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Million Women Rise

March 7, 2012

On Saturday 3rd March, alongside Selfridges Food Hall we gathered; many thousands of us, purple-clad or flower-adorned, ready to walk along Oxford Street, around Eros andPiccadilly Circus, and on toTrafalgar Squarefor the rally against violence perpetrated on women and children.

Never was there a safer, more friendly, more intersectionally-inclusive area for women activists, for women and children survivors and thrivers.  Many of the women and children had experienced violence at the hands of men; that is why this is a women-only march.  It gives voice and space to women who do not yet feel safe in the company of men, whose experience of men has taught them fear.  Men can accompany the march to show their support, walking alongside on the paths, and some did so (one wearing the Fawcett Society’s famous “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt WHICH I WANT!!).  But this was about female empowerment, the female voice so often silenced, and the sisterhood rising up and shouting “no more!”

I’ve made a strictly amateur video, which I hope evokes some of the feelings the march engendered (pun intended) in me.

The Vagina Dialogue?For 1 ½ hours we stood, reading the myriad inventive banners (my personal favourite is the vagina wall, and I want this as a quilt!  See right) and chatting amongst ourselves.  I was to have met two friends, but unfortunately (it appeared) neither was able to meet me.  So of course, being the shy retiring creature I am, I chatted to everyone around me.  Heather and Jane, who are co-editors of Women’s Views on News (which I got quite excited about, it being a pet peeve of mine that women are always “other” when it comes to news stories – a prime example is the total lack of any coverage of the MWR march), kindly allowed me to adopt them.  We chatted about how we became involved with the march; it is my second, I stewarded in 2009 from the Van which runs at the back of the march to help those with mobility problems.  I noticed we were behind the clearly labelled “Deaf Zone” and the inclusivity of the march became apparent; the rally was signed, and all accommodation for those with disabilities that could be made was being made.

By 1.30 pm we were getting a bit impatient to get on with the walking.  We had most of theWest Endto march through, we wanted to show our banners, shout our power and let the world know that violence against women was NOT acceptable.  Finally, at 1.45 pm, we moved off.

The song began, the song of the march.  Women’s and children’s voices raised up in empowered chant and it was extremely moving.  There were many thousands of us, all moving as one and all there for one reason.  It was incredible, it was a sisterhood.  I wished everyone could have been there.

Tourists, and random Londoners I am sure, took photos all along the route.  It is a busy route and none of them were expecting to see us there, but we were met with nothing but smiles and large cameras.

Standing together.

The sun shone down on us and it was a glorious day.  We marched, we sang, we chanted, we were heard.  A band of drummers thrummed a regular beat to which we danced, if not with our feet, with our hearts.  By this time, my arthritis was kicking in (really 3 ½ hours of standing and walking is far beyond me).  I knew this may be the last march I could do, and I was determined I was going to do it.  Then, the loveliest of surprises.  Zoe, who I had expected to meet but who had not made it, found me amongst the thousands of women and joined me for the final leg.  Although I had not been alone before, now I had a known-friend rather than stranger-friend with me.  The smile on our faces says it all really (see left. Obviously).

As we neared Trafalgar Square, we heard the soundstage and the song uplifted us even more.  We arrived, to the surprise of the many people who were merely there to see the sights.  But they stayed, as we did (as long as we could) to see the performers and to hear the testimonies, which raised us up whilst breaking our hearts.  The facts are horrifying, and I will only list a few:

  • Only 6% of rape cases are ever prosecuted.
  • 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault and/or domestic violence.
  • Violence against women is the most common factor in HIV infection rates; 80% of new cases are Black women.
  • Globally, every year, 60 million schoolgirls are sexually assaulted at or on the way to school.

This march is a necessity, and it is a global scream of rage and strength.  We will be heard.  For more about this march, check out the website.

A young dance troupe opened the rally with a spirited and joyous dance, in honour of the International Year of the Girl Child.  This was followed by a youth action group from Leeds called The Warren Project, young women who had formed F.R.E.S.H. (Females Reinventing, Educating and Strengthening Humanity); their young voices belied the experience they should not have to have.  Myriad other groups were represented.  There were so many young people mingling with us older women.  All generations were represented, and if I ever worried about the future of feminism and activism, I stopped worrying at this point.  We are in safe hands.

It was 3.30 pm, my body was screaming with pain but my soul was dancing with joy.  Our voices, I know, were heard and our fight will go on.  I’m posting some more photos here; if you get the chance, join me next year.  I hope to walk, I will plan slightly better so that I am not standing around so long, but if I can’t walk the full distance I will be at the rally.  Join me, won’t you, please?

Maybe one day, the Million Women will not have to Rise.  Till then, I will rise with them.

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