18 March 2014

Growing stronger by the hour

A blog by 28 Too Many Trustee Anya Stern. 

At first it didn't seem like there were many people there. I arrived about half an hour before the march set off and standing on the corner of Duke Street and Oxford Street I waited for my friends, listening to the passers by, watching them craning their necks to see what was going on. A lone police woman tried to keep order, encouraging marchers to the back of the assembled crowd and shoppers to keep moving. "It's Against Violence Against Women," she explained patiently, over and over again. Although the early arrivals were relatively few in number, the crowd was noisy from the start. Call and response chants revving up. "Power to the women. Women got the power. Sister can you hear us? Growing stronger by the hour." And then they started coming. Girls and women approached in small groups or alone, finding friends and old comrades and joining their banners to the red and white placards being handed out by volunteers in day-glo tabards. 

By the time we set off it already felt bigger and as we walked down Oxford Street I'd gaze back every now and then and see a snake of people following far behind, the sound of the chants filling the air. "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!" 

Million Women Rise is part of a growing movement of activism calling for an end for violence against women. More than the numbers of women gathered, what gives me hope is the middle aged man watching us go by explaining to his friend "It's International Women's Day." Fahma Mohamed’s campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is all over the newspapers, and last weekend’s Women of the World (WOW) festival, now in its 3rd year, was sold out every day. One of the strongest draws was campaigner Malala Yousefzai, calling for all girls to have access to education. She, like Fahma, is one of the girls and young women who are taking the movement into their own hands, not waiting to have change handed to them. They are grabbing it with both hands, between lessons, and bringing all of us along. 

There is a wave of activity and previously taboo issues like FGM are breaking through into the mainstream, landing in my inbox and onto my front page. It's not going to change overnight. Despite the rise in public awareness thousands of girls living in the UK are undoubtedly still going to be subjected to the practice - but it is now possible to believe that their daughters and nieces will not. 

The struggle for equality, for an end to gender based violence, for all girls to have the chance of a safe future is far from being won, but snaking through Soho with onlookers in organic cafes and comic stores cheering us on, I felt like we were all a little closer and as we streamed into Trafalgar Square, the crowd was finally as large as it was loud. "Power to the women. Women got the power. Sister can you hear us? Growing stronger by the hour."  

28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.