Thousands of women will stop traffic on London's most famous high streets this weekend. And, for once, we're not there to shop; instead we're marching down Oxford Street and Regent Street with Million Women Rise calling for an end to the scourge that is violence against women.
If you think 'scourge' is a strong word, then it is likely that you don't know just how bad this problem is in the UK. In a room of 20 women, at least one in the group is a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, according to Home Office figures. We use the word 'survivor' purposely - to avoid labelling women as victims. But it also draws attention to the fact that many women don't survive the violence perpetrated against them; two women are killed each week at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.
Million Women Rise (MWR), established in 2007 by award-winning campaigner Sabrina Qureshi, is a coalition of ordinary women who want to see an end to violence against women in their lifetimes. MWR calls for the government to fully resource and implement a strategy to do this, while protecting existing women's organisations from the funding cuts that are currently destroying them.
Many feminists argue that violence against women is just the crudest manifestation of the wider issue of women's inequality. The fat end of the wedge on a spectrum that reaches all the way to gender pay gaps and the relentless objectification of women in the media. These are discussions we have in the pub after the march, and it's important these causes and links are given some airtime, even by those who don't identify as feminists. Violence against women does not exist in a vacuum.
However, the march itself is far removed from these nuanced debates, and is all about resilience, celebration and even raw emotion. When we get to the rally in Trafalgar Square, survivors of the type of violence we are marching to prevent take the stage, some recounting harrowing experiences of unimaginable pain. Million Women Rise is about taking a stand and making the journey, and the very fact of their taking a platform in London's most fêted landmark speaks of empowerment.
This is part of the reason that the space inside the march is kept as women-only, so that vulnerable women feel safe, and to give the female voice centre-stage.
The march always takes place on a Saturday close to International Women's Day, and the mood is appropriately festive. With drummers, placards, chanting, whistling and a colour theme - this year's is purple, a nod to the Suffragettes - the outcome is something of a carnival procession snaking its way through the capital's best known scenery.
Perhaps the freedom to shout at the top of your lungs on a crowded Oxford Street is part of the appeal for some demonstrators, while others have travelled down in coaches from Bradford or Nottingham to meet like-minded women from all over the country.
The marchers, like the reasons they come, are numerous and diverse. More than 10,000 women and children came on the Million Women Rise march in 2011, one was my grandmother, and another was my seven-year-old niece. Million Women Rise is a coalition led by black women, who understand well the importance of actively encouraging women from different backgrounds - whether ethnic, social or religious - to feel that feminism is for and about them.
Although, 'feminism' could really do with some good PR. It is too often considered exclusively the realm of hardline, man-hating activists or, even worse, an anachronism of a bygone era in which gender inequality existed. This is rubbish, of course; feminism is about women demanding equal rights and treatment. A quick glance onlineshould be enough to show you that we are not there yet.
As for the typical picture of a feminist, I guess those of us who march along wearing make up and dresses don't match the stereotype. In fact, a glimpse at the mass of diversity at a Million Women Rise march shoots to pieces any attempt to squeeze 'feminist' into a uniform template.
It's also true that some of the women on the march would hesitate even to call themselves feminists. Yet every right-thinking person is against discrimination on the basis of gender, and no one who is not a perpetrator thinks violence against women is okay. So call it feminism or don't, either way we're almost definitely on the same side. But, for the record, I call it feminism.
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