The rain did not dampen the spirits of the crowds who turned out to support the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls.
On Saturday 23rd November, marchers received the usual warm welcome from Christmas shoppers in Newcastle City Centre.
This year proved to be quite a challenge for the marchers who had to contend with the rain and the extended Christmas Market, but spirits were high, and we were not deterred!
A great crowd pleaser, the fabulous Bangshees let the march as we weaved our way up Northumberland Street and into the Great Hall of the Sutherland Building.
Before moving on to the Reclaim the Night agenda, Pat Heron, the Chair of the TUC Women’s Group asked one of her colleagues who was over from Belfast to say a few words. UNISON members are taking action across the entire health and social services system. They are determined to fight for justice on both pay and staffing levels. Colleagues in Northern Ireland (who are predominantly female), doing the same work as those in the UK are paid significantly less than their counterparts. Their fight is for justice and parity. Attendees at the event applauded their action and sent a strong message of support and solidarity to all involved.
Pat then welcomed Kim McGuinness, PCC for Northumbria to her first Reclaim the Night event. Kim spoke about continuing the excellent work of her predecessor, Vera Baird, on women’s rights and tackling sexual and domestic violence against women and girls and the issues that affect them as both victims and offenders within the criminal justice system.
Women are still assaulted, and raped and prosecution rates are simply not rising anywhere near enough. We have marched together tonight to make it one hundred per cent clear that it is not a woman’s responsibility to stop herself being attacked or raped. Our streets and our bars and our universities and our homes and public spaces should be safe for everyone. We need to challenge disclosure procedures. Yes, we want the police to be thorough, but they need also to be on the side of the victim and to be clear that they are on the side of the victim. Because – a women’s sexual history, does not matter; who she texts, does not matter; and what she shared on-line, does not matter. Funding has been secured to trial a new scheme in which we fund a number of sexual violence complaints advocates.
These are qualified solicitors who help guide some women through this process and stand up for their rights. It’s a pilot at the moment but one we already think could make a big difference.
Pat then introduced another newcomer to the event, Andy Towers, Hart Gables. Andy spoke about LGBTQI+ safe spaces, past, present and future.
LGBTQI+ people need to stick together. The National Centre for Social Research analysed data from the long-running British Social Attitudes survey . Researchers found a clear link between those who are likely to hold negative views about trans people, and those who believe that same-sex relationships are unacceptable. In short, LGBTQI+ people are all individuals, but our enemies tend to be the same.
Andy went on to share his own personal journey with us, these are his words.
I was assigned female at birth. I lived the first 25 years of my life trying my best to live as the gender I was assigned at birth, female. At 25, I transitioned to live as the gender I am, male, and I transitioned into the privilege that comes along with it. It will sound naïve, but I could never have predicted how much privilege I would acquire, the moment I appeared sufficiently ‘male’ to the outside world.
Before I came out as a trans man, I came out as a lesbian. As a gender non-conforming ten-year-old in the early nineties I had no trans male icons to look up to, no vocabulary to relate to, no YouTube videos to watch, and so I thought, I must be lesbian, and it was such a lovely community, I settled in, and tried my best to be the best lesbian I could be, I knew I wasn’t lesbian. I was, however, welcomed into the bosom of the LGBT community, and knew at once that I was home in that space.
I have transitioned into a gender that has a history of shameful conduct against women. And I own this. I now realise this, with more clarity than I ever did before. And I defy this, I oppose this, I say, as a man, this is outrageous. And of course, not all men, of course, but when the demographic to which you belong has oppressed, exploited, objectified and abused another demographic for centuries upon centuries, you have to acknowledge your accountability. Only then, when we let go of denial and embarrassment and avoidance, when we stop side-stepping, dissociating ourselves from the problem, can we work towards change.
Whatever I am. Whatever I am, whatever you are, whatever we are, we deserve to feel safe.
Andy finished by saying: What is a safe space? Could it be a space in which there are no boundaries, no concealment, no judgement or fear that is not based on hard evidence or fact? Could it be this space, every space? Let it be every space. Let that be our goal.
The Chair thanked Andy for his inspiring words and introduced the next speaker.
For the second year, we welcomed back Rosie Lewis, Deputy Director of the Angelou Centre .
Rosie focused her talk on state sanctioned abuse of migrant women without recourse to public funds and related the experience of one young woman the centre had helped. This woman had no recourse to public funds, she had no papers and was in a forced marriage. Because of this when she fled the violence and abuse, she received from her husband the Police did not know what to do with her as the state refuges were not able to take her in. As well as the abuse from her husband she was also terrorised by his extended family.
The Police knew about the Angelou Centre and took her there. The Centre was able to take her in and provide a safe space and help with legal support as she had no access to legal aid. Two and a half years later she achieved leave to remain and was reunited with her child. We can find ways to support women who are struggling, all of us must stand together.
Our final contributor was Gráinne O’Hare, an activist with Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, regular supporters of the Reclaim the Night event. Gráinne spoke about #WishISaid, an ongoing campaign developed by the activism volunteers. The campaign is dedicated to getting people talking about sexual harassment and encouraging bystander intervention. Attendees were able to watch a couple of short video clips produced by the activists https://vimeo.com/295767442 , https://vimeo.com/322805595.
Closing remarks and thanks: The Chair closed the meeting by reminding all of us to use our vote and make our voices heard in the coming General Election and put pressure on politicians as the domestic abuse bill is going through parliament. She also urged anyone who is not in a union to join one. Check out https://www.tuc.org.uk/ for more information. Read the TUC blog Why ending violence and harassment at work must be a priority for the next government.
She then thanked all speakers and contributors and wished everyone a safe onward journey.
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