Some of my fellow marchers.
This time last week I was preparing to travel down to London to join, as was thought at the time, around 10,000 people on the Women’s March London. That turned out to be quite an underestimate! I walked with 100,000 people. It was a fantastic experience and I’m very pleased to have been part of it.
Since Saturday there has been a good deal in the press and on TV about the needs and merit of such a march in the UK. I mean, we are a tolerant and equal society, aren’t we?
In the past week I’ve had quite a lot of “good for you” and “well done comments”, which is very gratifying, but only one person has asked me why I marched. Everyone else has ignored the fact that I did march. So why did I March? I grew up in the 1970s, a time of overt sexism and racism and I am worried that we are turning the clock back. I’m worried that intolerance and disrespect is becoming mainstream.
Over the past few years I’ve seen a steady rise in the number of jingoistic and sexist comments in my Facebook feed which has made me feel very uncomfortable. Initially most came in the form of “ecards” and posts shared from sites such as Britain First, which were easy to block from my newsfeed. Then, as the EU referendum got underway, the rise in racism, intolerance and misogyny in newspapers, TVs news and my newsfeed became impossible to ignore.
The number of racist hate crimes was reported to have gone up by 58% in the week after Brexit! The increase over the month of July 2016 was 41%. Initially the reported crimes were against EU nationals, some of whom had lived in Britain for decades. I struggle to forget the harrowing phone call one German lady made to LBC, where she described having dog excrement thrown at her door and her friends telling her they didn’t want to see her. She was too scared to leave her house, where she has lived since the 1970s. Or the death of Arek Jozwik, who was attacked because he was heard speaking polish. Brexit appeared to give some people permission to be overtly racist. I’m not making any judgement about the outcome of the referendum, I’m horrified that people think it gives them a right to be violent and abusive. However hate crime hasn’t been restricted to EU nationals. Muslim women are reporting that they are now routinely yelled at and abused, physically as well as verbally. Doctors are being asked “when are you going home” by patients.
Gina Miller became the target of a hate campaign when she argued that Parliament, not the government, should invoke Article 50. Her arguments were upheld in court, twice. She received racial abuse and death threats. I fully admit that up until then I’d been burying my head in the sand and, although I knew about much of the vitriol that was being thrown at women who dared to be clever and successful, I hadn’t really engaged with it. Mary Beard gets abuse, rape threats and death threats because she presents history programmes on tv. Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to have Jane Austen put on a bank note and received rape and death threats. Beth Tweddle, our most successful gymnast to date, has spoken about the abuse she receives about her appearance on social media. In September 2016 a House of Commons Select committee reported that 59% of girls and young women (aged 13 to 21) had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year and that sexual harassment has become part of school life.
I marched because I don’t think that any of this should be tolerated. The incidents I have sited all occurred in our country – our Great Britain. Also I haven’t mentioned the bullying and abuse of disabled people or the horrendous domestic abuse statistics. Piers Morgan asked on itv breakfast why we weren’t marching against Saudi Arabia where women’s rights appear to be non existent. I feel that it’s a disingenuous question. I’m not for one minute suggesting that being a woman in the Middle East, or India, or anywhere else is comparable to our experiences, but we need to make sure that women and girls in our country – no matter their religion, race, sexual orientation- feel safe, feel their rights are taken seriously. It’s only a starting point. It’s true, women’s rights are equal rights.