International Women’s Day
From a nighttime protest march (below) to an audience with the Deputy Prime Minister (right), Kirstin Innes investigates International Women’s Day in Scotland
2009 is a significant year for women’s rights in Scotland: Saturday 10th October is the 100th anniversary of the first big suffragette march in the country and there will be a commemorative procession following the original route down Princes Street in Edinburgh. While that’s all some time away yet, there’s a flurry of fund- and awareness-raising activity in the months leading up to the anniversary, and especially this fortnight, with a number of events across the city planned to coincide with International Women’s Day.
One of the biggest events will be another march, taking a different but equally significant route, and also with the aim of bringing together as many women as possible under a common cause. Reclaim the Night (RTN) started out in London in the 1970s as a protest at police responses to the Yorkshire Ripper, with the idea of reclaiming areas that women felt unsafe walking in alone after dark. The first Scottish march happened in 2007; the second, which aims to ‘take back’ Edinburgh’s Lothian Road, Festival Square, and the West Port area known as the ‘Pubic Triangle’, is on International Women’s Day, Sunday 8 March.
‘The 2007 march got a lot of media coverage,’ says organiser Marylou Anderson, who also brought women’s music festival Ladyfest to the city last year, ‘but a lot of it was sensationalist, and focused on scare stories. “Ooh, you can’t go to the Meadows, you’re going to get raped.” That sort of thing. This year, we’re not marching under a mantle of victimhood, and we’re not marching because the streets aren’t safe. We’re still talking about violence against women and saying ‘enough is enough’, but it’s not just stranger rape in dark streets we’re talking about.’
The RTN organisers, made up of feminist groups from around Edinburgh, are angry, and they have reason to be: Anderson quotes the current rate of rape cases which result in conviction in Scotland as 3.9% (a record low; it’s 5.7% in England and Wales, and that’s still one of the lowest conviction rates in Europe). However, they don’t intend to march in rage.
‘We chose to march on International Women’s Day because there’s a lot of good feeling happening then, particularly in Edinburgh, and we wanted to channel that anger into something more positive,’ Anderson says, going on to explain that they want the march to unite the various local feminist movements. The overwhelming atmosphere will be one of celebration.
‘If we can all just get together, and make connections,’ says Anderson ‘we can work out where we going to go from here.’
Sun 8 Mar; meet at 6.45pm in Festival Square. See reclaimthenightedinburgh.wordpress.com