On March 3 a few of us feminist and anarchist women joined nearly 2,000 women in the Million Women Rise March. Taking place the Saturday before International Women’s Day, we gathered together to call attention to women’s continuing struggle for liberation.
Though liberals make a big deal out of advancements in equal rights for women, the world over is still a state of emergency for women. They find it easy to recognize forms of violence against women in other countries such as the use of rape as a weapon of war, as if we have advanced to a point where feminism is no longer necessary here but something that needs to happen in faraway lands. Not only is this sentiment often racist but it conceals the fact of the matter: that in the UK the rates of male violence against women are frighteningly high. According to the Million Women Rise homepage, in the UK one in four women has experienced rape or attempted rape, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, there are 250 reported cases of forced marriage per year and as many as 1,420 women are trafficked into the UK every year for sexual exploitation. Most of the men that hurt women are not strangers to the women they hurt. Often they are friends, partners or lovers the men that claim to love and respect the women they hurt. Much of this violence happens in the home. We call it domestic or sexual violence, words that hint at privacy so that we forget the political nature of the violence. We forget until 2,000 angry feminists walk through central London calling for an end to it.
The march began on Oxford Street, continued along Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus and ended with a rally of speakers and performers in Trafalgar Square. Among the groups participating in the march were East London feminists, the Feminist Library, the London Feminist Network. The speakers at the rally covered a global taxonomy of male violence against women, from the cruelty of the justice system to women here in the UK, to the marginalization of Tamil women in Sri Lanka, to the use of rape in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These are just examples. There is not enough space to recount all the heartbreaking ways women are hurt by male violence described by these women.
One group of women, the Shoreditch Sisters, wore beautiful crowns of spring flowers and marched with a colourful quilt. From a distance I couldn’t make out the images in the individual squares but, when I got a closer look, I realized that each square was a depiction of a vulva, each one unique, some with large labia, some with small labia, some more pink, some more red. Together the vaginal quilt was a thing of beauty, a celebration of our bodies on our own terms, not the reduction of women to their parts, the commodification of women at the hands of a porn culture – one of many ways that patriarchy and capitalism conspire to oppress women.
If only for a few hours that old women’s liberation slogan ‘Sisterhood is Powerful ‘ was palpably true to an audience beyond just feminists. Bystanders, shoppers, tourists looked in awe, taking photos of women from around the UK and the globe, young and old, straight and lesbian, women with children, disabled and able-bodied, and women of different economic classes. Some male allies cheered us on from the pavement. The mob of strong feminists contrasted sharply with the pornified images of women that line the shop fronts of Oxford Street along with mannequins of gravity-defying proportions. Nearly 2,000 women fed up with a culture that fuels rape and domestic violence by objectifying women, by not treating us as humans deserving of the same dignity and bodily integrity as men chanted ‘This is what a feminist looks like!’ and screamed ‘No excuse for violent men!’ along with ‘Power to the Women!’
The march was followed by a women-only social at the 52 club in Gower St. Lots of lovely friendly feminist women and children, raucously singing, dancing, and generally making merry. The social was a fundraiser to ensure that next years March, which is completely organised by volunteers, can go ahead. Million women Rise always needs more women to get involved in making the event happen and spreading its essential message. For more information on how you can help visit www.millionwomenrise.com.