World

MILLION WOMEN RISE - IN PHOTOS

Women in their thousands take to streets of London to highlight shocking GBV crisis

Women in their thousands take to streets of London to highlight shocking GBV crisis
Thousands of women march in central London on 4 March 2023 ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March 2023. According to recently released research women subjected to domestic abuse are three times as likely to attempt suicide, and those subjected to sexual abuse are seven times more likely to have attempted to end their life. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Thousands of women took to the streets in London on Saturday, 4 March in a protest organised by Million Women Rise. The collective is led by women of colour in the UK who are drawing attention to the shocking statistics of gender-based violence (GBV) in the UK and all forms of violence facing women across the globe ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, 8 March.

Khedijah Mohammed-Nur (52) is a member of the Network of Eritrean women in the UK. She is Eritrean by birth and deeply concerned about women in her home country. 

Khedijah Mohammed-Nur (52) says women should live in safety and not be subjected to violence. “Violence against women is historic, it’s political, it’s economic” she says. “Women do not get enough support and because of that they go back to abusive men.” (Photo: Leila Dougan)

“Women in Eritrea live under a dictatorship. Women are being imprisoned in our country. I’m here to say no to violence against women, whether it’s by the state or at home,” she said. 

Mohammed-Nur was a steward at the march, leading the crowd through the streets of London with a sea of large red placards that read: “Together we can end male violence”. 

Babies were pushed along the route in prams, while toddlers sat on their mothers’ shoulders or walked beside them blowing whistles that were handed out by organisers. A little girl held firmly on to her mother’s hand with a placard around her neck that read: “Women are real victims of war. Stop Violence in Congo”. A local drumming group kept the pace steady.

8 March is International Women’s Day, its history can be traced back to 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding wage increases, voting rights and shorter working hours. In 1975 the United Nations marked International Women’s Day for the first time. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

“We cannot find peace with the systems that legitimise the victimisation of thousands of us,” said Michelle Daley, an activist and member of Million Women Rise. “We rise because we are against decisions, policies and practices that repeatedly contribute to the deaths and harm of women and girls through neglect, trauma and violence.”

 

Shahrzad Shemirani (36) represented Iranian women who have been tortured and brutally murdered in the face of anti-government protests in Iran. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

Shahrzad Shemirani (36) is an Iranian national who has been living in the UK for more than a decade. She came to represent women in Iran who face arrest, torture, imprisonment and death when pushing back against discriminatory laws and policies. 

“There’s a women’s revolution happening in Iran right now. I want to be the voice for women in Iran who are suffering. Young students are being attacked, [authorities] are trying to suppress women’s movements. That’s why I’m here, I need to raise awareness about what is happening in Iran,” said Shemirani.

 

 

This is the 15th march organised by Million Women Rise. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

Sarah Edwards (39) is from the UK and believes too much is at stake to keep silent. She has experienced violence in the home firsthand.  

“I was in a relationship with a violent man and it’s important for my own recovery that I come to places like this, safe spaces,” said Edwards, who brought her daughter Indigo Edwards-Simpson (7) to the march. “I bought my daughter so that she knows about these spaces, she knows that it’s okay to say ‘no’ and she feels empowered and she can make her own decisions.”

 

Sarah Edwards (39) and Inidgo Edwards-Simpson (7) share a moment at the beginning of the protest. Edwards wants her daughter to be aware of spaces that are safe from violence. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

According to the World Health Organization, globally about one in three women have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. According to Rape Crisis UK, one in four women has been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult and one in six children has been sexually abused in the UK. From September 2021 to September 2022, more than 70,000 cases of sexual violence were recorded by authorities and over that same period, only 2,500 charges were brought against perpetrators.  

Victims at high risk of “serious harm or murder” live with their abusers for up to three years before getting help, according to the organisation SafeLives.  The charity also states that one in three women who suffer from domestic abuse during their lifetime reports that “the first incidence of violence happened while they were pregnant”.

 

Tourists and the general public take photos and videos of the Million Women Rise March as the crowd moves through Piccadilly Circus on Saturday 4 March 2023. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Women’s Aid, a UK based organisation, estimates that at least £409 million is needed per year to sustainability fund all specialist domestic abuse services in England. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

A report released by Trust for London, an organisation that tackles poverty and inequality, states that domestic violence costs the economy £5.5-billion a year including expenses associated with housing victims, civil legal costs and costs around physical and mental health. 

“No woman or girl should ever have to feel unsafe in her home or community and I am determined to stamp out these appalling crimes,” read a statement released by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 20 February. On 12 December 2022, the UK government released funding to the tune of £257-million to support more than 70,000 victims of domestic abuse. Services that would benefit from the funding include those that provide counselling and housing for GBV survivors. 

The funding follows the UK government’s 2021 Domestic Abuse Act, which “places a legal duty on councils to fund support in safe accommodation for all victims and their families”, according to a press release. 

 

Too little, too late

But activists say it’s too little too late, with organisations including Women’s Aid hitting back at the government, calling the figure “significantly short” of the amount needed by organisations that provide essential services to GBV survivors.  

Activists in the UK are also concerned about migrant women with insecure immigration status who find it “virtually impossible” to find protection from their abusers because of an inability to access public funds. The Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Southall Black Sisters and the End Violence Against Women Coalition released a statement in response to the UK’s 2021 Domestic Abuse Bill, calling the legislation a “failure to meet government’s international and domestic human rights obligations”.

 

A police officer keeps an eye on protesters during the Million Women Rise March in London, UK. Its been reported that harassment and abuse at the hands of police is staggering with recent data showing almost 80 officers across England and Wales facing action for inappropriate sexual relationships or sexual contact with victims, witnesses and suspects since 2018. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

Patricia Nelson (60) and a woman who wanted to be identified only as “Rose” said women of colour in the UK are at a greater risk of GBV, and trust between police and women of colour has completely disintegrated.  

“White men have been running things for so long and under them are white women who claim to be feminists but as soon as you open your mouth they don’t want to hear from you. [Authorities] don’t understand our situation because they don’t want to invite us to the table.” said Rose. 

“Enough is enough. We’re not prepared to take all this violence without anyone realising what we’re going through as women. Today we want it to stop. Today we want someone to take note. Today we’re here for change,” said Nelson.

 

Farah Naz (family member of murdered lawyer Zara Aleena) with Anjum Mouj (57), chair of London Black Women’s Project chant ‘One Woman, One Body, One Song, One Love’ in London on 4 March 2023. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

Farah Naz, a family member of Zara Aleena, who was brutally murdered in east London last year, joined the march, calling for an end to violence against women. Speaking to The Independent, Naz said: “We are here for all women, all girls, to make a change and to make some meaning out of the tragedy that has happened to us…We are hopeful that things can change for other women and girls.”

 

Anastasia Cappaert (9) was one of the leaders of the march. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

Simone Amorim (58) is from Brazil and has lived in the UK for two decades. She said that the march is for women who face physical and sexual abuse and structural violence in the UK but also for women across the world who are fighting for equality in their own countries.  

Throughout the protest, Amorim burnt sage and bay leaves in a small clay pot, leaving a trail of incense and smoke in her wake. “These herbs are to heal and cleanse. It’s to remember and honour the women who came before us, to pay respect to our ancestors,” she said.

 

Simone Amorim (58) burnt sage and herbs along the route, calling for an end to violence against women in her home country of Brazil. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

The Million Women Rise founding coordinator, Sabrina Qureshi, says a world free of male violence can only be realised when women stand together. 

“This movement of women and girls is a manifestation of the heartbreak, grief, power, outrage and beauty of women and girls all around the planet, and of our resistance to male violence in all its forms,” she said.

The march ended at Trafalgar Square where women from different organisations addressed the crowd on the importance of collective action. “We are the dream and the hope. The time is now and the power is you” said one speaker. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

 

The protest was organised by Million Women Rise. DM

 

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