Yesterday I joined hundreds of women to ‘reclaim the night’ in London. This year was of special significance, it was 40 years ago that women were told to stay home if they wanted to be safe.Women should not have to adapt their lives to stay safe at night, on the streets or at any other time, in any location. The streets do not belong to anyone, every person should feel safe and free to walk them.The reclaim the night march first took place in London in the 70s, in protest at the murder of young women in Yorkshire. In response to these murders instead of making streets safer for women, women were told that they should avoid walking alone at night. The responsibility was, as we so often see, passed on to women to protect themselves. This was echoed in my city of Norwich a few years ago when the police launched their ‘Time to Stop’ campaign which gave women advice on how to stay safe on the streets – not being alone, knowing our limits, planning our journey home.By focusing on women rather than potential predators, it means that victims of sexual harassment are blamed if they don’t do those things, if they wear revealing clothing or stay out late. The attitude almost becomes, “we warned you”.
But when one in three women has experienced sexual violence, it’s not about our lifestyles, there is a deep rooted problem in our society and we must face up to it. As a society we must begin the long and arduous task of teaching men not to harass and assault women. This is the only way we get to the root of the problem. In recent weeks the experiences of life as a woman have had a spotlight shone on them, from revelations about sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood and Westminster to the systematic rape of Rohingya women in Burma. It is clear that sexual violence is a problem that spans institutions, cultures and continents. I hope that the recent disclosures mean we see a culture shift in our society. Whether that be in the way workplaces or institutions deal with sexual harassment or in the way people interact with each other. To stop the sexual harassment of women in the short term we must show, as a society, that there will be consequences to your actions. And in the long term? Let’s make sure that all children are taught about consent and the equal value of men and women in our society. We’ve got to start a conversation, hiding away from the problem clearly didn’t work. Now the rest of society must follow in the footsteps of those brave women who took to the streets in the 70s to say enough is enough. These streets are ours as much as anyone else’s and we will reclaim them.
Eda Cazimoglu is a student, and a Young Labour member on Labour's National Policy Forum and a member of the GMB trade union.