MANDY BARNES reports from Exeter’s Reclaim the Night march and writes how prevalent violence against women has become globally
PLACARDS and banners were painted, lanterns and T-shirts decorated and chanting and poems practiced and perfected in preparation for the annual Reclaim the Night event in Exeter.
Organised by Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services and Stop Abuse for Everyone, plus local feminist groups and individuals, the march took place between the UN International Day for Elimination of Violence against women and girls and Human Rights Day.
This was the 5th Reclaim the Night march in Exeter and the reasons remain the same.
The Cornell International Survey on Street Harassment found 87 per cent of women felt forced to take a different route home and 67 per cent felt they had to change what they were wearing because of street harassment.
Globally, 50 per cent of women surveyed in 22 countries reported being groped in public spaces.
Mandy from the event organising team said: “This reminds us all that violence and harassment is still an ongoing concern for women in Exeter, Devon and across the world.
“We want to feel safe and live free from violence and abuse tonight and every night.”
The weather was damp and not too cold as people gathered for the start of the march.
There was a buzz of energy and excitement and then the singing and chanting started and at 6.30pm 250 people set off with placards and banners held high.
The busy Exeter High street was full of Christmas shoppers and party goers but this did not deter the marchers.
The march was about visibility and inclusion rather than confrontation and so we were pleased to have lots of cheers and shouts from supportive bystanders.
Rachel from Exeter said: “I had a great time.
“This is the first march for me and my friends and not the last.”
The march finished with a rousing rally of motivational speakers, talented singers, an inspirational poet and a stunning dance performance from the wonderful Italian duo Trikkeballakke.
Clare Moody, Labour MEP for South West England & Gibraltar, spoke passionately, and on Twitter afterwards, saying that she was feeling proud to be supporting this ongoing work in Devon.
Jen Smith, a student from Exeter University, also spoke with energy and inspired the crowds.
She said: “We need to mobilise networks and social movements.
We need community initiatives, organisations and government action in making the rights of all women a policy priority.”
Ellis Taylor from Exeter Feminist said: “It is important that people know that street harassment is not a compliment.
“This is an issue that affects half the population, yet very few people will acknowledge it or stand up against it.
“We deserve to live our lives without fear of harassment, intimidation, or violence.”
The Reclaim the Night march is only one action amongst many and Jen Smith reminded the crowd: “As a society we must get inspired and get active. We can do more than just merely seek to control and avoid sexual violence on an individual basis.