“Claim our bodies. Claim our right. Take a stand. Reclaim the Night.”
By Anja Samy
Over 2000 people took to the streets on Thursday night as part of the UoM Students’ Union’s annual Reclaim the Night march.
The march, which began at Owens Park in Fallowfield and ended with a moving rally at the SU, is a powerful declaration of defiance against the misogyny, sexual assault and gender-based violence which women and female-presenting people face every day.
The Student Union’s Women’s Officer, Ayla Huseyinoglu, worked to organise the 2020 march alongside various groups of students and SU staff, including the Liberation and Access Officer, Sara Khan, part-time liberation officers and various student societies including the Feminist Collective.
In her speech at the rally, Ayla, outlined the reasons why the Reclaim the Night campaign is still so important: “We have marched for our safety. We have marched for more street lighting. We have marched to make misogyny a hate crime. We hope that local authorities will listen to us on this.
“What we have marched for tonight is so easily achievable if the political and social will demands it. We also need things from our universities which should not be hard to implement. We need better education on consent, sex and relationships. This march should not be necessary and I hope that one day it won’t be. But for now it’s so so valuable that you are here.”
The demands of the Reclaim the Night campaign, which were put to the Greater Manchester authorities this year, were outlined as follows:
- Recognise Misogyny as a Hate Crime before 2021.
- Put more street lighting in student residential areas, on unlit streets in Fallowfield, Withington, Hulme, Salford and Rusholme.
- Bring the Safezone app into residential areas by working with Universities to do this.
The campaign also addressed issues that students at Greater Manchester Universities face, and demanded that University leadership “do more to ensure places on and off-campus that are frequented by students are safer and ensure students, who fall into their duty of care, are protected as far as possible from sexual violence.” These demands included:
- Universities in Greater Manchester fund all their bar staff (including SU bar staff) to become trained and accredited by the Good Night Out Campaign, ahead of the start of the 2020/2021 academic year.
- Give detailed, valuable, inclusive information on consent out to all students, both home and international, of all genders, on-campus and distance learners, who enter the University and have training for all staff on dealing with disclosures of sexual violence.
- Get the SafeZone app, and broaden it to include residential areas in Fallowfield, Withington, Hulme, Salford and Rusholme and Manchester city centre, working with the council to do so.
This year’s campaign put more emphasis than ever on the intersectionality of issues of gender-based violence and sexual assault. In her speech, Hatty Ruddick, Part Time Women’s Officer, expressed her anger that these issues of gender-based violence are still prevalent in the world and addressed perceived shortcomings of previous campaigns:
“We should all be able to walk home at night, or go on a date, or go on a night out, having as much to drink as we want, without knowing that there is a possibility of being assaulted. But these aren’t the only reasons that I am angry. I am angry because for far too long we have focused on a certain sector of women.
“We have ignored women of colour and queer women and trans women and disabled women and migrant women and women of faith. We have ignored the effect that our reporting systems can have on these women. We have ignored the violence that these women can experience when reporting their experiences to the police. We have belittled those that are too scared to report their experiences, so yes I am angry. But to see the amount of people that come here year in and year out I feel empowered.”
This year, Reclaim the Night partnered with the Misogyny is Hate campaign which is “calling on Greater Manchester police to recognise misogyny as a hate crime”. Sylvie Pope, the lead campaigner on the Misogyny Is Hate campaign spoke at the rally, about the importance of using your voice to stand up for the rights of oppressed people:
“The most powerful thing we can do is speak. I hope that if there’s one thing that you can all take away from tonight is that your voice is beautiful and it’s powerful and you have every right to use it whenever you can and want to.”
Sylvie told her story of the misogyny she faced throughout her life including “the first time she was wolf whistled” at just 11 years old. She explained how, after moving to Manchester, “the suffragette city,” she found the strength to stand against injustices such as those she went through:
“I found my voice, strengthened by amazing women who have worked tirelessly to name misogyny as the problem that it is. Because of them and with them and all of you tonight, I no longer feel small. I feel powerful.”
“From this moment on, you are not alone in this fight. You are not the only woman, or man, or Muslim, or Christian, or jew, or white person, or asian person, or black person, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary person fighting against social injustice and hate.
“The issues we all face are all interlinked and they are so often underpinned by misogyny. From tonight, you are a collective determined to live in a city where 11-year-old girls aren’t harassed on the way to school, where we are no longer sexually assaulted, and where we don’t have to put up with demeaning jokes.”
In December 2019, the UoM student TV station, Fuse TV, partnered with the MisogynyIsHate campaign to help spread awareness surrounding hate against women and girls. They asked members of the public to read out first-hand testimony from women in our city. You can watch people’s reactions to the statements on the Fuse TV YouTube channel.