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Women unite to Reclaim the Night, London


Image courtesy of Charlie Dacke, Solent Feminist Network.

On Saturday night, thousands of women gathered in London for the London Feminist Network‘s annual Reclaim the Night March.

Women of all ages, from all parts of the country came together to march through the streets of the nation’s capital to demonstrate against the continuation of violence against women.

Reclaim the Night was started in 1977 by the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group taking action against rape and male sexual violence against women.

This was of particular significance at the time due to the serial  murders of women perpetrated by Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper.

Marches took place in major cities across the country, including Leeds, Manchester and London.

The RTN March was started again in 2004, by Finn Mackay, founder of the London Feminist Network. 100 women marched in 2004, and the numbers have been swelling ever since, with over 2000 women in attendance for the last two years.

I attended the march with six other members of my own local feminist group the Solent Feminist Network, representing women from the Solent area, including Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.

We were joined by groups from all over the country, including Glasgow University Feminists, the ROJ Women’s Association representing Kurdish and Turkish women, and thousands of women who came as individuals with their sisters, friends and daughters.

Unsurprisingly, there has been an almost complete media blackout on the march. You would think it might be considered newsworthy that thousands of women marched in solidarity one cold Saturday night to protest against the systematic violence against women that has become, as Pulitzer prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn describe “the most shocking and widespread human-rights violation of our age,” (Half the Sky, Virago, 2010).

We at WVoN certainly do.

As a first time London marcher, and a recent convert to Reclaim the Night marches (I attended the Portsmouth march on Thursday 25th November), I was incredibly touched and delighted at the sheer volume of women on the streets that night, and particularly at the collective power of women when we gather together in such large numbers.

The sounds of our voices filled the streets, echoing back at us from the city buildings; traffic halted as we took over the roads; by-standers – men and women – stared wide-eyed as we passed by, residents leaned out of windows, and drinkers and diners left pubs, bars and restaurants to read our banners.

The very best moments were those when the faces of women in buses, in buildings, or walking on the streets literally lit up as they saw us, read our banners and understood that we were marching for them.

My favourite moment was when a group of three women in their sixties or seventies raised their fists and cheered as we walked by.

There was an incredible solidarity amongst the marchers as we led and joined chants and songs but for me the great power of the march is also in its demonstration to others that there are women who care, that there are women who know that to live in fear is not acceptable, that there are women who come together to say ‘No’ and to take back the streets that are ours to walk without fear.

More than this, the marchers demonstrate to all women that they are not alone. There are many of us who feel the same.

For the feminists up and down the country who feel isolated and alone in their views and understandings of the world, the Reclaim the Night march is an invaluable experience of solidarity and validation.

One of our own members of SFN, Lexy, comes from the Isle of Wight, and often feels like “the only feminist on the island”. Discovering SFN, and through the group, linking up with events like Reclaim the Night, has brought a solid network of support to her feminist activism.

There are many, many others like Lexy up and down the country, and it seems their numbers are growing.

Charlie Dacke, one of the co-ordinating members of SFN, has seen a swell in numbers over the last few months.

“There was a point where as a group we were struggling,” she told me, “Some of our members were university-based and have moved away. But recently – perhaps related to the cuts – we’re attracting new members all the time, with people joining every week. It’s great!”

After the march, hundreds of women crowded the Camden Centre in Kings Cross for an after-march rally and celebration.

Speakers highlighted the importance of the march as an expression of solidarity and a call to arms to feminists everywhere to combat violence against women, before the announcement of the Emma Humphries Memorial Prize (more on this later today) and dancing until the early hours.

I can honestly say that Reclaim the Night was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a feminist for many years. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it.

And you won’t even have to wait until next November, you can participate in Million Women Rise on March 5th 2011.

You can see pictures of the night, thanks to Charlotte 4213 on Picasa and you can see the march for yourself in this Youtube video by Fourman Films.

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