Herstory of Reclaim the Night
Reclaim the Night marches and rallies have traditionally been organised by collectives of unpaid women who have worked together in their communities to organise peaceful protests against sexual violence towards women and children, and to promote women's strength and survival. Reclaim the Night represents a claim for women's basic human right to live in freedom from discrimination and fear of violence.
The first rally took place in Rome in 1976, as a reaction to reported rapes reaching 'Astronomical' figures (16000 per annum). Around 10,000 women and children marched through the centre of the city. 1 & 2
Marches followed in 1977 in West Germany. Women there demanded, "the right to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault" 2
Reclaim the Night marches were initiated in England on 23 November 1977 by women in Leeds in response to the 'Ripper Murders'. They had read of the demonstrations by feminists in Germany. Angry at advice to stay indoors since the last "Ripper" killing, they marched with torches through the town and challenged men in the street, asking them where they were at the time the "Ripper" killed Jacqueline Hill? On this occasion hundreds of women sang protest songs in the city square. Marches occurred simultaneously in 11 towns, from Manchester to Soho.
'Take Back the Night' marches in the USA were first held in 1978. In San Francisco over 5000 women from 30 states marched through the pornography district. These organised protests developed into campaigns such as Women Against Violence Against Women.
"Take Back the Night is a symbolic statement of our commitment to stopping the tide of violence against women in all arenas and our demand that perpetrators of such violence be held responsible for their actions and be made to change." 3
Women from Ireland, India, Canada, Germany and Holland have also marched through their cities to Reclaim the Night.
In Australia, Reclaim the Night marches were first held in 1978.
"The campaigns here have become large and explicitly political campaigns, focussing on the need for social and legal reform, on the need for more Government resources to assist victims, and on the effects of assault and loss of freedom on women's lives....
On another level, Reclaim the Night represents a challenge to the curfew mentality that is imposed on 51% of the population. It symbolises a rejection of existing beliefs that "women shouldn't walk alone at night" and "that women should be careful of what they wear and who they speak to". Such warnings deflect the onus and responsibility of male violence from men onto women, and endorse a kind of gender apartheid on the streets.
By taking part in this protest we are able to unite in a joyful celebration of our collective strength and solidarity, demanding not only safety on the streets but at home and in the workplace. We march to reclaim our public space and demand that which has been denied us, paradoxically, the right to walk alone." 1
Lismore was one of the first rural areas in NSW to take part. Women have been holding marches there since 1988.
"To even know that it goes beyond your community that it is statewide, nationwide, an international event is a very strengthening experience for women." 4