Following on from our long, wet and happy march everyone slowly filtered into the Camden Centre. Whilst we had been marching it had been difficult to see how many of us marchers there were, but packed into the centre the greatness of our number was an awesome sight!
Admittedly, it was lovely to have an opportunity to sit down and dry off (with hot Caribbean food, home made cakes and a licensed bar all making this period of the evening even more enjoyable) but that wasn’t the only reason for us gathering! The vast group of tired marchers were eager to reflect on the night and listen to some emotive and inspiring speakers.
Olivia Bailey, the NUS National Women’s Officer was the first to come on stage declaring; “These are our streets, it is our right to walk them and to be safe.” Looking at her huge audience, she said “When people say feminism is dieing they could not be more wrong” and went on to talk a little about feminism in the UK; “What defines us as a movement is our solidarity – solidarity despite diversity.”
Next to speak was Maggie Bremner of NASUWT, the teachers union that has sponsored RTN for these past two years. The union represents over 1000 women teachers and actively works for their concerns. You can read Bremner’s speech in its entirety on the London Feminist Network website, but here’s a quote where Bremner explains the link between NASUWT and the campaign to end violence towards women;
“I’m very pleased to say that NASUWT believes that schools and colleges have a crucial role to play in tackling violence against women. Because, effective strategies to tackle violence against women require action across all spheres of society.”
Shamsun Nahar of Million Women Rise was next to take to the stage. She read a statement from the MWR group and dedicated it to the women of Afghanistan “who were sold false promises of equality”, the women of Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Congo who have suffered (and continue to suffer) rape and abuse, as well as;
“Women across the so called “civilised world” who live in a society where the conviction rate for rape has fallen to less than 6%, and 2 women a week die as a consequence of the violence against them.
And to Andrea Dworkin, who fought for the right of all women to die free.”
You can (and really should) read the speech over on the LFN site. It was one of the most inspiring and empowering messages I’ve heard in a long time. Here are some quotes that I found illuminating;
“Our freedom is an illusion as long as the majority of our sisters in the UK and across the world are suffering.”
“We believe that there is nothing inevitable about what is done to women and children by men. We believe there is nothing innate about men being the perpetrators of violence. We believe that things can change and men too can make a difference.”
“And I hope you can understand that we would never deny our brothers’ pain when it comes to the pains of poverty hunger violence and racism… But it will be women and children who are the first to suffer and the last to be acknowledged within those same oppressions. That, is a fact!”
“It is time to rise and prepare for success Women. Dream Bold! And remember you are never alone.”
Finn Mackay, founder of the London Feminist Network and reviver of the Reclaim The Night movement was last to speak. I interviewed Mackay way-back-when for the first issue of Uplift, when the idea of Reclaiming The Night was quite alien to me and I wanted to learn more, so I know how powerful her arguments! It was great to listen to her speech (which you can read here), which was incredibly uplifting as it looked to a brighter future for women, and for the feminist movement;
“There is a resurgence of feminism in our country and beyond. Towns and cities everywhere are setting up their own Feminist Networks and organising their own RTN’s. Change is afoot in our country and the women’s movement is on the march once again!”
“Those who have only heard these lies, can be resistant to even the word ‘Feminism’. They will say we should think of a new one to replace it because it puts people off. But those who understand the potential offered by Feminism at that time, who recognise the achievements of the 70’s and what it means for us now – say in return, that yes we are Feminists and we are proud to be so. That there was nothing wrong with it then, there’s nothing wrong with it now and all we have to do is finish the job.”
“Feminism is for everyone. Ours is a revolutionary movement, self critical, self reflective and progressive. We have made the links between racism and sexism, between militarism and masculinity, between homophobia and misogyny and we are all the better for it. And together we must continue to learn and grow because this is the strength of our movement. This is why we will win.”
Next on the evening’s agenda was the awarding of the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize. Humphreys was a writer, campaigner and a survivor of male violence who overturned a murder conviction in 1995. You can read more about her story here.
Each year the EHMP is awarded to one individual woman and also to a group who has, through writing or campaigning, raised awareness of violence against women and children. This year the prize for the individual campaigner went to Sandra McNeill of West Yorkshire Justice for Women, a group that campaigns and supports women who have fought back against or killed violent male partners.
McNeill remembered the time when she actually campaigned on behalf of Emma Humphreys; “We chanted ‘change the war on provocation!’… Last week we did it” she said, referring to the change in law that now takes in the whole history of the mans abuse in such cases.
The group prize went to Object who campaign against ‘sex object culture’. Anna van Heeswijk and Sasha Rakoff collected the prize on behalf of the group and dedicated it to “Everyone who has objected and will object. Don’t stop, keep up the fight.”
They also chanted “We changed the law, we changed the law, we changed the law and we’ll change some more” in reference to their recent success in getting the lap dancing licensing laws changed (so that they are no longer licenced in the same manner as cafes) and also the House of Lords voting in favour of Clause 14, which “shifts criminal liability away from people exploited through prostitution and places responsibility firmly on the shoulders of those who contribute to commercial sexual exploitation by choosing to purchase girls, boys, women and men for sexual use.” (Read more here)
After such a wonderful evening of marching, speeches and prize awarding there was still plenty to do… stalls from a variety of organisations working for women and against violence littered the hall and DJ’s spinning Riot Grrrl favourites got everyone dancing!
More to read and more to see:
More videos and audio from the march and rally, all documented by Hannah NicklinComments (0)
Tagged: Activism, Anna van Heeswijk, Domestic Violence, EHMP, Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize, Feminism, Finn Mackay, Justice For Women, London, Million Women Rise, NASUWT, NUS, Object, Rape, Reclaim The Night, Sandra McNeill, Sasha Rakoff, Sexism, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Take Back The Night