The City of Edinburgh Council has this month rejected two applications submitted by groups requesting to hold events which raise awareness of Violence Against Women.
Women experience a disproportional amount of violence in society ranging from domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, and forced marriage to name a few forms that violence can take. In the UK 45% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking (1). At least 32% of children, mostly girls, experience some form of child sexual abuse (2). At least 80,000 women suffer rape every year in the UK alone (3). However this violence, directed explicitly at women, is an accepted phenomenon in our society. In a survey for Amnesty International, over 1 in 4 respondents thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than 1 in 5 held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners (4).
In response to this situation, in May a group of people began to organise SlutWalk in Edinburgh, a protest during which people march for the right of women to dress how they please without the threat of intimidation, harrassment, or sexual assualt. Slutwalk was conceived in response to an incident in Canada on the 24th January 2011, when a Toronto policeman told a group of law students that in order to avoid being raped 'women should avoid dressing like sluts'. This sparked outrage around the globe, with women from Chicago to Amsterdam standing up and saying that they have had ENOUGH of being victimised and labelled, with women speaking out for freedom, equality and fun (5). However, despite applying for permission to hold a similar event in Edinburgh, and more than 660 people set to show their support for the cause, Edinburgh City Council denied the request to demonstrate, instead suggesting that they re-apply sometime in June (6).
Two months previously, a similar application was made to the City of Edinburgh Council, this time by a group organising under the name of Reclaim the Night. Reclaim the Night is a global event which takes place annually all over the world. It's primary aim is to empower people for whom the night is often a dangerous time to be out on the streets, due to the threat of sexual and physical violence. A recent survey by the young women’s magazine More in 2005 found that 95% of women don’t feel safe on the streets at night, and 65% don’t even feel safe during the day. 73% worry about being raped and almost half say they sometimes don’t want to go out because they fear for their own safety (7). Last year, Reclaim the Night was cancelled in Edinburgh, to the great disappointment of all planning to attend, due to the Council's refusal to grant the a go-ahead for the application to demonstrate. This year, the group purposefully submitted their application to march with more than the required 28 days advance notice that Lothian and Borders Police and Edinburgh Council Events Planning Team require (8).
Despite this, with one and a half weeks to go until the event, Reclaim the Night Edinburgh have only recently been contacted by Edinburgh City Council and told that, unless they “change the day, route, and/or time of the event.” it will not be able to go ahead. Members of the organising group consequently met with the council representative in charge of dealing with the application on the 16th of May to find out the reason for this very late request. Apparently the main cause for concern is that The Champion's League finals coincide with the march and lots of rugby teams will be staying in the Grassmarket hotel, which is on route of the proposed march. The Council stated that health and safety concerns for the people on the Reclaim the Night march are their reason for refusing the application, insisting that demonstrators would be subject to negative drunken attention by men on the street. The Council also suggested that chanting slogans (about violence against women) would be disruptive to the residents of the Grassmarket who would be angry about noise pollution.
It is ironic that violence from drunk men is the reason given by the council to refuse the march, since Reclaim the Night is specifically about taking back space which is dominated by aggressive people, and making it safe for everyone. It is also extremely hypocritical that 'noise pollution' is used as an excuse. This suggests that we are a society more tolerant of men shouting and fighting on the street after watching a game, than half an hour of women chanting slogans for their rights. These reasons stated by the Council, further perpetuate the idea that men have a right to occupy public space (be it in the form of rugby matches, football matches, or a Saturday night out on the piss), while women must stay at home for their own protection. Here, the City of Edinburgh Council have repeated the age old mantra that women must have their freedoms limited for their health and safety, instead of supporting the idea that the onus be on men to change their intimidating behaviour.
Despite taking time out of busy work schedules, university exams, and family life, women and feminists of every gender are being actively discouraged by Edinburgh City Council to engage with the issues they care about and fighting for better social conditions for all. People giving up their time to try and better society and make it a safer and fairer place should be given all the support they need from their City Council. Indeed, how often are women able to come together to organise and agitate for better conditions? Typically women have less time to organise, since they are the primary carers of the world's young, old, and sick, so when women do try to get out and do something, you might hope to get a bit of encouragement from your City Council. Instead groups organising in Edinburgh around the issues of Women's Rights have received the exact opposite.
The message Edinburgh City Council have sent is a statement of at best indifference to the cause of Violence Against Women, and at worst a perpetuation of a patriarchal belief system that would prefer women (and all oppressed peoples) to stay silent on matters of their human rights. This statement echoes an agenda which is currently responsible for cutting many crucial women's services such as child care and rape crises centres, with little regard for the impacts of such devastating measures (9). The fact that the council is a majority male, white, middle class institution more interested in power and money, is no coincidence. They have little vested interest in seeing the creation of a truely equal society.
The right to self expression, to stand up and fight for a better life, should be protected. If the council will not allow a gathering of concerned people to come together, despite having given adequate prior warning and pursuing all the legal channels for approving a request to do so, then what choice do people have but to take that right for themselves? We become compelled then to break the law, to be able to simply express ourselves. Edinburgh City Council has made a political statement in its refusal to support the right of people to stand up and demonstrate their vision of a more just world.It is up to us to return the sentiment.
Organising for Reclaim the Night is ongoing, and we plan to march on the 28th of May, gathering at usher hall on Lothian road at 7:30pm to begin marching at 8:00pm. The march will be open to feminists of any gender, however there will be a self-identified women’s only space at the front of the march for those who wish to march in that space. The march will culminate in Bristo square at 10:00pm (10)
Join us and demonstrate your refusal to be silenced by Edinburgh City Council!
(1) Walby, S. & Allen, J. (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey. Home Office. London.
(2) HM Government (2007) Cross-government Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Abuse. Home Office. London.
(3) Walby, S. & Allen, J. (2004) Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey. Home Office. London.
(4) Amnesty UK (2005) Sexual Assault Research. Amnesty. London.
(5) SlutWalk Toronto Website http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/
(6) Edinburgh SlutWalk Facebook Group http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/event.php?eid=208965042457907
(7) Reclaim the Night National Website http://www.reclaimthenight.org/why.html
(8) Reclaim the Night Edinburgh http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/event.php?eid=131981516874915
(9) Women Against The Cuts http://womenagainstthecuts.org/
(10) More information on The Edinburgh Anarcha-Feminist Collective Website http://edinburghanarchafeminist.noflag.org.uk/projects/reclaim-the-day-n...