Last night, 3,500 students and supporters from the Manchester community descended on the streets of Manchester to Reclaim the Night, to raise their “collective voices and say no to street harassment, sexual violence against women, and victim blaming”.
Reclaim the Night began in 1977 when women took to the streets after the police told women not to leave their houses after the attacks and murders of sex workers by the ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, which many claimed to be placing blame upon the women rather the attacker.
39 years later, the marches continue to take place across the country in response to the police and media’s treatment of sexual violence against women. Last year 2,000 marched from Fallowfield to the University of Manchester’s student union, making it then the largest-ever Reclaim the Night event in the UK, but this year’s turnout, as hoped by organisers, has made it the event once again bigger than ever.
Jess Lishak, Women’s Officer for University of Manchester’s Students’ Union wrote in her blog after the event: “Just like in 1977, the harm and violence against women in our communities is insidious. There have been numerous high profile rapes in the media and many more behind closed doors that never made the news. Lives have been destroyed and fear is rife. The fear and violence that makes us feel so alone, so scared and so vulnerable is everywhere.”
Unfortunately, as Lishak highlights, “this fear isn’t there because we have been taught to be afraid of some mythical bogeyman. It’s there because one in five women aged between 16 and 59 have experienced sexual violence; because in England and Wales, two women a week are killed at the hands of a male partner or ex-Partner. Because one in seven women students have been sexually assaulted whilst at University.”
One of the terms campaigners have the biggest issue with is that these acts of sexual violence are ‘isolated incidents’. Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist activist, argued in the New Statesman back in 2014 that “such words may comfort us, but they are dangerous, and our comfort comes at a cost of reckoning with a reality that we must face if we are serious about tackling the epidemic of domestic violence”.
Lishak echoed this sentiment after Reclaim the Night, imploring people to “join the dots to understand the structural causes if we are going to tackle them”. Lishak claimed such structural casues stem from the violence being “a gendered crime; a symptom of a society that belittles, degrades and disrespects women. A society that allows our government to cut budgets so they fall disproportionately on women’s services: Closing refuges, increasing already unacceptably long waiting lists for support, and privatising aspects of NHS sexual assault referral centres.”
This year Reclaim the Night organisers also ran sessions in local schools and youth groups as part of their Reclaim the Night Youth outreach project, teaching over 250 young people across the city about consent and healthy relationships, advising them on how to campaign to get these issues on the curriculum.
The march finished with an after party at the Students’ Union, boasting a line-up of women speakers including Kate Green, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, poets, musicians, and DJs.
The campaign Time of the Month also launched alongside the event, a student-run project which aims to gather donations of much needed sanitary products for homeless women; raising well over £200 for Emmeline’s Pantry Parlour by selling vagina cupcakes and badges and tampon earrings.
Speaking at the after party, Lishak told the crowd: “It is through our collective power that we can create real change and Reclaim the Night is the perfect example. 3,500 people are too visible to ignore; it forces people to face the facts and listen.”
Concluding her blog post, Lishak says that “women should have the right to walk around our own city, on any day of the year, without being subjected to sexual harassment or abuse, or to feel like we have to modify our own behaviour due to the fear of the violence inflicted on us. We need to live in a society that teaches us to respect women and our right to choose what happens to our own bodies.”