The Women’s Solidarity Walk brought together 30 people, predominately women, from across the city to show unconditional support to the female victims of recent violent attacks, and to demonstrate our support to the principle that women should be able to walk where we want to without fear of attack or abuse.
Violence in any of its forms can be an extremely intimidating and isolating experience for its victims. The attitudes found in court rooms, police stations and the mainstream media, do nothing to help this – often placing blame with the victim or questioning the perceived recklessness of the victim in regard to their safety.
The recent police statement in light of the attacks called for Portsmouth women to be “alert but not alarmed”. Whilst it was nice for the police to encourage women to“continue your daily lives and business as you would normally”, perhaps they don’t realise that for many women ‘normal’ is already operating on a constant state of alert.
The discussion on the walk evidenced this, with many women sharing they are always alert to keeping themselves safe when they go out, whether that is not going out at night, avoiding the quieter sections of the seafront or making sure they have the police on speed dial – all of these were precautions that women were already taking. But since the attacks, some shared – initially with an element of shame – that they have not been out alone and wouldn’t feel safe to go back to the Hilsea Lines.
The space created by the walk to be honest about the reality of negotiating life with the threat of violence and abuse hanging over was powerful in itself, but it also created a space to give support to each other, breaking down the effect of isolation and fear, reminding us we are not alone and it is not our fault.
Feeding back afterwards, it was clear many saw the walk as the start of an ongoing discussion about how we respond to violence as individuals and collectively as a community.
There was a general feeling it would be good to have a community response whenever attacks of this kind happened across the city- whether that was through sending support direct to the victim or organising further walks and demonstrations. It is hoped that it won’t be on one person or group to facilitate that, but through a contact list and Facebook group we could support the ongoing discussion about our response and give space for people to propose future events.
There was also some discussion about a buddy style system to keep each other safe, perhaps working with community safety groups and the police to assist with this. But there was a strong feeling that we must be aware that, however well intended, this style of response can contribute to the suggestion that the problem can be solved through women adapting their own behaviour and reinforcing the notion that it’s our own fault.
What was fantastic about the walk is that is was a genuine local response. It was called for by local women and attended by a wide range of women from different backgrounds across the city. It was a brilliant opportunity to meet with each other and begin to make these connections and build support networks that are so crucial in empowering and giving strength to women in light of the every day sexism and abuse we face.
We are more than aware that the oppressions facing women within society are plentiful and the possibility for us as a small set of individuals to achieve change on a global scale is simply too big a goal. But instead of becoming burdened by an awareness of these many oppressions and problems, feeling overwhelmed by the daily reports of abuse and sexism we, as Portsmouth women, can do our own bit in our own corner of the world. We can do this firstly in giving encouragement to each other and then figuring out how to spread that across our neighbourhoods and city.
Portsmouth Socialist Network members hope to be fully involved in this campaign and we hope to be able to provide a space within our group and blog to facilitate these discussions and to generate ideas. We hope that by sharing these experiences with other groups operating in other parts of the country we can learn from each other and build networks that could begin to have a much larger impact.