22 Oct 2012

Safe Streets For Melbourne

By Bec Zajac
5000 Melburnians took to the streets on the weekend to march in Reclaim the Night. Bec Zajac spoke to organisers and participants about why they were there
Reclaim the Night marches have been taking place around the world for over 40 years as annual events protesting gendered violence. The central issues the march highlights have always resonated with women, but this year, with the recent sexual assault and murder of Jill Meagher, that was particularly so.

In Melbourne, the event is usually held in the CBD but was this year brought to Sydney Road, Brunswick by a collective of women who were affected not just by the tragic Meagher incident but by the tone and content of the reporting that occurred on the days following her disappearance.

Sara Brocklesby, one of the event's organisers recalls, "a couple days after the Jill Meagher disappearance, we'd all collectively been noticing some of the coverage, which was speculating to what extent she was personally responsible for what had happened. A lot of commentators started off criticising Jill Meagher and some of the stuff being said was just really offensive. When they found out the really tragic news of what had happened, the commentary of course changed."

Spurred to action by the "victim blaming" they were witnessing in the mainstream media as well as a much-discussed article by Clementine Ford, the women started a Facebook group about their plans to hold the march on Sydney Road. They were soon "overwhelmed" by the response, Brocklesby recalls, with one or two likes turning quickly into a few thousand and hundreds of messages coming in from people offering to be a part of the organising committee.

Jasmine Curcio, one of the organisers preparing banners for the march. She says: This is my first Reclaim the Night march and I have been taking part in a lot of the event organising — from banner painting to talking and planning. I have had my own experiences, very negative experiences, on the street. I think Reclaim the Night marches are largely to raise awareness in the community. The other purpose is to boost our self-confidence in walking down the streets and claiming what is ours. Photo: Bec Zajac

Three weeks before the date of the march, a committee was convened to delegate tasks. Natalie Pestana, one of the organisers elaborates, "We all sat down and everyone just took on a role and took responsibility for it. A lot of us have got backgrounds in rallies and marches, so we've done this kind of work before. We know you have to call the police, you have to call the council, and you have to make sure emergency services know so they don't use the road."

Clementine Ford addresses the crowd. Photo: Bec Zajac

To pull off a march of this size is quite a feat but the real test is whether people come out on the night — and come out they did, with record numbers in attendance on Saturday night.

Woman rides by on tram during the march holding up a flyer for the Reclaim the Night March. Photo: Bec Zajac

For many participants, prompted to come out by the shock of the Meagher incident, it was their first march. For others, it was another march in a lifetime of protests and feminist actions against gendered violence.

Linsey Gosper and friends. She says: I have been going to Reclaim the Night marches since I was a teenager so I have always thought it was an important thing to do. I live in Brunswick and considering all the stuff that has been going on, I basically said, Ladies and guys I am having a BBQ at my house this afternoon and then we should all go to the march. Photo: Bec Zajac

And for many mothers, fathers and children who attended, the march was seen to represent not just a women's issue but a family issue.

Sue Power talks about her experience of the march, "Living right up the other end of Sydney Road, I ride down here often with shift work late at night. Since the incident on Sydney Road I felt very unsure of being able to do that. After it happened, the next time I was about to get on the bike, I thought- 'no I think I'll take the train'. Part of my motivation for coming here tonight was that I wanted to ride here on that bike and come down Sydney Road and see that I could do it. Tonight is the first time since it happened that I've been on Sydney Road on the bike. It was a really empowering thing. It's reminded me that I can't feel intimidated not to be able to do that. Having a daughter I want her to grow up in a world where she feels confident to do those things as well. "

Bill Dennis and family. He says: My mum was coming and my girlfriend was coming and I just wanted to be here and support the amazing women in my life. I wanted to join them to hold our hands up and say that we are not going to be scared and we are going to live in this beautiful city not afraid any more. If it only achieves for one night for some women to feel safe and loved and whole then that is something good.; Photo: Bec Zajac

When a march like this occurs, there is always cynicism in the press and the broader community and the question is inevitably asked: how much can a march really achieve? But, as the organisers are quick to point out, the march has multiple goals; from making women feel empowered about their right to safely walk the streets to giving both men and women the language and the confidence to stand up to sexism wherever they see it. They also emphasise that the march is a major public awareness raising exercise, which aims to generate discussion about the normalisation of sexism in society and draw attention to gendered violence throughout the community. Judging by the public response to the march- a turnout of 5000 strong — on Saturday night, all these goals were surely achieved.

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Kevin Charles H...
Posted Monday, October 22, 2012 - 18:53

Take back the streets??

How does one 'take back the streets' from the clearly damaged men who rape & murder women?

outrider
Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 17:06

Outrider
The streets wher Jill walked alone late at night are not safe for anybody. A male comedian has just been repeatedly tasered by a group in the same area walking home alone, rather earlier than jill. Despite police claims, tasering can be fatal on victims with medical conditions.
As I have tried to make the point before, it is foolish to walk alone in that area alone at night. The sort of man that attacks women in that situation is some sort of psychopath completely oblivious to people's feelings. Reclaiming the night will only have an effect on some of the boorish behaviour, which admittedly is of benefit.

LuckonTierra
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 15:58

This violence is unacceptable. I wonder now, if we still have streets today that are safe for everyone to walk on. - James Stuckey