Last year I went on my first demonstration through Leicester city centre. It was for Reclaim the Night, an annual event which raises awareness of how sexual violence is still a big issue and that everyone has a right to feel safe on the streets at night. I enjoyed the experience of being part of a demonstration so I participated again in Reclaim the Night on Thursday 24th November.
The march was organised once again by the University of Leicester Feminist Society. Last year was the first time the society organised this demonstration, so I was pleased when I found out that they were doing it again. The route was slightly different, meeting at the Clock Tower instead but still marching to the Cenotaph near De Montfort Hall like last year. I preferred starting the march right in the middle of the city centre as there were a lot of passers by still around at 6 o’clock in the evening.
I was thrilled to see about twice the amount of people as last year taking part in the demonstration. The majority of marchers were women, but there were more men joining in with the march than last year. The University of Leicester Feminist Society stated beforehand that “we will be marching through Leicester to protest and raise awareness of gender inequality, sexual abuse and violence, and how dangerous it is for women to be out alone at night”. While it is women who are more likely to be sexually assaulted than men, being safe on the streets at night is an issue which affects men as well, hence why the march was open to anyone of any gender.
Last year I wore red lipstick as a symbol of solidarity. When I arrived at the Clock Tower someone I know had some fluorescent pink powder. She added a bit of water to the powder and then asked people if they wanted some on their face. I immediately said yes. Everyone who wore the pink face paint went for a war style, two stripes across their cheeks. By wearing something bright and obvious on my face, it felt like I was contributing to the fact that sexual violence remains an issue which is brushed under the carpet, hence why Reclaim the Night is still an ongoing annual event.
We marched through Leicester, past the town hall and up the New Walk to the Cenotaph in Victoria Park, near De Montfort Hall. Lots of people held up signs with feminist symbols and messages such as ‘Hands Off’, the importance of consent and how we dress doesn’t mean yes. One thing I preferred about this year’s march was that we all chanted important messages through the city. We shouted at the top of our lungs ‘Yes means yes. No means no. Sexual violence has to go’ and ‘What do we want? Safer streets. When do we want them? Now!’ It certainly got people’s attention and hopefully raised awareness of what we were marching for as we made our way up to the Cenotaph.
Once we reached the Cenotaph, a vigil was held to remember those who have suffered or died as a result of sexual violence. Like last year, everyone lit a candle and we held a minute’s silence. We were all also given a blue ribbon, a symbol of solidarity. Everyone tied the ribbons to the gates and fences near the Cenotaph after the vigil.
I am lucky that I have not suffered from sexual violence as a result of walking in the streets at night time. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to sexually assault someone and rape is never justifiable. No one has the right to sexually assault someone based on how they are dressed, how intoxicated they are from alcohol and if consent is not clearly given. Victim blaming is also never justifiable and it happens way too often. I will continue to participate in Reclaim the Night, in the hope that one day everyone can feel safe to walk in the streets when it is dark.