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The young women protesting globally - for the first time - against sexual abuse

Thursday, 18 March 2021 15:50 GMT

Australian student Jessica Harris (second from left) with her friends at the 'March 4 Justice' rally to call for gender equality and justice for sexual assault survivors in Sydney, Australia March 15, 2021. Photo courtesy: Jessica Harris

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Four young women from Britain, Bolivia, Colombia and Australia reflect on taking to the streets for the first time to protest gender-based violence

* Sarah Everard murder sparks protests in Britain

* Violence against girls and women is normalised

* Girls get catcalled in school uniform

By Anastasia Moloney, Beh Lih Yi and Sonia Elks

BOGOTA/KUALA LUMPUR/LONDON, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The kidnap and murder of a young woman who vanished while walking home in London has sparked vigils in Britain, which come amid a wave of similar demonstrations worldwide with many first-time protesters voicing outrage over sexual violence.

A policeman has been charged with the murder of Sarah Everard, whose death this month has prompted a national debate around female safety and the sexualisation of girls and women.

But Britain is not the only country where violence against women has triggered demonstrations. Young women from four cities around the world tell us why, in March, 2021, they each decided to protest for the first time.  

Charlotte Lastoweckyi, 19, a British student in criminology and sociology at The University of Central Lancashire, attended a vigil in the northern English city of Preston on March 15.

The Sarah Everard case has sparked this whole conversation about how it is to be a woman in society - how normalised cat-calling has become, how normalised sexual assault has become, and how normalised it is for women to just suck it up.

It was really insightful to hear everyone's experiences, and sad as well – people talking about how they first got cat-called in their school uniforms and they don't feel safe by themselves.

97% of women deal with harassment and abuse. I've had to deal with it, every single woman I know has had to deal with it.

I really hope it becomes less normalised. I want women to feel confident enough to be able to say 'no' to things and be able to speak up for themselves. But I want men's attitudes to change as well. Women are not at fault here.

I'd say (to women in other countries), don't be afraid to speak your mind and to speak to other women about (sexual harassment and abuse).

It is a bit of a taboo. I feel women push it aside and think 'It's just growing up, it's just being a woman', when it's really not.

Having a united front globally is so powerful.

Maria Jose Baez, 18, a Colombian student, attends a protest on International Women's Day in the capital's main square, Bogota, Colombia. March 8, 2021

Maria Jose Baez, 18, a Colombian student in international relations at Bogota's Rosario University, attended a protest on International Women's Day in the capital's main square.

When I turned 18, I decided to take an active part in the feminist movement.   

I participated in the March 8 protest with about 10 other women because it's important for women to get together and unite. We filled Bolivar square.

Violence against women and sexual abuse is normalised. It happens to everyone. I've been harassed on the street when walking in my school uniform by men and have received nasty comments from them. Women are also harassed on social media.

My message is 'don't forget the names of the women who have been murdered this year in Colombia'. There are so many femicides. I was marching for them. The men who commit these crimes don't get the punishments they deserve.

Despite our differences in culture and ideology, women all around the world are affected by violence. We have to see ourselves as a collective unit. We are all in this together.

I'm already thinking about the next march and this march inspired me to take a more active role in the feminist movement.

During the march, I felt I was in a safe space surrounded by other women.

Adriana Roca, 19, a Bolivian student attends a protest on International Women's Day in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia March 8, 2021

Adriana Roca, 19, a Bolivian student in accounting, attended an International Women's Day march in Santa Cruz, the country's largest city.

I decided to go out for the first time because now is a good time to get my voice heard. It's a big opportunity and privilege to be shouting for those women and girls who can't protest.

Some can't go out to protest because their parents don't allow it, or because they have to work, or live far away. I feel lucky that I can participate.

I felt freedom and felt I could be myself during the march and wear whatever I want.

March 8 is not a day to party. It's a day to get back our rights. Gender violence is a big problem in Bolivia. The justice system doesn't progress. We have many laws but they aren't implemented. We have to apply pressure on society to act.

I feel great empathy with other women who are raising their voices against gender violence in other parts of the world.

I hope that justice is served and that laws are implemented so that cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse of women and girls diminishes.

Australian student Jessica Harris (second from left) with her friends at the 'March 4 Justice' rally to call for gender equality and justice for sexual assault survivors in Sydney, Australia March 15, 2021. Photo courtesy: Jessica Harris

Jessica Harris, 23, an Australian student in commerce at the University of Wollongong, joined a march in Sydney on March 15 - one of many protests across the country calling for equality and justice for sexual assault survivors.

I took to the streets because I felt angry and hopeless. Showing solidarity and support is the best thing you can do for survivors of violence.

I'm angry at the perpetrators, I'm angry at the Australian government for sweeping so many allegations of misconduct and violence under the rug.

I am honestly really sick of it. It's not fair, it's not leading by example, it's not ethical and it's just disgusting.

I hope the government will see how the Australian public cares about this issue and will introduce legislation and a new culture within the government.

I want survivors not to fear speaking out, have their voices heard and know there is so much support within the community.

My personal experience as a woman growing up in Australia is that we are pretty marginalised. You're not protected. Walking around on the street, you have to look over your shoulder.

I've had people call out at me from their car. When I was 15, someone outside an ice cream shop touched me inappropriately.

It is terrible. It is almost becoming a normality for men to get away with these actions.

It was truly empowering to listen to women at the march talk about their experiences. It makes you feel you're part of a movement that is making a difference.

I'd tell women in other countries, please know there is strength in numbers. Someone is going to hear you.


These interviews were shortened and edited for clarity.

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(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Anastasia Moloney and Beh Lih Yi; Editing by Emma Batha and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)