Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Million Women Rise

WI members from across the country joined the Million Women Rise march on 7 March to protest against violence and celebrate International Women's Day. Lynn Martin of Oakley & Deane WI attended the march from Hampshire Federation and has shared the following account of the day.

What can I write about a march that is new? It’s just a load of women with placards isn’t it? A rabble walking down Oxford Street shouting “end male violence to women”, blowing whistles, drumming and making a noise. What could they possibly hope to achieve by doing that? Particularly when the national news media did not even acknowledge the march took place. But I met groups of women who felt strongly enough to stand up and be counted. Who gave up their precious free time, travelled long distances to London, who were determined to stride out along this nation’s busiest shopping streets saying enough is enough, this has to stop.

The march began in Portman Square where I met women present from all ethnicities, some pushing pushchairs, some in wheelchairs, young, old, black, white, Asian, Arab. All saying the same thing and linking with women throughout the world. As we walked in Oxford Street I felt very moved when I witnessed the passion and determination of so many women who wanted to give other women hope. I hoped that if the sight of us gave just one woman the courage to walk away from a damaging relationship, it was worthwhile, that if it made just one man feel ashamed enough to seek help with his anger, it was worthwhile. Two women die every week as a result of male violence. It isn’t acceptable.

We marched from Portman Square to Waterloo Place where there were speeches, live performances of reggae and hip hop music, stalls with information and petitions and cakes and leaflets on the WI stall. Niki Stevens of East End WI spoke on behalf of the NFWI and I quote: “More than 50 years ago WI members called on the government to do more to prevent the rising numbers of rapes and sexual assaults. Nearly 35 years ago WI members called on the government to ensure a refuge was available in every county if not every town . . . one in 4 local authorities still lack specialist support services for women, and rural women bear the brunt of this postcode lottery”.

During the speeches a Labour MP cynically said ”we only listen when an election is due and there will be a General Election next year”. But she also said, “Get out there and use your vote and encourage your daughters [and sons] to do the same”. Women marched for us to have the right to vote and some felt so strongly they were prepared to die for that belief. They achieved their aim and so can we. Write to your MP and local councillors, make a noise and a fuss, make a difference.

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