On Friday October 30, a crowd gathered in Victoria Park for Reclaim the Night, an annual event protesting violence against women. It was a diverse group: students, young children, families and older activists; people of all genders were invited to stand against gendered violence and rape. Gathered in the Park, we listened to speeches, watched live performances and took to the streets to spread the word: ‘yes means yes, no means no’.
Reclaim the Night is an international event that has been held annually in Sydney since 1979, and in the past has been an autonomous event for women-identifying people. Its autonomous nature, however, represented a barrier to entry for trans and non-binary people who, despite facing statistically higher rates of violence, have been historically excluded from spaces dominated by cis women. The decision to make the event non-autonomous ‘allows for everyone to feel comfortable’, said Justine Landis-Hanley, one of the organisers of the event and student at Sydney Uni. It also allows men to ‘stand alongside the victims of gendered violence’, Justine said, and show that ‘it’s a struggle you don’t have to face alone’.
The night opened with comedy from Freudian Nip, an all-female comedy troupe also from Sydney Uni. The Nip describe their performances as ‘an intersection of comedy and activism’ that aims to dismantle the male-dominated nature of comedy and to promote representation of voices usually sidelined in that arena. They were proud to perform at Reclaim the Night, but said they were aware of the need for sensitivity performing in such a space, and were ‘very conscious that you don’t want to make jokes that make people uncomfortable.’ They pointed out that this should be the model for all comedy, and saw the event as an opportunity to perform to a welcoming political audience.
It was great to see the voices of Indigenous women being promoted in the line-up. The Welcome to Country was given by Anne Weldon, a Wiradjuri woman who now works at the Metro Land Council on Gadigal land. Dixie Link-Gordon, a Gurang Gurang woman, then spoke about the complex challenges Indigenous women experiencing domestic violence face in finding support. Dixie founded ‘Hey Sis, We’ve Got Your Back’, a program to protect Aboriginal girls from sexual abuse in communities around NSW, and also works on a state wide domestic violence council. She described violence against Aboriginal women as ‘the silent warfare’, and traced its roots back to the nation’s colonial history and the ongoing practices of dispossession and child removals. Dixie highlighted the strength and courage of Indigenous women as leaders of resistance, for example the Grandmothers Against Removals group who provide direct support to women carers and those whose children have been taken. These women uphold the cultural values of ‘caring, sharing and respect’ that have been compromised by colonial structures.
In a year in which 75 women have been killed at a rate of almost two per week, and with front-line support services continuing to be gutted by the state government, it was empowering to see hundreds marching in protest against gendered violence. Reclaim the Night was an important show of solidarity for all women facing violence and abuse, and a step towards removing the silence and stigma that surrounds the issue. As Dixie Link-Gordon said, ‘all women have the right to discuss and publicly address the impact domestic violence is having on us day and night’.