"By taking part in this march we are able to unite in a joyful celebration of our collective strength and solidarity, demanding not only safety on the streets but at home and in the workplace. We march to reclaim our public space and demand that which has been denied to us, paradoxically, the night to walk alone."
Traditionally organised by groups of unpaid women who have worked together in their communities to organise peaceful protests against sexual violence toward women and children and to promote women's strength and survival. The march represents a claim for women's basic human rights to live in freedom from discrimination and fear of violence.
The first rally In Rome took place in 1976, as a reaction to reported rapes (16 000 each year). Around 10 000 women and children marched through the city.
West Germany joined in the marching in 1977. The women there demanded "the right to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault."
In England, the Reclaim the Night marches were initiated on 23 November 1977 in response to the 'Ripper Murders'. Angry at advice to stay indoors since the last "Ripper" killing, they marched with torches through the town and challenged men in the street, asking them where they were at the time the "Ripper" killed Jacqueline Hill? Hundreds of women sang the protest songs in the city square.(One of the most popular songs to sing is 'I Am Woman' by Helen Reddy.) Simultaneously, 11 other towns in England marched.
'Take Back the Night' marches were first held in the USA in 1978. In San Francisco over 5000 women marched through the pornography district. These organised protests developed into campaigns such as Women Against Violence Against Women.
In Australia, the first marches were held in 1978.
Today, every year on October 25th women, children and also men from Australia, America, England, Ireland, India, Canada, Germany, Holland and many other countries march through the streets to Reclaim the Night.
The website www.isis.aust.com/rtn/aims.htm tells us that the main focus of the night is:
- To protest against male sexual violence and abuse towards women
- To encourage a wider community response to violence against women
- To promote women's strength and survival
- To work towards a society which can be a safer environment for women and children
Over the years, in addition to these aims, Reclaim the Night has broadened to include other aspects such as:
- international campaigns to make rape a war crime
- challenging international traffic in women
- the exploitation of women and children's bodies
- strengthen the rights of women migrants
- strengthen the rights of women refugees who may have experienced torture and trauma
My own experience of these marches, (I have been involved in Reclaim the Night marches in a few towns across Australia):
Everybody usually wears purple, and holds streamers, banners and balloons. Sheets are given out with the protest songs and chants to sing as we walk down the main streets of the city. Chants like 'Walk the streets without the creeps' and 'keep the creeps off the streets'. Men are very welcome to join, and the ones who do (there are usually not too many) are applauded. Everyone meets at a town hall or council building for a meeting where women will tell stories of how they've been assaulted, and give statistics on crime and violence rates, such as last year:
'The highest per capita crime rates for violent crimes and crimes against the person are in rural areas'
'7.1% of all women in Australia aged 18 and over, reported they have experienced an incident of violence.'
The town’s mayor will talk, or an aboriginal elder and everyone will stay for tea and cakes afterwards. :-)