(Trigger warning: Please note that this article discusses rape culture and street harassment) 1926092_674412315950336_1014984457_o

Reclaim the Night, a march that campaigns for an end to violence against women, is returning to the streets of Liverpool this Friday 28 March 2014.

This year’s march focuses on street harassment, after a series of studies and reports have found that a large proportion of women are subjected to unwanted leering, whistling, groping and molesting in public.

Last year over one hundred people joined the march in Liverpool’s city centre. Rachael O’Byrne is chair of this year’s campaign, and LSMedia caught up with her the day before the campaign.

How did Reclaim the Night begin in Liverpool?

Reclaim the Night happens across the UK in many towns and cities, and a group of women’s activists decided to hold one in Liverpool  in May last year – there hadn’t been one in the last 20 years. Now we’re doing a second one, and we hope this will continue to be an annual event.

What is the aim of Reclaim the Night?

It’s saying to women, you don’t have to accept street harassment – it is not acceptable. And also saying to men, this is not acceptable, it’s not fun, it’s not banter, it’s actually not a compliment. I think it’s hard when you are just that one individual, and you can often feel in isolation, saying “I don’t feel comfortable with this, but I don’t feel I can say it because no one else is.” It’s saying as a collective, no, let’s stand up against this, and really empowering women to come to together. For men, it’s also about saying “well, I don’t feel comfortable when my friends do that to women. Maybe we should challenge that”. Maybe they don’t feel they can either, because again, they’re a lone voice. It’s about coming together and saying “no, this is not appropriate.”

What gets missed out a bit is that street harassment is about power. That people who wolf whistle, pass comments or grope people assume that they have the power over you as another human being, and they think they have the power to breach your bodily autonomy. That’s the real issue. Any woman has the right to walk about, whatever she wears, wherever she wants, without the fear of being harassed or intimidated. I think that’s not too much of a radical notion in 2014.

Why is the first half of the march for self-defining women only?

I think it’s really important for women to have a space where they can mobilise and raise their voices, because so often our voices are drowned out. It’s about women taking to the streets, saying that these are ours, that “we’re gonna have this.” This is what reclaim the night is – it’s very specific in terms of its raising awareness of street harassment and rape culture, but it’s also about empowerment, which I think needs to happen in a women only space. But we do recognise support is important as well – that’s why we’ve included the second half of the march.

Do you think you need to identify as a feminist to get involved in the march?

I think if you come to the march you are a feminist! Feminism for me is about wanting equality, gender equality, and that comes in many shapes and sizes, and many feminists have many different viewpoints on how we achieve that. But I think if you come to the march, if you’re saying street harassment is an issue, that we’re going to stand up against it and you know it’s not a joke, it’s not a compliment, it is something completely unacceptable in the 21st century, then I think you are a feminist. And that’s something to be really proud of, and I hope that you’ll join us.

Any advice to women who would like to get involved further?

I would say get involved in any organisations that are within the city: Merseyside Women’s Movement, AWOL, and feminist student activist groups are in all three of the universities – that’s where I really found my voice in feminism, through student activism. Definitely get involved. Also, get involved next year with reclaim the night. It’s a huge project and it takes a lot of energy and a lot of time but we’ve had a fantastic planning committee, who I couldn’t have done without. Join reclaim the night Liverpool, because I think it’s an amazing event.

For self-defining women wanting to join the march, the meeting point is outside Liverpool Town Hall at 7:00pm. Others can join at 7:30pm outside St. Luke’s (the bombed out church), and the event will finish with a rally in John Moore’s Student Union.