Joel Cosgrove conducted this interview after the recent Reclaim The Night march in Melbourne.
MARGARITA WINDISCH: Reclaim the Night originated in the US, with the first march held in 1973 in San Francisco. Reclaim the Night (RTN) was initially about re-claiming public space for women and protesting sexual violence against women. Over time many organising collectives broadened out the demands to reflect the many forms of violence women experience, of which the majority still occur in the home.
RTN used to be dominated by a more separatist feminist perspective, which essentially blames individual men for women’s oppression. This has changed somewhat to a more inclusive perspective that looks at systemic causes, allowing a broader participation, including men.
RTN mobilisations have always played a critical part in the women’s movement by keeping the issue of gender based violence in the public eye. With the ebb of the second wave of feminism in the 90′s we also saw a drop in RTN attendance as with other feminist activities around the country.
Numbers however started to grow again over the last few years, indicating a renewed interest in feminist ideas and activity. Feminist speakers have been attracting sell-out crowds at writer’s festivals and feminist collectives are springing up on university campuses.
We also have to give credit to the excellent Equal Pay campaign waged by the Australian Services Union over three years, for bringing gender based wage discrimination into public consciousness. The campaign demonstrated that gender was a key contributing factor for the massive pay gap for the social and community services workers in the non-profit sector.
The global ‘Slutwalk’ phenomena which started in Toronto in 2011 is another example of re-invigorated feminist action and protests rape and victim blaming. In Melbourne these protests attracted around 1000 people in 2011 and 2012.
RTN 2012 was big across Australia, and in Melbourne exceptionally large, with estimates ranging from 5000 – 8000 – making it the biggest ever in Melbourne.
The brutal rape and murder of 29 year old Jill Meagher, who walked home a couple of months ago from a night out in the trendy and hip Melbourne suburb Brunswick, traumatised an entire community and broke the silence and complacency around violence against women. Many women not only identified with Jill and started to publicly discuss their own experiences of threats and harassment and lack of police support around their complaints. A local resident organised a ‘peace march’ via facebook event after Jill’s body was found and a stunning 30.000 people turned up.
A small group of local women took the initiative and called for a Reclaim the Night (RTN) Rally along busy Sydney Rd, the place Jill M disappeared from. The group had three weeks to organise the protest.
The rally was diverse and included many families. There were a high percentage of young people and at least one in four people at the rally were men. Men had been invited to participate but were asked to march in the mixed section behind women who led the march. The vibe was fantastic and many of us wondered about ‘where to from here’ Read the rest of this entry »