The Silence Must Be Broken!
WORDS BY KELSEY HARPER
MONDAY night in Sydney’s Hyde Park, hundreds of people gathered in for a vigil for all victims of gendered violence. In the freezing cold and wet conditions, the crowd huddled under umbrellas in solidarity to mourn the losses of the thirty women in Australia whose lives have been lost at the hands of men this year alone. The vigil comes after the recent tragic deaths of Qi Yu in Campsie, and Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne.
The vigil was organised by the University of Sydney Women's Collective, Women's March Sydney, Sydney Feminists, UNSW Women's Collective, Queer Action Collective, Macquarie Women, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council, UTS Women's Collective and Women's Electoral Lobby, Australia.
The people who spoke mustered together harrowing words for the despicable treatment of women in our society and the victim-shaming responses from authorities which fail to confront the core of this issue. The proceedings began with an acknowledgement of country given by Lizzy Jarrett, who recognised Australia’s past as a nation founded on violence and rape through British colonisation.
“… enough is enough for the blood of our sisters and our mothers and our women…”
Activist and former Wom*ns officer Katie Thorburn, current Wom*ns officer Maddy Ward, and sex worker rights advocate Sarah delivered powerful and moving words that hit close to home for survivors, affected friends and family members, and to women in general – we know how likely these atrocities can happen to any of us. This is why when the police respond to these issues by advising women to “take responsibility”, to be “smarter” or “more aware of their surroundings”, it feels like a punch in the face.
Sarah noted how Eurydice was being ‘smart’, had been in contact with her partner about her location – and still this happened. This conversation is no longer about changing the behaviour of victims but changing the systematic ideologies of a society that allow these brutalities to happen to women.
“… why do we have to wait for things to happen to us for the justice system to care...”
Aboriginal activist, poet and rapper Iggy Ramon delivered a gut-wrenching poem,
expressing his hurt and shame as a man in the “man’s world” in which we exist. He encouraged men to use their voices and their power to do better and reshape the discourses around the treatment of women in society.
“… when a man gets punched we shut down the whole city… When a woman gets raped, murdered and killed quickly, we put the blame on her...”
“… how long are we gonna shift the blame? It’s in our hands that this blood stains, I’m ashamed…”
“… for the longest time men have sat in silence, so speak up, and end the violence…”
Maddy delivered words of heartache, recognising the vigil as a time for emotional support and grieving, but also an opportunity to change the conversation around gendered violence. She urged men to step up, to use their voices, and to hold their friends accountable for their words and actions.
“… if this has upset you, do something about it – that labour should not fall on women…”
The crowd then engaged in a fifteen-minute silence; thirty seconds for each woman taken in the past six months. But as Katie so eloquently put, these women’s lives are worth so much more than thirty seconds each. Following the silence, the crowd of people walked in candle-lit unity to the reflection pond, where individuals laid photographs, flowers and candles to memorialise the deceased women.
We don’t want any more minutes of silence. The silence around this issue must be broken. It is time to stop criminalising victims and time to start calling out perpetrators and enablers.
All women should be safe regardless of their age, race, ethnicity and behaviour. We ALL must take responsibility to end rape culture and violence against women, and if you don’t think that there is a problem – then you are a part of it.
If you missed the vigil last night, you can watch the live-stream the Women’s March Sydney Facebook page.