Mary-Ann Stephenson – Coventry Women’s Voices

Before I start I would like to share a message sent by Councillor Ann Lucas, leader of the City Council. She is on another march this evening in London, otherwise she would be with us. She sent this message:

“ All sisters have the right to walk our streets – regardless of age or mode of dress.  We shouldn’t ever feel afraid.  Reclaim Coventry’s Streets tonight.

I’m so sorry I cannot be with you but I will be with women students in London helping them give out the same message; And I am told we will be marching to the sounds of very large and noisy drums donated by every Gudwara in the locality.”

So I’d like to start this evening by remembering the sisters who can’t be with us to night.

We remember the sisters who can’t be with us because of other commitments, caring or health problems.

We remember the sisters whose personal experience of violence is to raw to march with us tonight and send them our support. We will have messages tonight from organisations in Coventry providing support to women who have experienced violence so I will let them say more about who they are and what they do.

We should also remember that we are not the first group of women who have marched through these streets. Some of you here may have been on  those earlier marches, others of you would not have been born. We can all remember our feminist sisters who have gone before us and thank them for their struggles.

We remember why we are here tonight –

  • Because nearly half of all women don’t feel safe in the city centre
  • Because six out of ten women in Coventry experienced harassment in the last year
  • Because 30,000 women in Coventry will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives
  • Because when we are attacked we are blamed – blamed for where we were, or how we were dressed, or who we were with
  • Because only one in ten women who are raped will report it and only a tiny minority of those will see their attacker convicted
  • Because our support services are at breaking point – constantly struggling to find the money to keep going and this situation is getting worse as cuts bite harder.

We remember that while this is an issue that affects us all different groups of women are affected in different ways. As well as sexual harassment many women here experience racist, or homophobic or disabilist harassment and experience an even greater struggle for justice.

We remember that while our march tonight is about safety on the streets of our city the majority of attacks on women happen in the home. While we march to reclaim the night we remember that for many women it is at home, the place where they should feel safest, where they are most afraid.

And finally we remember that this is our city. We live or work or study in Coventry. We have as much right as anybody to walk its streets, at any time, dressed how we chose, in safety and without fear.

So we march tonight in sisterhood and strength, to remember these things and to reclaim the night.