In what one longstanding Perth feminist activist described as the biggest Reclaim the Night march in Perth in 20 years, over 300 people — women, children and men — rallied and marched in Fremantle on October 26, for an end to violence against women.
Gathering at Pioneer Park, participants heard incoming Murdoch University women's officer Amy Hoogenboom argue the need for consent education. “You need consent every time,” she said. “Consent is not ‘no’ or ‘not now’ or ‘maybe’”.
Zoe Bush, an activist with the Feminist Action Network at the University of Western Australia, described rape culture and the fight against it at the UWA. She explained that while rape is the purest expression of rape culture, it is a more pervasive phenomenon that includes blaming and doubting the victim, trivialising its seriousness and even condoning, if not actively endorsing rape.
A speaker from Warrawee — Australia's first purpose-built women's refuge — described the crucial front-line services it provides to women leaving domestic violence and reclaiming the lives they deserve. She called for an expansion of services, explaining that in the past year alone, they had not been resourced enough to meet the need for accommodation for more than a small fraction of the many women and their children referred to them.
As rally participants marched through the bar and café strip of Fremantle, they attracted a lot of attention, chanting “Women have the right — to walk the streets at night — without the fear of rape!”, “Break the silence! Stop the violence!” and “Wherever we go and however we dress, No means no and yes means yes!” Many participants carried placards with anti-violence messages. Union banners, flags and T-shirts were particularly visible, with the National Tertiary Education Union, Australian Services Union, and Maritime Union standing out.
After the rally, there were further speakers in Kings Square.
Sarah Ross from the Refugee Rights Action Network spoke powerfully of the plight of refugee women — detained indefinitely behind barbed wire under Australia's mandatory detention policy.
Fremantle councillor and Greens member Rachel Pemberton spoke of the importance of measures to bring people out into public spaces to ensure women's safety — rather than a reliance on CCTV to help find the perpetrator after an attack, saying: “That's just not good enough!”
Sex worker advocate Beck spoke out against the WA government's proposed law to license sex workers. The proposed licensing system would force sex workers into industrial zones, where they would be less safe.
It would give greater power to parlour owners, and for sex workers who illegally work unlicenced, it would expose them to the hazards of legal harassment and act as a disincentive to report sexual assault or other violence if it — as is more likely — did occur.
She criticised Adele Carles for offering her support for the bill in exchange for the establishment of a “rescue centre”. While acknowledging that some women leaving the sex industry need extra support, the majority “don't need to be rescued — if they want to get out of the sex industry, they stop doing sex work and do something else”.
This year's Reclaim the Night was organised by a new collective, made up of many campus feminist activists and some community activists. It allowed the establishment of new networks between activists involved in different campaigns. Organisers are hoping it will be the beginning of stronger collaboration between feminists across Perth.
At the end of the rally, participants were invited to leave their contact details with the organising group, which will use them to establish an ongoing Perth metro feminist activist network.
Related article: Women’s struggles can make sexism history