Demonstrators marched through the streets of Cambridge to protest against gender-based violenceRosie Smart-Knight/Varsity

Students from Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin universities marched through the city centre last night (11/03) to protest against violence towards women and non-binary people.

The Reclaim the Night event, organised by the Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin students’ unions, has been running annually in Cambridge for over a decade, while women’s liberation organisations have held similar marches across the country for around 50 years.

The evening kicked off with a rally at ARU’s courtyard, where demonstrators braved the rain to hear speeches from Cavya Antony, president of ARU students’ union, and Anjum Nahar, Cambridge SU’s postgraduate president.

In her speech, Nahar addressed the struggles currently faced by Ukrainian women: “We’re witnessing older women and vulnerable women being pushed to their physical limits as they flee their homes and communities into the unknown. Women’s artwork has been burned by Russian forces. Black and brown women are facing border racism and being denied refuge.”

Speaking on the issues faced by women more locally, she said: “Closer to home, women in Cambridge are being subjected to drink spiking incidents in clubs and in colleges. Our universities are failing to provide robust disciplinary procedures to support us when abuse and harassment occurs.”

Speaking to Varsity at the rally, Nahar emphasised the role of the media in the reporting of cases of violence against women and others of marginalised genders: “We need to make sure that when we are reporting in the media, we are reporting in terms of racial or gender discrimination. We remember that Sabina Nessa’s death came very shortly after Sarah Everard’s - for a moment it seemed like it wasn’t going to be given the same reporting and importance. There are so many black and brown women whose stories get lost into the ether because of media discrimination.”

Antony also spoke of the issue of women’s safety from an international perspective, drawing upon the experiences of women in her home country of India: “In spite of England and India being halfway across the globe from one another, our struggles go hand in hand [...] We will not go quietly into the night, back into our homes. We will show the country, and perhaps the world, that our demands are just. We have the right to safety at night.”

After the speeches, the demonstrators set off on their procession through the streets of Cambridge, starting from East Road, and headed past the Grafton Centre before crossing Christ’s Pieces, marching through town, and then down King’s Parade.

Explaining why she was marching, protestor Lily Ingram said: “Cambridge is unsafe. Cambridge University fails its students in providing a safe environment and effective disciplinary procedures. It prioritises perpetrators over victims and that just needs to change.”

“I’m also marching in solidarity with women and [people of] marginalised genders across the world who are facing all sorts of things - I’m marching in solidarity, but also specifically about the situation in Cambridge.”

Participants carried signs bearing slogans such as “My Night, My Right”, “Stop Violence Against Women” and “I deserve to feel safe”, while march leaders led chants such as “Feminists unite, take back the night” and “No justice, no peace, no sexist police.” Demonstrators were met with applause from passing pedestrians on King’s Parade and beeps of support from delivery drivers on motorbikes.


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The march culminated in chants of “this is what a feminist looks like” outside Great St Mary’s Church , led by Renée Eshel from atop a bench on King’s Parade.

Eshel, who is Newnham’s women and non-binary officer, told Varsity: “I think Cambridge is very corrupt. Obviously I don’t go to Anglia Ruskin but all the universities’ systems are very corrupt. It’s very much about marketisation of education and not welfare and I think a main thing to do with that is sexual violence and sexual assault and we need to be paying more attention to it and doing things not for profit, but for people.”

After the fervour of the march, a hush descended on the demonstrators as they filed into the church for the vigil.

It began with an explanation of the history of Reclaim the Night, with the first marches being held in the 1970s in the wake of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, to which local police responded by instructing women to stay in their homes at night. Organisers emphasised that Reclaim the Night is “rooted in the struggle of sex workers” and that the event should be “deeply intersectional”.

The vigil then consisted of poems, readings and speeches from a range of speakers sharing their views on, and experiences of, gender-based violence.

The evening ended with a moment of silence for people “whose lives have been taken by or affected by male violence”.

The event was held just hours after the High Court ruled yesterday that London’s Metropolitan Police breached the rights of organisers of a planned vigil for Sarah Everard last year, when they said that holding such an event would be illegal under coronavirus restrictions in place at the time.