Women, Rise and Fight – Our march on Southall
On a freezing Saturday afternoon in March, Southall Broadway was momentarily brought to a halt as 150 women, children and men took to the streets, placards and banners in hand, to protest against the persistent violence women and girls face within our communities.
Outraged at the recent event in Delhi, when a young woman was raped and murdered on a bus, Southall Black Sisters led this successful vibrant and public march to show both solidarity with international struggles for women’s freedom and equality, but also to hold up a mirror within our very own communities. We wanted to ask uncomfortable questions about the prevalence of violence on our own doorstep.
Spearheaded by SBS users, chanting “We are not blooms of flowers, but sparks of fire” and against the backdrop of our call “Women raise your voice – freedom is our right!” shoppers, workers, and the general public watched on in awe. Our powerful presence on the streets was certainly felt, drivers honked their horns in support, onlookers clapped and with jaws dropping, stopped to watch as we passed.
Away from the cold and with much needed hot teas and samosas, we regrouped at our offices for the speeches. Compelling testimonies from three SBS users living in the Southall and neighbouring boroughs, reminded us of the brutality of violence rallied against women in all its forms whether in the private domains of the household or in public spaces such as on public transport and in places of worship. Women spoke passionately and eloquently about their experiences including the demand for increased support from the state which, sadly, is far too often piecemeal.
All of the women spoke about the humiliation they were left to suffer when their communities denied their claims of abuse and instead castigating them as dishonourable women for daring to speak out. Councillor Ranjit Dheer from Ealing council, praised SBS’s services, without which women’s lives and safety would be at risk. West London Rape Crisis Centre’s senior counsellor, Foziha Raja, spoke about the ways in which sexual violence has been industrialised that, despite changing contexts, the gravity of the situation women and girls still face are monumental. The final speaker was SBS’s very own Meena Patel who spoke emphatically on the need to join up the dots and connect with the countless women and human rights organisations across the globe fighting against the injustices of gender based violence.
Our protest was timely. Nearly 30 years after our first march in Southall to protest against the domestic violence that led to the death of Krishna Sharma, and in the wake of the Delhi case, we felt that the silence surrounding the daily abuse and humiliation women face had to be questioned. Why is it that we are more comfortable talking about violence when it takes place abroad and yet cautious to scratch beneath the surface of our own communities for fear of what we might find?
Despite successive governments rhetoric on ending violence against women, there are still enough shocking statistics to compel us to demand further action. Across the UK, 3 million women face violence every year. The suicide rates of Asian women are up to 3 times the national average. In 2012, our centre dealt with over 3500 cases and enquiries from women who experience violence, primarily from black and ethnic minority communities caught up in the straitjacket of family values and traditions that condone or ignore violence against women.
By taking to the streets of Southall, we gave visibility and voice to our struggle and demands – that all communities take account of the manifold human rights violations that are taking place daily to women privately and publicly. For a short moment in time, Southall was made to halt business as usual and acknowledge a movement of women and men, raising their voices against injustice, sending out a clear message to our communities and government that enough is enough: freedom is our right!
We thank everyone who came and braved the freezing temperatures and marched with us through Southall. Our special thanks to the women who use our service for their hard work in publicising, preparing and leading the march.
Struggle not Submission.
Photographer: Paolo Cardullo
To see more images from the Demo check out our FaceBook Album: From Delhi to Southall: Freedom is Our Right!