the right to walk the streets without being afraid. Through our singing, dancing (the drumming group SheBoom really got us going), cheers and chants we were able to deny those who have hurt us any negative and destructive power over our bodies, minds and memories. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom, one we so seldom feel as we simply make our way from A to B.
This amazing video from Hannah Nicklin really conjures up the empowering spirit of the evening;
Sadly, sorrowfully, on this one night when all marchers should have felt this way, blogger Noble Savage was sexually assaulted during the march. Such a violation shows up the privilege many men feel they have over womens bodies, even in the midst of a huge crowd and with a large police presence, and it’s indicative of how important RTN is.
My own experience of the onlookers to the march was, thankfully, a mainly positive one. Aside from the one man we saw standing on the pavement with his thumb stuck firmly down (with our placards saying ‘End Violence Against Women’ you have to wonder what his problem was) the reaction from the public was extremely positive. It was great to see people clapping on the pavements and cheering as they hung out from windows. Each positive display from the public was met with a cheers from the marchers, which rippled through the mass of RTN women. There was a whole lot of cheering going on!
We were especially heartened to see a display from the men at the White Ribbon Campaign, showing their support as we passed by with banners reading ‘Real Men are positive partners’ and ‘Real Men Respect Women’.
There were some fantastic banners within the march too (which I did try to capture on camera, but low light levels and over-excited marching were not conducive to good photographs!) and I especially connected to one placard that read “I’m not here for your entertainment” – something I always feel like shouting at street-harassers but never find the strength.
What is great about Reclaim The Night is that women come to march for so many different reasons and it means something different to everyone. Yet through gathering and sharing our experiences we can become stronger. As Finn Mackay, founder of the London Feminist Network, said at the after-march rally;
“Tonight you have marched for all women. For the right to live free from fear. You have marched to demand justice for all those that have survived the crimes of rape, of sexual abuse and assault, of forced marriage, of domestic violence. And you have marched for the many, who did not survive. And so for all those women who didn’t make it, we cannot lose heart. For all those women who lost hope long ago, we must carry it for them.”
So, whilst I was there to personally assert the fact that I shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk at night, it was great to join marchers in fighting against all forms of violence against women. I was especially happy to see women raising awareness of the awful sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a situation I will be writing about here very soon) Edit: Read my report on the V Day meeting calling for an end to sexual violence in DRC here.
After a wonderful (and longer than expected, due to the fabulous turn-out) march we all headed into the welcome dryness of the Camden Centre to listen to the speakers and learn more about the work of groups taking part in the march. Stay tuned for part 2 where I cover the rally!
More to read and more to see:
Noble Savage’s blog where she sadly reported being sexually assaulted whilst at RTN, and her follow up post calling for action and promoting One Million Women Rise’s candle lit vigil tomorrow.By: Sarah Barnes, 24.11.2009 | Comments (2)
Tagged: Activism, Domestic Violence, Feminism, Finn Mackay, London, Rape, Reclaim The Night, Sexism, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Take Back The Night