“45 years and what’s changed?”: Manchester students unite for Reclaim the Night’s 45th anniversary march
Manchester’s students united to reclaim the night this evening (March 22) in an intersectional and empowering protest. Protestors marched down Oxford Road, starting at Owen’s Park in Fallowfield and culminating at the Students’ Union. At the SU a rally was held featuring powerful speeches that not only drew attention to women’s safety, but also the street safety of other marginalised communities and sex workers – for whom the march and surrounding events were raising money.
The crowd stretched as far as the eye could see as the ‘women+ bloc’ (including female and non-binary students) led the group down Oxford Road. People leant out of car and bedroom windows to cheer, not leer, and beeped their horns in support rather than to catcall. There was a feeling of community and excitement as hoarse voices led chants like “Whose streets? Our streets,” and young girls joined in with the singsong chant of “Tell me what a feminist looks like? This is what a feminist looks like!”
The speeches after the march were led by Jas Taylor, the SU’s Women’s Officer, Serena Jemmett, and Syd King (PTOs) alongside Jess Hyer of Support for Student Sex Workers. They all drew attention to both female and marginalised community experiences of sexual harassment and street safety as well as the lack of legal and governmental support in place for sex workers and victims of sexual assault.
“It’s the 45th anniversary since the first Reclaim the Night. 45 years and what’s changed? Are women safe to walk in the dark? No” called Serena. “We still live in fear of simple things like existing outside of our four walls after sundown” said Jas, which was met by cheers from the crowd, highlighting the depressing universality of their experiences.
“We do what they say … but it doesn’t matter. We’re still dying.”
“We do what they say, we don’t wear headphones, we call friends, we carry keys, we text when we’re home – but it doesn’t matter. We’re still dying.” Syd’s speech drew attention to the dangers facing the trans community through shocking statistics, including: “As a queer, trans, disabled person, who’s experienced in sex work, I’m more likely to experience sexual assault and violent crimes than own a house.”
They argued that the ‘feminist’ movement isn’t always inclusive enough, “society is coming round to the idea that there is a horrendous and societal threat to women’s safety, but the fight for minorities does not have the same support.”
The intersectionality and inclusivity of the speeches was integrated throughout the march, as Jas had said it would be prior, with different blocs based on gender identification, a wheelchair accessible route, and signers during the speeches, to name a few.
This year’s Reclaim the Night was to support student sex workers, as Jas said “sex worker issues are feminist issues.” Jess from Support for Student Sex Workers spoke at the rally, and the funds raised from donations and merchandise sales are going to support their charity and National Ugly Mugs.
“So men it’s up to you, you need to stand up and you need to be an ally. It’s about time.”
Jas also called for all students to tweet Andy Burnham and GMCA , calling on them to cut ties with organisations that endanger sex workers such as White Ribbon and Nordic Model Now. These organisations are currently trying to revoke the University of Leicester’s ‘Student Sex Work Toolkit’.
The final call to action from the speeches was for ‘ally-ship’. Echoing the earlier chants of “Say it once, say it again, no excuse for violent men”, Serena spoke directly to the male attendees: “So men it’s up to you, you need to stand up and you need to be an ally. It’s about time.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article or during the march, you can find all the helplines and support links here.
You can also donate to National Ugly Mugs and Support for Student Sex Workers.