Reclaiming the night

Issue 
Reclaim the night rally in Sydney, October 29. Photo: Peter Boyle

Three hundred people gathered at Sydney Town Hall on October 29 to protest against physical and sexual violence against women, as part of global Reclaim the Night protests.

Professor of Law and Indigenous Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, Larissa Behrendt, outlined the challenges Indigenous women face, not only from Indigenous men but also the white legal system when reporting incidents of physical and sexual assault.

Charlotte Long from Burma Campaign Australia spoke about the systematic rape of ethnic minority women in Burma.

The rally marched to Martin Place, chanting “yes means yes, no means no, however we’re dressed, wherever we go”.

Gabe Kavanagh from the F Collective (a collective open to feminists of all genders), vice-president of NSW Amnesty International Australia and board member of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre described the trauma women experience when reporting rape. Women are forced to repeatedly go over every detail, endure insinuations about their sexual behaviour and inadequate victim support.

In Perth, 50 women and children gathered outside the State Library and marched through the busy nightspot of Northbridge, drawing the attention of people out for the night.

At the Northbridge Piazza, the rally stopped, chanting and cheering while footage of Reclaim the Night in London 2009, and information about the still-high prevalence of assault of women and children, were aired on a giant outdoor screen.

The march continued to a nearby function centre for speakers and a celebration of women's resilience and resistance to sexist violence.

In Melbourne, 150 women and their supporters gathered outside the state library on October 28. The crowd of mostly young women heard from a diverse range of speakers including activists from the Greens, women with disabilities, an activist from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, a women from the Stolen Generations, a woman representing lesbians and the GLBTI community to name but a few.

There was also a speaker, Sylvie Leber, who was involved in setting up the very first rape crisis centre in Victoria, at Collingwood, from which today’s Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) have sprung. Although the speakers at the rally were diverse their message was one and the same: all forms of sexist violence must be challenged and women must continue to speak out against this issue for as long as it takes.

Leber told the crowd that the very first rape crisis centre in Victoria was set up by volunteers from Women Against Rape (WAR) and offered women telephone counselling; support with medical appointments and court. She told the crowd that the activists had to lobby the Collingwood police for some time to get them to agree to meet with them. “In those days, the police did not take reports of rape and sexual assault seriously; women were told simply to go home. The police did not believe that sexual assault was a problem in Collingwood at all.”

She remarked that she was disappointed to see so few activists from the present day CASAs at the rally now.

Kathleen Maltzran (Greens, Richmond) said “The fear of rape and violence is a reality that all women experience. Sexist violence is a reality that is used to deny women their basic human rights … How can women achieve equal pay with their male counterparts if sexual harassment is still rife in our workplaces? How can women exercise control over their bodies if abortion is still criminalised and/or restricted in Australia? Violence against women is a consequence of gender roles that put women second and shows that we still have a long way to go before women achieve full equality.”

Comments

Violence affects the lives of millions of women worldwide, in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding the right of women to participate fully in society. Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages and female circumcision. All are violations of the most fundamental human rights.

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