By: Becky Ricketts, Carmarthen Campus President
Monday 17th December 2018
#16DaysofActivism has drawn to a close for this year, so it is time to reflect back on the action of our campuses over the last fortnight. Pledges, reading lists, quizzes and candle vigils, there has been a hive of activity on our campus surrounding this campaign. This campaign even extended further than our campus doors, with a Reclaim The Night march through Swansea city centre, calling for safer streets and an end to the threat that women endure when they are out alone at night.
The event started out with a simple pop-up union, in which I chatted with students about the topic – intriguingly, one of the biggest draws to the pop-up union was the simple discussion on ‘what IS domestic violence?’. Although there is no easy answer, it was interesting to listen to and participate in the discussions. One of the most poignant discussions I had was with a woman who had teenage children – it was never something initially that had crossed her mind, but by having the discussion around behaviour in relationships, she realised that her children also needed to be educated on this and vowed to speak to them later on that day. I was approached by all genders, and some of the discussions allowed the self-identifying male participants to rethink their behaviour with their partners, wives and friends.
Also during this pop-up I promoted our #BloodyHell free period products campaign, and introduced menstrual cups, which caused quite a divide in opinion among our students! However, by approaching the subject from a sustainability point of view it opened the discussion for an alternative view, it allowed the conversation to progress. How are periods and gender-based violence linked, you might ask? It may not be common knowledge that the UK Government still imposes a 5% tax on all period products, therefore potentially making menstruation a form of abuse towards women of low income or those needing to use food banks – while there are steps being taken by individual stores and institutions to combat this, there is still a long way to go before period poverty is completely eradiated from the UK.
TSDSU also teamed up with Swansea University Students’ Union (SUSU) and their Sabbatical Officers to hold a small Reclaim the Night event in Swansea city centre, meeting in Castle Gardens. Reclaim the Night is a night of noise, activism and women demanding to be heard. Charlie Jones, Swansea Campus President, along with Grace Hanniford and Chris Freestone from SUSU, rallied students on Tuesday 4th December and took to the streets, fighting for women's rights and voicing their concerns to the Swansea public. They did this because sexual harassment tops the list of risks for female students on a night out, and to promote Charlie's ongoing campaign of Ask Angela – a UK wide initiative designed to protect those on a night out that feel unsafe in a venue by using a code word.
The campaign of #16DaysofActivism was arguably a little ‘taboo’ - I mean, who really wants to talk about domestic violence and violence against women? Isn’t that more of a ‘private’ topic, something that happens behind closed doors and isn’t discussed? Is it even something that happens, and not simply an urban myth?
Well, yes. And that’s why we have a problem. That’s why we started the discussion.
It is no secret that austerity has affected the vast majority of the UK population, but it has factually disproportionately affected women. From women’s pay gaps leaving them short to buy vital products such as sanitary towels, to the introduction of the Universal Credit scheme making it harder for women to leave abusive partners due to the concern of financial difficulties. We have seen to a huge increase in women turning to sex work to fund their families, and domestic abuse and gender-based violence in all senses is on the rise. Normalised media coverage, decreased funding for vital services and the attitudes of our world leaders, have all contributed to this rhetoric.
But it is movements like this, actions taken by the good in our population that can challenge this rhetoric. Women all over the UK and indeed the world have used the campaign as a platform for advocacy and education of their peers around this issue, and by starting the conversation and pledging to make changes about our own behaviour, it allows us to make a difference to those who need it most. We thank every student that has taken part – pledged to change their actions, attended events and used the platform to enable the stigma to be addressed and tackled.
‘Whatever we wear and wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.’