Hundreds of people gathered yesterday outside Parliament to protest rape culture in New Zealand. The action was called by several students from Wellington East Girls College. The protest, a direct response to rape jokes made on facebook by students from Wellington College, was loud, angry, defiant and empowering. Chants of “2,4,6,8 Stop the Violence, Stop the Rape” and “My Body, My Choice, My Body, My Choice” rang out across parliament grounds. Placards with demands like “End Rape Culture” and “Respect, it’s simple” were held proudly in the air. And a group of singers in pink pussy hats sang songs of defiance. The chief demand of the protest was that compulsory education around consent the rights of women should be introduced into schools and that rape culture has to go.
It was awesome to see more than one hundred students turn up to challenge the normalisation of rape culture. One of the organisers, Sorcha Ashworth, said she felt heartened by the turn out as rape culture and violence against women is often made invisible in our society. Many students spoke out about their experience of sexism, the fear of going out at night, and how their friends are being sexually assaulted. Statistics show that one in three women experience a form of sexual abuse before they turn 16. We support every action that exposes and challenges this culture.
Another speaker, student Norma McLean, issued demands that were met with cheering and chanting. Her words showed the impatience of another generation of women having to put up with this sexist culture, she said “For generations our grandmothers, our mothers, have put up with this and we stand up here today for them and ourselves. I don’t want to stand here in front of you today and say I hope to see a better future for my daughter. No, I want to see change now, for my generation.”
This was a feeling shared by a range of speakers. Women like the socialist Adaire Hannah who have been fighting rape culture for most of their lives. Adaire argued that rape culture emerges from a wide range of concrete policies that subordinate and infantilise women; in particular, the restriction of bodily autonomy through the criminalisation of abortion and the gender pay gap that still sees women paid up to 20 percent less than men for the same work. These connections become more explicit everyday. As year 12 student Thomas said they “are trying to say, we matter, and I’m for that 100 percent,” “I don’t like the fact that when they apply for a job or when they get a job they’re going to get 20 percent less income than me.”
The perpetuation of rape culture stems from concrete policies set by the government. The National government has repeatedly defunded crucial organisations like Wellington Rape Crisis. As Adaire argued, Bill English is our Prime Minister and he is happy with the abortion rights bill as it stands. This is a bill that criminalizes and disempowers women over the most basic right of bodily autonomy. We cannot rely on parliament to grant us freedom.
Other speakers included MP’s Grant Robertson, Marama Fox, Jan Logie, and Paula Bennet. It’s testament to the organising skills of the students from Wellington East College that they brought out such large numbers of people and politicians. The protest also highlighted the hard work and dedication of organisations like Wellington Rape Crisis and Women’s Refuge. Fiona McNamara from Rape Crisis expressed that “there are so many young people out here who are not part of the problem but we are part of the solution.”
This is the not a stand alone protest. The organisers are keen to fight rape culture in all its forms. The ISO stands in solidarity with these students. We are committed to building movements from the ground up. These students showed the power of what can be done when we organise amongst ourselves in the fight for a better world.