As has become the tradition, the march set off from Old Eldon Square accompanied by all-women community-based drumming group, the Bangshees who never fail to ‘drum-up’ support along the way. After winding our way up Northumberland Street, we arrived at the University of Northumbria’s Sutherland Building for speeches and light refreshments.
Pat Heron, newly elected Chair of the Women’s Group welcoming attendees said it was vital that women need to be able to feel safe when they are out. We need to educate men and take responsibility for how we raise our sons and daughters.
She then welcomed our first speaker, Chi Onwurah MP. Rape is not about sex but about power. Harassment is not acceptable anywhere – in the street, in the home, in the workplace. We are dealing with a government which has allowed 34 refuges in our region to close. Cuts to Council budgets have meant street lighting has been reduced or cut off altogether. Statistics show it is women who bear the brunt of austerity. Change requires action, attitudes do not change without action or organisation. Women do know how to organise – look at the Waspi Women, fighting the injustice done to all women born in the 1950s affected by the changes to the State Pension Law.
Our next speaker was Louise Atkinson, a teacher from Carlisle and a union rep for the newly formed National Education Union (ATL section). Louise spoke on the issue of sexual harassment and violence in our schools. Schools should be a safe environment for children to grow, be happy and express themselves. One third of 16-18 year olds have experienced unwanted touching; 59% of 13-21 year olds have faced some form of sexual harassment. We need to speak out and stop this. It’s right that sex and relationship education is to become compulsory in all schools but it must be age appropriate. Our children go to school to learn, not be abused.
We were pleased to welcome back Sara Muzzafar from the Samosa Sisters, a none profit project for the relief of poverty to help vulnerable women with no recourse to public funds. Sara has lived in the UK for eight years and has a master’s in business administration. She had a fatwah issued against her as under Islamic law caste system, not allowed to marry outside the family. One thousand women are killed each year in the name of honour. As a refugee woman, you do not have the same rights as other women. Sara told us about the various challenges facing immigrant women asylum seekers trying to access health care and pregnancy related support. It is difficult to meet any costs when you have just £5.96 a day to live. Sara finished by saying ‘die with memories, not with dreams’.
Our last contribution was from Sara Dickson an activist from Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland, a charity that provides services to women and girls over the age of 13 who live, work or study in Tyneside and Northumberland. Sexual violence is pervasive and damaging to society as a whole. 95% of women do not feel safe at night. Our culture views women and girls as sex objects not people or equals. Sexual violence and rape is never justified, never acceptable. Our services are sadly still desperately needed – and we will always believe you.
Summing up, Pat Heron thanked all attendees and speakers for supporting the event, adding if you want to stay involved: