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Hundreds of women march against sexual violence for 40th anniversary of Reclaim the Night

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Megan Murray
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The streets of central London echoed with the feminist battle cries of up to one thousand women on Saturday night, as they marched against rape and violence on the 40th anniversary of the Yorkshire Ripper murders.

Up to one thousand women gathered outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 25 November, to begin a two-mile march through central London in a protest against rape and all forms of sexual violence against women.

Women in the UK have been taking to the streets to ‘Reclaim the Night’ every year since 1977, as a protest against the curfew put in place to protect women after the notorious serial killer Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women in Leeds and Bradford

Police at the time warned women to stay indoors after nightfall, a suggestion that was met with uproar for its implication that women, rather than men, should take responsibility for changing their behaviour to protect themselves from sexual violence.

The outcry prompted the first Reclaim the Night march in Leeds, where placards read “No curfew on women – curfew on men”.

Although the inaugural march took place over four decades ago, the issues at the heart of Reclaim the Night are still relevant today – particularly given the recent allegations of sexual harassment against famous men, and the outpouring of women’s stories shared under hashtags including #MeToo.

The Reclaim the Night website explains: “In the climate of #MeToo, #YoTambien and #BalanceTonPorc Reclaim the Night is as relevant as ever – if not more so. Violence against women continues to occur every minute of every day, but women everywhere are making a stand.”

Two students attending the march

Saturday’s female-only march also marked the annual United Nations Day to End Violence Against Women, with millions of people across the globe marching in solidarity against gender-based violence.

Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Brighton University student Martha Whawell explains why she attended the march and what it meant to be there.

“It was so empowering to be part of a movement fighting to give women back the safety they should feel and the end to stigma behind the sexual violence and harassment that is so easily trivialised in this patriarchal society,” she says.

“It is integral to reinforce the idea that women should have fundamental rights and should not be raised in a society where they are told to be careful and shouldn’t provoke harassment but instead teach men that they don’t have the right to harass women.

Whawell continues: “It is also crucial to bring about justice for those who are demonised and persecuted for momentary self-defence when the majority of abusers will not go to prison.

“Out of every 1,000 rapes 994 perpetrators will walk free. Things need to change.”

“Your rape jokes aren’t funny”

Writing on HuffPost UK, organiser Erin Mansell commented on the feeling of solidarity between the women marching at the weekend. She said: “I cannot describe to you the feeling of marching alongside a thousand women at night, taking over the streets of central London.

“The noise, the defiance, the joy and the noise! Yes, there are divisions between us as women; areas of disagreement and power imbalances between us that we need to keep talking and listening about.

“Tonight we reach for solidarity with each other across those divisions, without denying them. And we say to every woman – we are with you. Shout it with me, ‘Women, united, will never be defeated’.”

Many who came created banners displaying powerful messages such as “Why do we still have to protest this?”, “We have the right to be safe at night” and “When men are oppressed it’s a tragedy, when women are oppressed it’s a tradition”.

The march was organised by one of the largest grassroots feminist activist organisations in the country, London Feminist Network, who currently have 1600 members. You can find out more about the network here, and the march here.

Images: Facebook / Rex

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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