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On 25 November, to mark United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, women took to the streets around the world to protest against male violence and to demand basic rights. Finn Mackay reports on the London march and reflects on the meaning of real peace.
Male violence: the leading cause of death for women worldwide
On Friday 25 November, more than 500 women marched in the evening through the streets of central London to protest against rape and male violence. This Reclaim The Night march was organised by the London Feminist Network and supported by The Lilith Project and tens of other organisations both national and international.
It was particularly apt timing, given the recent news from an ICM Poll commissioned by Amnesty International, which found that over a third of people surveyed believed that women were partly or wholly to blame if they were raped. The march was a sign of women's defiance of such lies, and focussed attention firmly back where it should be, on the fact that those men who choose to rape are the only ones to blame for rape. It is vitally important that we do make a stand. Currently, although there are around 80,000 rapes and attempted rapes every year, our conviction rate is at its lowest ever, one of the lowest in Europe in fact, at only 5.3%.
Unite and fight back
Women need to unite in protest at this stark injustice and demand our rights to use public space without fear, to travel on buses or tubes at night, to be able to work at night when we have to, and enjoy our leisure time in peace, without the fear of being raped.
As the march progressed from Soho, via Tottenham Court Road and on to Malet Street, women shoppers reading the banners and hearing the chants cheered their support, clapped and waved their fists in the air. The march ended at the University of London Union for a hosted rally with speakers from around the country, from groups such as Apna Haq in Rotherham, V Day International, NUS and ULU. There were student representatives from as far away as Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield, all of whom left inspired and excited about taking what they had felt and heard back to their university women's groups.
Perhaps the tide is turning, and women's rights can be put back on the agenda -- and not before time. Women are tired of laughing at the mainstreaming of pornography and the burgeoning sex industry. It isn't ironic, it isn't funny, we never said it was. We are tired of being blamed for men's violence against us. We have had enough of the unspoken war against us, of the daily terrorisms of sexual harassment and the threat or reality of rape and male violence.
One in four women are not even safe in their own homes: for them the threat of these crimes continues behind closed doors. Male violence is in fact the leading cause of death for women worldwide, above malaria, above road accidents, above war. One in two women are sexually harassed at work, and for those parents with girl children, the reality is that one in three girls will be sexually assaulted before her sixteenth birthday.
We want our civil liberties, we want our human rights, we want real peace and an end to the universal and most pervasive form of violence in our time -- violence against women.
The London Feminist Network is a group designed to bring together London based feminist groups and individuals in activism, and welcomes women from all backgrounds; as well as the annual Reclaim The Night march it also organises conferences and other events and work closely with other feminist groups in London.