Oxfordshire Reclaim the Night – tomorrow!

Clare Cochrane from the Oxfordshire Reclaim the Night collective, talks through tomorrow’s Reclaim the Night march

ORTN.gifHere in Oxford we’re all getting excited as we build up to Oxfordshire Reclaim the Night 2009. Tomorrow, straight after work, we’ll march from East Oxford across the bridge into the centre of town, through the evening crowds with our message that all women have the right to live without fear of violence. At the rally speakers will include the city council’s domestic violence services co-ordinator, the co-ordinator of Oxford’s rape crisis centre and a speaker from Amnesty International, with entertainment from performance poet Lizzie Mc and legendary punk folk heroine Maeve Bayton.

This is the second year the Oxfordshire RTN collective has organised a march that involves both students and local people, helped by funding from the city council. And that’s really important in Oxford. Because despite what you might expect in an age when universities are increasingly proud of their local engagement, etc, etc, there is still a pretty severe divide between ‘town and gown’ in the city. The divide is visible in lots of ways – the postcodes in the centre of the city include some of the wealthiest wards in the UK, with levels of education, income and health all exceeding the national average. But the postcodes out on the eastern edge of Oxford, near the industrial areas with the car plant (and the proposed site of England’s first council-run urban wind turbine), include wards that rank amongst the most highly deprived in the UK. But although students and residents are different in lots of ways, the risks of violence – by strangers, at home, through forced marriage, sexual coercion and sexual abuse – faced by all kinds of women make this one issue where we need to come together to show our strength.

And just as Oxfordshire RTN brings students and residents together, it also brings women and men together. Men who support the White Ribbon Campaign help out with organising the rally, and arrive early to have tea and biscuits ready for the women marchers (all women are welcome on the march, including trans women). They help design leaflets and make banners, and of course, with women on the march, the role of men as child carers is vitally important.

In some ways, Oxfordshire is a pretty lovely, safe place to live. We’ve got a strong network of domestic violence champions, supported by the city council – professionals in the courts, the police, the social services and the health service who look out for women experiencing violence and help to put them in touch with the support services they need. We’ve got OSARCC, who have been providing phone counselling and information services to women experiencing sexual abuse for 20 years. They even have paid workers! But we still have high rates of sexual violence, our rate of convictions for rape cases hovers around the national average and isn’t anything to shout about, and reports of rape regularly make the local papers, as they do everywhere in the country.

So like last year, we’re hoping that more than 150 women and men will come together – women on the march, men joining us at the rally – to educate the general public, raise the profile in the media (we were covered by every single local media outlet last year!) and support the year round work of OSARCC and the women’s anti-violence projects across Oxfordshire. Join us if you can!