Words & Photography: Ruth Hudson
Last Thursday saw over 3,500 people march in solidarity against sexual violence, street harassment and assault in demonstration with Reclaim the Night. The route began at Owen’s Park all the way down Wilmslow Road to finish at The University of Manchester Students’ Union.
Poet and charity worker for Reclaim the Night, Rebecca Hall, explained the protest was about “reclaiming public space, a place where women should feel safe. Because even having survived the walk home, she’s not any safer”.
Founded in 1977 following the series of attacks imposed by ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, Reclaim the Night is a charity which aims to tackle the UK’s lowest rape conviction rate in Europe. A measly 5.3%. Greater Manchester Police data confirms that in Fallowfield – one of the most populous student areas in the UK – violent and sexual offences have the second highest crime rate in the area.
Lauren McCourt, a committee member of MMU Feminist Society, believes that this not only impacts the safety of students in the area but it also makes them feel unsafe to walk home; night or day.
Although, there are wider concerns in reclaiming the streets of Manchester in relation to women in politics. Rebecca Hall said, “We don’t teach our young people to critique, we don’t expect to see women in power. We only see women dominant in caring professions.
“Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a male partner. Women do not feel safe to walk home, so how can they be represented in parliament?”
It seems in today’s technological era, feminism has hit a third wave in defining its meaning. For students, Isobella Bawsett and Naomi Campbell, feminism means equality to supporting everyone.
Isobella added, “People shouldn’t feel judged in relation to gender or sexuality.”
After the March ended, the night continued to shed a powerful light on sexual violence toward women. Labour Party MP, Kate Green spoke of the public realm belonging to women just as much as it belongs to men.
She said: “80% of the cuts have fallen on women. Remember what’s been taken away from us. Remember services that treated women from sexual abuse.”
Women attending spoke of how today’s culture continues to stigmatize and disillusion those into understanding what rape actually is.
Eiles Hall, a third year English Literature student at The University of Manchester, added: “A friend has assaulted them but they don’t even know whether it counts as assault.”
Reclaim the Night represents the widespread continuum of rape crisis. Lauren McCourt suggest we can put these aims into practice by raising money for charities who you’ve been through that situation.
So, how do we keep the streets safe for women? In light of Rebecca Smith’s spoken word poem, “we need to fight back to the silence we’ve been taught.”
Ruth is a second year English and American Literature student and runs a blog addressing mental health issues. She also campaigns to eradicate the stigma surrounding sufferers of mental illnesses.