Last year, more than 5000 people gathered in Brunswick to protest violence against women. It was the largest Reclaim the Night mobilisation since the early 1990s.
Reclaim the Night (or Take Back the Night in the United States) is a global feminist movement that protests against the specific forms of harassment, victim blaming, sexual assault and violence experienced by women.
The reinvigorated Melbourne march coincided with other global actions against gender violence, such as the protests in India that targeted horrific rape cases, the Anonymous campaign in the US exposing the Steubenville High School gang rape, and the actions in Egypt fighting against sexual assaults at protests.
All of these actions made the public statement that violence against women is an unacceptable epidemic, and when attempts are made to legitimise any violence against women, these act to legitimise all acts of gender violence.
A study by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation found that “intimate partner violence is responsible for more ill health and premature death in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 than any other of the well-known risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.”
That is, more Victorian women suffer or die at the hands of their partners than from any other condition.
The authors of the report say their findings are a “serious challenge to society’s views that intimate partner violence is somehow less serious than violence committed in other contexts and is a matter to be resolved in the privacy of the home.”
This month Reclaim the Night rallies are being held across Australia so women and their supporters can call for justice and full funding of support services for survivors. They will call for an end to gender inequality — the underlying cause of violence against women.
They will stand together to demand the basic human right to safety and the right to take part in society to the fullest extent, free from harassment, discrimination and violence.
Governments must cease the pursuit of law and order measures such as CCTV. The Victorian government has manipulated the issue of gender violence to expand CCTV networks in public places and even into people’s homes.
The Age reported on October 3 that Victorian police are considering a proposal to install CCTV cameras in the homes of victims of domestic violence. The plan is already being trialled in two homes.
At the same time, services for victims, survivors and their children are defunded.
Demonstrations like Reclaim the Night, that bring together thousands of people to publicly call for an end to violence against women, are crucial in bringing change.
A Cambridge University study conducted over 40 years across 70 countries that investigated violence against women found that the mobilisation of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, the presence of left-wing political parties or the number of women politicians.
Last year about 30,000 people took part in a “peace march” in the aftermath of ABC journalist Jill Meagher's murder. But although this action adopted the model of Reclaim the Night marches, it removed the feminist interrogation of patriarchy and its instruments of power — specifically, gender violence.
In a comment on an online article in the Conversation on October 6 last year, titled “RIP Jill Meagher: but let’s not forget the other female victims of violence”, peace march organiser Phillip Werner said: "I believe that it is precicely [sic] because Reclaim the Night is so thoroughly politicised that it, rather than the peace march, is rendered ineffective in it's [sic] challenge to violence against women. Why? Because it divides and alienates too many people."
Rallies such as Reclaim the Night should always seek to reach out to and include as many people as possible, but taking politics out of these events will not challenge the systematic conditions that create and sustain an epidemic of violence against women.
Reclaim the Night is a noisy rejection of the status quo — everyone is invited to come along.
[Sara Brocklesby is an organiser of Reclaim the Night Melbourne. The Melbourne rally will take place on October 19 at 7pm, Brunswick Town Hall. All women, their children and their carers are welcome in this space but organisers ask that the women-only section at the front of the march be respected.