There isn’t a lot that can stop the constant stream of traffic down the Curry Mile, but it always disappears for Reclaim the Night, which took place this year on February 22nd. The annual event is an opportunity to fight back against sexual assault on the streets of Manchester, and every year other aspects concerning Women’s Rights get thrown into the mix too, reflecting that this is not a localised issue but a worldwide problem.
Last year, President Trump’s attitude towards women was reflected on a lot of placards and this year the focus was on the #metoo and Time’s Up campaigns. Just over a month ago, a Time’s Up rally was held in London, a year after the initial Women’s March.
Often it can feel like there is a lot of distance between these large-scale movements about gender equality and the average person. The fact that today more and more people are talking about discrimination against women, sexual assault, and rape culture is positive; these discussions can lead to actions which get results.
When an actress talks up about the problems she’s had to encounter because of her gender it keeps the subject in the media and increases awareness; people should not and cannot ignore these issues any longer.
But it is difficult to associate yourself with someone who lives a very different life; how are these wealthy, famous actresses who don their Times Up badges going to help change the lives of students in a gritty city in the north of England?
This is why an event like Reclaim the Night is so important as it tackles the issue at a grassroots level. It’s a chance to take back the streets where we no longer want to feel unsafe and afraid.
With Reclaim the Night, ordinary students come together and make their voices heard. Placards are made with old cereal boxes and cardboard packaging; one side will have ‘Girls just want fundamental rights’ painted on it, the other will be covered in the remnants of Amazon prime tape and an address of a resident of Owen’s Park.
These small details are a reminder that every person who takes part in Reclaim the Night is just an everyday student, who in fact makes up a significant proportion of the population of Manchester.
The event also celebrates different voices all united with the common goal of making the streets safe. The march isn’t just a line of “women”; there are blocks dedicated to Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and this year a ‘Pro-choice’ block was added as a response to anti-abortion protests in Fallowfield.
People attend the event for different reasons, some have been victims of discrimination and assault — as the #metoo movement illustrated, this is a scarily common occurrence even today. Others are there purely because they don’t feel safe walking home at night alone.
For Rosa Gane, a final year student who’s attended the event each year and has helped to organise it in previous years, “Reclaim the Night is an empowering event which helps you feel part of a community of people who will support you if or when anything terrible happens”.
Anybody who’s taken part in the march will know the sense of comradeship you get from walking out from Owen’s Park and chanting in unison. “I think the march helps to attract the attention of Greater Manchester Police,” says Rosa, “and the University to get on their radar about what matters to students in the area.”
Indeed, Reclaim the Night is a very public way of highlighting the problem of sexual assault; a crowd of people marching for what they believe is something you can’t easily ignore.
For me, Reclaim the Night is an inspiring event because the passion people have for the cause is evident everywhere. The march is against something very negative, but the event itself is incredibly positive. Students come together at the banner making sessions, volunteers decorate the Students’ Union for the after party and there’s always confused laughter when the chants get mixed up.
It’s been 100 years since some women in the UK gained the right to vote, but women are still uniting and reclaiming the night.