CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault, domestic violence, police brutality
Hundreds came together in Hyde Park last week to support Reclaim the Night Sydney in protesting all forms of sexual violence and gendered abuse in Australia. Organisers asserted that it is impossible to achieve gender equality when women and non-binary people are not safe in public spaces, their workplaces, or even their homes.
The rally was sombre, but there was an energy and urgency to it. Before it began, a minute of silence was held for victims of gendered violence. This year, there have been 65 women and children murdered in Australia. In at least 75% of these cases, the victim knew their alleged killer. Only this week, Chinese immigrant Renxi Ouyang was found dead in a freezer in her own home.
At the centre of this action was the acknowledgement that First Nations women, trans women, non-binary people, disabled women, immigrant women and women of colour are far more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, sexual and physical violence. This happens not only within their homes but on the streets, where they are subject to police brutality, and in the prison systems, where they are disproportionately represented.
The Welcome to Country was given by Wiradjuri woman Aunty Donna Ingram, who spoke proudly about leaving past violent relationships, and how she was hopeful about the changes that will leave the world a safer place for her grandchildren.
Other important speakers included Vanessa Seagrove, from Unions NSW, Daniela Hardiman from Trans Action Warrang, NT Labour Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Chilean refugee and advocate Sandra Valdes, and Kate Demaere, from Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).
Sandra Valdes captured the crowd as she spoke about the violence that South American women such as herself face. South American women were a strong presence in the crowd, with many wearing a bandage over one eye. Nearly 300 people have been shot in the face by police since Chilean protests began in October, and the bandaged eye has since become a symbol of resistance.
The slogan and theme for this year was REBUILD. RESIST. REVOLT.
Attached to these core ideas were seven specific demands of both the state and federal governments.
- For the NSW and Federal Government to recognise and address in public that gendered violence continues to be a National Emergency in Australia.
- That essential domestic violence and sexual support services like NSW Rape Crisis Centre and 1800 Respect are fully funded and in public hands.
- Make information and support for those who experience sexual violence accessible to all people regardless of age, background, work, class, ability, race and gender.
- Recognise that the media’s portrayal of women and non-binary people who have died due to gendered violence is so often used to stigmatise and alienate sex workers, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disability, and people of colour.
- Ensure that all public venues have detailed plans and act in accordance with any instances or disclosures of sexual violence in their venues.
- Ensure that there is mandatory consent training in schools, universities, and workplaces and actively de-platform any perpetuation of rape culture.
- That the NSW government prioritises an increase in safe, accessible, and affordable 24/7 public transport to assist women and non-binary people getting home safely at night.
There have been victories. In the past year, each Australian state and territory has achieved ten days paid domestic violence leave. Last week, sex work was decriminalised in the Northern Territory.
While there is work to be done, yesterday made clear that activists fighting for social, environmental, economic and First Nations justice are coming together and building off each other’s momentum. In doing so, they are amplifying the success of each cause individually.