The feminist activists sparking a new wave of radical protest

The feminist activists sparking a new wave of radical protest

Fighting to end violence against women — Whether it's Sisters Uncut or the photographers turning acts of domestic violence into inspirational art, activists are discovering innovative means to promote social change.

As cuts to women’s services and speculation of widely unreported domestic violence in the UK cause outrage, feminist activists are launching a new wave of radical protest.  Yesterday (January 13) saw the publishing of research that argues that ‘high-frequency’ crime against women is often left out of annual crime surveys, leading to unprecedented numbers of unreported and largely invisible violence.

As reported by the Guardian, traditional statisticians for the Crime Survey of England and Wales cap the number of crimes a single person can report to the survey at five. This led to sociology professor Sylvia Walby and her team of specialists at Lancaster University to investigate potential blind spots in the research, concluding that the surveys ignore victims of “high frequency” crime, particularly victims of domestic violence. The same organisation also considers sexual offences such as rape a separate entity removed from under the banner of ‘violent crime’, creating yet another overall blind spot.

This all coincides with a series of cuts to women’s services, shelters and support centres in the UK, all under the guise of ‘necessary austerity’. For a clearer picture of the crisis, Refuge, the country’s largest provider of domestic violence support, has reported that a staggering 80% of their services have experienced cuts since 2011.

With cuts to women’s services occurring on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s no surprise to find a generation of activists fighting back and making noise. Armed with legions of social media followers and a desire to merge art and protest, these are some of the radical thinkers shaping modern feminist activism.

Sisters Uncut

Sisters Uncut are one of the leading figures in British feminist action, responsible for high-profile activism against the cuts that are threatening domestic violence services. “Safety is not a privilege, and access to justice cannot become a luxury,” they write in their ‘feministo’. “Austerity cuts are ideological but cuts to domestic violence services are fatal.”

Recent actions include an invasion of the red carpet premiere of Suffragette, using the premiere’s media coverage and celebrity angle to bring attention to austerity cuts, along with a protest at Trafalgar Square that gained widespread coverage. Activists used colour dye to turn the waters of the square’s fountains blood red, symbolising the victims of cuts to women’s services. “They cut, we bleed,” they chanted.

Founded on intersectional principles, Sisters Uncut rejects a hierarchical system in favour of complete equality within its ranks. Inclusiveness is also of strict importance, writing on their website that Sisters Uncut is proudly made up of cis, trans and intersex women, along with non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals who experience oppression as women.

Sarah Kwei, a member of Sisters Uncut, told the Independent that she has “every hope in the world that we will see the end of violence against women. The Suffragettes achieved the impossible. So can we.” She followed her statement with a rallying cry: “My final message is to potential sisters: Please join us!”

Vanessa Engle

Photo: BBC Films

Photo: BBC Films

Documentary filmmaker Vanessa Engle is responsible for Love You to Death, a harrowing hour-long film granting context and humanity to the 86 women killed in acts of domestic violence in 2013, otherwise reduced to tragic statistics. Engle spoke to seven families to have experienced the loss of a loved one to domestic violence, who each share their stories, as well as narrate the stories of others.

The details of each woman’s murder are horrifying, some killed in random bursts of violence, others at the mercy of more methodical, pre-arranged organisation. Engle herself experienced emotional side effects of chronicling the women’s stories, telling the Guardian, “The horror did stay with me. One policeman showed me all the photos of a woman who’d died, and I’m still haunted by those. I wish I had not seen them. You feel very helpless. There’s nothing reassuring you can say.”

A staggeringly important film, albeit incredibly difficult to watch, Love You to Death can be seen for free on iPlayer until January 15.

Sisters of Perpetual Resistance

Directly inspired by the disruptive, anarchic feminism of Pussy Riot and the pioneers of SlutWalks worldwide, the Sisters of Perpetual Resistance demand equality through creation of ‘nuisance.’ “Nuisance being the patronising word that male politicians used to belittle the militant suffragettes”, the Sisters founder Miss Pokeno told Dazed Digital in 2015.

A deliberately elusive network of activists shrouded in mystique and often dressed head-to-toe in black cloaks and hoods, the collective are committed to all forms of “joyous dissent.” Their work is often darkly comedic, notably their 2014 installation Honey I Ironed Your Shirts – in which rows of men’s shirts were hung out to dry in back-alleys of London, all scarred and damaged with burn stains. They’re also responsible for stalking through London streets armed with a fully-operated potato cannon, as seen below…

Chantal Barlow

Photo: Facebook (Unconventional Apology)

Photo: Facebook (Unconventional Apology)

Having faced no legal repercussions for shooting his wife in a drunken rage, Chantal Barlow‘s grandfather took to obsessively documenting his own life with his prized camera. Upon her grandfather’s death, Barlow began to use that same camera to instead photograph the survivors of domestic violence, rather than one of its perpetrators. Unconventional Apology is the result, a project that allows those who have encountered violence the kind of legacy her grandfather previously only allowed for himself.

“This camera will be used as a tool to photograph other women who have been impacted by abuse and have been silenced,” Barlow writes on her site. “They deserve a trail of existence. They will not disappear.” Accompanied by personal testimonies of their survival, the women themselves are often photographed smiling, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit in spite of harrowing experiences.

No More Stolen Sisters

As reported by Huck in December, No More Stolen Sisters have long been at the forefront of indigenous Canadian activism, demanding a government investigation into the murders of their women. Their long struggle was finally vindicated last month when new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the launching of an inquiry into the missing and murdered women, estimated to have hit a total of over 1,200 in the years between 1980 to 2012.

No More Stolen Sisters have been operating under the wing of Amnesty International since 2004, when they published a groundbreaking report into the national crisis. The report shone a light on “the social and economical marginalisation of indigenous women, along with a history of government policies that have torn apart indigenous families and communities.” This has lead to widespread homelessness, extreme poverty and prostitution.

In spite of the good intentions of the inquiry, it has been reported that women’s groups in the country remain concerned about its long-term effect. A spokeswoman for Vancouver’s Women’s Memorial March Committee told the local Globe and Mail that without utilising the women’s groups that have long fought for awareness, the inquiry may just become a means to tell stories, rather than to find answers. “We feel we are being left on the outside,” she said.

The inquiry marks a huge step forward, but it remains to be seen whether it will create long-term shockwaves.

Milo Moiré

Milo Moiré has been making regular appearances in your Facebook news feeds since 2014, utilising nudity to bring awareness to various forms of violence against women. While she found fame with performance art that saw her expel eggs from her vagina, her recent work has taken on a far more political bent.

In response to the New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne, Germany, Moiré stood nude last week (January 8) outside of Cologne’s central cathedral. Holding a sign reading, “We’re not fair game, even when we are naked”, Moiré joined the chorus of activists to have condemned the mayor of the city for warning women to “keep at arm’s length” from strangers in order to avoid sexual assault.

“Women should maintain their attitude, not be intimidated, and stand up for their freedom,” Moiré wrote in a statement.

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