Rachel Bower and Jake Phillips: Reclaim the Day: Women’s Equality cannot be separated from Race Equality

A Marcha das Margaridas iniciou a caminhada em direção à Esplanada dos Ministérios, a mobilização das trabalhadoras rurais saiu do Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha e seguiu até o Congresso Nacional (José Cruz/Agência Brasil)
Image Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

This November, women across the UK marched to #ReclaimtheNight to protest violence against women.

Donald Trump, the U.S. President-Elect has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and assault, and Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the far right Breitbart News has just been appointed his chief strategist. Milo Yiannopoulos, Senior Editor at Breitbart, recently dismissed ‘campus rape culture’ and the ‘gender pay gap’ as things that are ‘not real’, claiming that America has been run for decades by social justice warriors, feminism and activist group Black Lives Matter. Cathy Newman received a barrage of explicit sexist abuse after interviewing Yiannopoulos. Given the routine sexist and racist abuse experienced anyone who challenges misogyny, we should also be calling to #ReclaimtheDay.

The original #ReclaimtheNight movement has long been criticized for inflaming racism, particularly by feeding into the racist notion that white women are not safe from black men on the streets. Recent #ReclaimtheNight marches in the North of England have been organized in conjunction with Black Lives Matter and Muslim community groups. In Sheffield, the keynote speaker, Councillor Abtisam Mohamed, highlighted the rise in hate crime against Muslim women since the EU Referendum, linking the rise in Islamophobia with misogyny and violence against women.

#ReclaimingTheNight makes little sense unless we acknowledge that equality for women cannot be separated from racial equality. The Lammy Review, published this month, found that black women are twice as likely to be sent to prison than white women for equivalent offences. In the US there are twice as many black women in prison as white women. According to the Prison Reform Trust, black women in England report more negative experiences of prison staff, with only 60% saying that staff treated them with respect, compared with 75% of white women.

Racial inequality in the criminal justice system has a long history. In the US, 40% of the prison population are African American, even though they make up only 13% of the population. The Vera Institute of Justice say ‘this is the result not of criminality, but of policies that target communities of color’. In stark contrast, Brock Turner, a white man at Stanford University, was sentenced to just six months in county jail for a conviction of assault with intent to rape, significantly lighter than the minimum punishment of two years in state prison prescribed by law. The horrifying effects on the victim of the offence were published widely, but the judge justified the sentence by saying that ‘a prison sentence would have a severe impact’ on Turner. The media coverage highlighted his swimming abilities and athletic ambition rather than focussing on the offence. In 2015, 102 unarmed black people were killed by police – five times higher than the rate of unarmed white people.

The Howard League has reported how the privatisation of the probation service in the UK has been catastrophic for women, calling for something ‘to be done urgently to change the system to protect women’. There is no obligation on private companies to fund Women’s Centres or women only services. One of the roles of the Probation Service has been to provide services to victims – particularly victims of domestic abuse – but the recent changes have significantly affected its ability to do this. Research in the US suggests that police brutality reduces black people’s use of 911, especially worrying for victims of domestic abuse, which has historically low reporting rates.

The Trump tax plan will overwhelmingly benefit the richest 1% at the expense of low income people, especially minority groups: 32% of African American families will face a tax increase compared with 19% of white families. In the UK, widespread privatisation of public services, and cuts made in the name of austerity continue to affect women more than men.
The impact of cuts on women has been well documented. But deeper analysis which shows that cuts have an even greater effect on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals and communities gets much less attention.

#ReclaimtheNight’s origins are in the 1970s, when women took to the streets after being told by the police that they should stay at home after dark for their own safety. This advice followed the series of murders by the Yorkshire Ripper. Victim-blaming continues today and women are still told to restrict their freedoms in order to be avoid being harassed and attacked. Although #ReclaimtheNight has been criticized for neglecting the intersections between racism and sexism, new developments in places like Sheffield and Rotherham are directly responding to the distinctive and sharper forms of oppression experienced by non-white women. Developments such as the Movement for the 99%, which aims to ‘build a wall of resistance to Trump’s racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and attacks on working people’ are also very welcome in these dangerous times.

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