Strolling down the street, sun warming your skin, you spy a fluffy dog up ahead. Suddenly a wild car load of men making animal noises appears beeping as they pass by. Your blood boils but you brush it off. You’re used to it now since you’ve been getting this kind of attention since you were about twelve. Maybe even younger.
And that’s during the day. By night leering eyes and groping hands emerge from all directions. Ready for a night of dancing but the dude grinding up against you has his own ideas. Even when blocked off by a forcefield of friends he still won’t be shaken off. Frustrated he follows you home, insisting to be let inside, banging on the door and pleading with you until finally giving up. And that’s if you’re lucky.
These incidents are the tip of the everyday sexism iceberg experience by women, and represent fragments of what Reclaim the Night is all about countering. Also known as Take Back the Night, Reclaim the Night is an annual, international event which actively campaigns against all forms of violence against women. From Brisbane, to Penrith, female-identifying people and their allies hit the streets and join together to take a stand against violence towards women.
For this year, the fortieth anniversary the Sydney contingent didn’t hold back – celebrating their solidarity with cupcakes and musical performances from Mahala Williams and Taryn de la Fauci. About three hundred marched from Hyde Park, through the bustling CBD calling for action from politicians to address gendered violence. It’s now November and at the time of this post 65 women have been killed at the hands of a man in Australia. At the time of the march on October 29 this was 60.
Aside from having to intercept a man with a machete at St James Station, Police attending the rally said the public response was overwhelmingly positive. A debrief with an officer, was interrupted by a radio call out regarding a domestic violence incident in nearby Taylor Square. The officer told us “That’s what most of my calls are. I’d let you have a rally every week because I’ve been dealing with this shit for 25 years.”
Whether they were from a women’s collectives or newly arrived from Brazil, the women expressed sincere gratitude for the ability to share their stories. And with one in five Australian women having experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, but few actually reporting it, the a special event like Reclaim the Night creates an indescribable buzz. One young woman, Grace Garde, broke the silence on her own experience of assault, after believing such violence wasn’t “such a rampant thing”.
Speaking at the rally Judith Wright from the Australian Services Union (ASU) remarked on the positive steps taken by the Victorian, ACT, South Australian and Queensland had implemented paid domestic violence leave in the contracts for public servants. Meanwhile, NSW lags behind.
Violence against sex workers, particularly those that are migrants was also at the forefront of the night’s focus. Scarlet Alliance representatives Miya Pittaya and Polly Leung spoke about their desire for autonomy, not to be rescued, but to be respected for the real work they perform.
In the last few years Reclaim the Night has also been an event that provided a platform to discuss the importance of restoring funding for frontline women’s services, particularly refuges. Fran Hayes from SOS Women’s Services spoke frankly of the crisis in which many women were turned away from shelters each night and of the pressure on community groups holding down the fort.
There was a lot of glitter. There were placards bearing slogans with feminist tongue firmly in cheek. And there were some very proud women and allies finding strength in numbers as they passionately shout slogans. All of these factors combined make some incredible photos:
In a year where the testimony of a rape survivor went viral, the demands of the Sydney contingent had a strong focus on the safety of women at educational institutions.
Here is what they marched for:
Demand 1: Address the barrier in accessing frontline services for trans, intersex, non-binary, and questioning youth, and create an informed strategy to respond to this issue.
Demand 2: Address gendered violence that occurs onsite at all educational institutions by creating an informed reporting framework with appropriate consequences for offenders.
Demand 3: Increase funding to frontline support services for women-identifying and non-binary people.
Demand 4: Make workshops that cover topics of respect, ethics, and affirmative consent mandatory at the high school level.
Demand 5: Recognise the higher rates of violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and support the culturally appropriate training and services that are necessary to respond to this issue.
– Demands courtesy of the Reclaim the Night planning committee.
Thank you to Courtney Thompson, Jenna Schrodes, Erika Luk and Kasandra Terepai spent three months worth of Fridays organizing speakers, artists, City of Sydney event approvals, marketing and research.
Have a listen to why the marched in their own words:
— Reclaim the Night (@RTN_sydney) October 27, 2016