On Saturday 24th November, marchers received a warm welcome from Christmas shoppers in the centre of Newcastle for the TUC’s 12th Annual Reclaim the Night event.
Led as usual by the fabulous Bangshees and negotiating a ferris wheel and Christmas stalls, we made our way up Northumberland Street and into the Great Hall of the Sutherland Building.
After a short introduction from the Chair, Pat Heron, we welcomed our first speaker, Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North. Catherine gave an overview of what is happening in Parliament, adding it was an honour to join women in solidarity from across the region who continue to push for change. It is 100 years since the first women gained the right to stand for election to the House of Commons. In that time there have been 491 women MPs and 4,503 men. At this rate it will take half a century to achieve gender balance – this is just not acceptable. Some things are changing, albeit slowly. A new Bill which protects the victims of stalking has cleared the Commons. Under the Stalking Protection Bill, police will have the power to issue an order against an alleged stalker that would mean offenders would face five years in prison if they breached its terms. And legislation to make upskirting a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison has been introduced by the government, after a Tory MP blocked an earlier attempt to tackle the problem.
Our next speaker was Vera Baird, PCC for Northumbria and long-time supporter of the TUC Reclaim the Night event. Vera thanked Catherine for her support adding she is quite right that the need for change should come through Parliament. Since her election in 2012, Domestic and Sexual Abuse has been one of her Police and Crime Plan priorities. Every year, 1.2 million women suffer some sort of domestic abuse – that’s more than the population of Manchester and Newcastle combined. Domestic violence referrals have gone up yet actual prosecutions have gone down. She welcomed Sir John Gillen’s interim report on the way rape is dealt with in the courts.
Delighted to welcome next Rosie Lewis, Deputy Director of the Angelou Centre. Rosie extended solidarity and support to all survivors of abuse in the room. She described the centre as a black feminist association adding that women led collective activism has never been as vital. Women are still being interrogated and experiencing racism in our services, black and minority women under report incidents of domestic violence – we need to ask, why? Together let’s reclaim the day as well as the night.
Our final contribution was from Taj Kahn, Habeeba Haque and Samira Hassan from Tyne and Wear Citizens Safe Cities Action Group. Taj spoke about the abuse Muslim women in particular face when using public spaces and public transport. Working with broad alliances they had an input into the development of a hate crime charter (the first ever for public transport) which is on the Nexus website. We have the power to bring about change; We live in a country of democracy and freedom; We can choose for ourselves. Habeeba and Samira then treated us to a piece of spoken word around the theme of violence against women.
Linking in with the above, an RMT colleague spoke about Unguarded: the RMT Campaign to Keep the Guard on the Train. At the moment you are guaranteed, in addition to the driver, a second safety critical member of staff to protect your safety and act in emergencies. However, many train companies including Northern Rail, are planning on axing the role, placing passenger safety at risk.
In a survey conducted by the RMT:
The role of the guard is about much more than opening doors.
In contributions from the floor, Saskia from Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland told us about their #WishIsaid campaign. The aim is to get as many people as possible talking about Sexual Harassment with an emphasis on what happens in public spaces like the street. The focus is on the experiences of people aged 18-24 years old. The campaign reach is at 25,000 so far. To get involved go to #WishIsaid on the Rape Crisis website.
The Chair thanked all speakers and contributors and wished everyone a safe onward journey.