Understanding Reclaim The Night

The first national Women’s March from my country, Malaysia, was in 2018. In a country without liberation marches like Pride, the 2018 march was a huge step for women’s rights. But it wasn’t without backlash – conservative groups were targeting lesbian and bi women, women who weren’t wearing the common hijab were sent threats, and Malaysian ministers were complaining about the presence of LGBT+ groups at the march. In my head, I thought “This wouldn’t be happening in Bristol”.

Then I realized that it is happening in Bristol, only on a less-obvious scale.

While organising the Reclaim The Night march, I realized that the standard for women’s safety – especially in student circles – is honestly appalling. After the lineup for Reclaim events was released, four different cases of student sexual assault were reported to the Women’s Network. Considering that the Women’s Network is not a reporting group for sexual assault, I can only imagine the actual numbers.

When I was going around talking to students about Reclaim The Night, I can remember the disinterest many men showed when I mentioned the Women’s Network. Many of them even verbally expressed their disinterest, saying it’s ‘not for them’. Considering that most perpetrators of sexual violence end up being men, surely they should show more solidarity towards women’s safety? This is not to say that all men contribute to sexual violence, but men’s complacency helps the culture that make women feel unsafe at night.

I come from a country where this culture was everywhere. When I talk about feeling unsafe in Malaysia, I’ve always been told to ‘just wear a hijab’ or ‘just don’t go out’. Yet after moving to Bristol, I still get the culture of victim-blaming. When I talk about being spiked in my first year, I’ve received the response “You should’ve paid more attention to your drink”. When my friends talk about getting harassed in clubs, there’s always that one person saying, “Maybe don’t wear revealing clothes”.

This is all happening in student circles in a liberal city, where I should feel safe.

This experience is shared by so many women I know. A quote from Aisling – one of the women I interviewed for my Reclaim Photo Series – said, “I want our safety. But safety doesn’t encapsulate what I truly mean. I would like to feel whole again, unburdened by fear, not a visitor in my own body. I want not to expect the worst of a night out and be pleasantly surprised when I am only groped once.”

It’s undoubtedly sad that women must feel this way – to feel like they need to reclaim the concept of safety. But I am also done being sad. Back in Malaysia, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle against rape culture and misogyny. But if we don’t fight, then who will? I’m done being sad, because I am now angry.

The Bristol Reclaim The Night march will be on 24 November, starting 5 pm at Queen’s Square as we march towards the Bristol Student Union building. There will be speeches and performances from fellow angry women, with stalls from local support groups. The march is open to everyone, but the front rows are (and always will be) women-only.

If you’re a man and cannot attend the march, I strongly suggest you spread the word. Men can be allies in so many ways, and it’s important that we do not always expect emotional labour from women to tackle sexual violence.

More information can be found through the Women’s Network Bristol SU page on Facebook or through their SU page