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Infocus: St Andrews to Reclaim the Night

On Thursday 24 November at 6pm, the University of St Andrews’ Feminist Society, known to most as FemSoc, will march to Reclaim the Night, protesting gender-based violence.

This march forms part of a week of events led by FemSoc and joined by SaintsLGBT+, GotConsent, Amnesty International St Andrews, Sexpression St Andrews and GotLimits St Andrews.

In the lead up to the events, The Saint spoke with FemSoc and SaintsLGBT+ about what Reclaim the Night is, why it is important, and how students can get involved.

Sophia Brousset, this year’s co-president of FemSoc, explained that Reclaim the Night started as a nation-wide protest against gender-based violence. The movement began in Leeds in 1977 as part of the Women's Liberation Movement. The marches gained a new significance following the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murders, in which police warned marginalised genders to avoid public spaces at night.

Since 1977, Reclaim the Night has become an international movement, with marches in Australia, India, the US and Slovenia. 2022 marks St Andrews’ ninth year participating, and this year’s lineup presents more opportunities to get involved than ever before.

Sophia spoke on the importance of Reclaim the Night, affirming that, “It’s clear many people of marginalised genders throughout St Andrews, the UK, and the world are still not safe in public at night. All of us have experienced the anxiety of having to carefully watch over our drinks at the pub, be cautious of the way we dress, and hold our keys between our fingers as we walk home. It is exhausting to have to constantly take these precautions when we are just trying to freely and openly exist in the world”.

Sophia acknowledges that St Andrews has the “benefits of safety which small towns provide”, but asserts that the so-called ‘bubble’ is not exempt from stories of harassment and assault. In the past, FemSoc has been quick to respond to cases of gender-based violence. This included organising a St Andrews-based Big Night In during October 2021 in reaction to an increase in spiking in St Andrews and throughout the rest of the UK. Reclaim the Night similarly recognises the need to take action against such behaviour.

Sophia said, “I am hard-pressed to find women who don’t have some story of sexual harassment or spiking or other gendered aggressions while out at St Andrews. Reclaim the Night is an important show of solidarity with survivors of these crimes but also a way of showing how strongly we stand against these issues”.

The statistics affirm the vulnerability of marginalised genders. A recent YouGov survey carried out by UN Women UK found that 97 per cent of those who identify as women have experienced sexual harassment. Additionally, according to Stonewall, a YouGov poll found that one in five LGBT people have experienced a hate crime because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

FemSoc “hope to highlight how safety at night is not only a problem that impacts cisgender women — people of all marginalised genders are at risk, and we find it extremely important to reflect on this fact”.

Indeed, “Representation. Intersectionality. Inclusivity” are the three headings in FemSoc’s Instagram bio. Sophia expanded on the theme of intersectionality this year.

“By collaborating with other gender, sexuality, and human-rights based societies, we would like to create a more intersectional discussion around reclaiming the night”.

The Saint also spoke with Jack Travers, Editor-in-Chief of The Gay Saint, about the importance of Reclaim the Night.

“Reclaim the Night is a key part of making St Andrews the accessible and inclusive town we all want it to be. I think we’ve all had experiences on a night out or when walking home when we’ve felt uncomfortable or been unable to be ourselves for fear of what someone else might do. We should be able to be unapologetically and unashamedly ourselves, and this is something the LGBTQ+ community often has to toe the line on”.

“Saints LGBT+ is getting involved with Reclaim the Night to champion the need for safe queer spaces across town, where people can feel safe to be themselves and enjoy their night out”.

The Reclaim the Night march in St Andrews forms just one part of a weeklong set of events. On Tuesday 22, FemSoc held a discussion on how intersectionality must be brought to the forefront of reclaiming spaces. Wednesday saw people gather outside the Union to mark places where those affected by gender-based violence feel safe in St Andrews. FemSoc stayed outside the Union into the evening, chatting to Sinners attendees about how those affected can support each other on nights out.

On Thursday, FemSoc will be joined by Amnesty International St Andrews as students make signs in advance of the march. This will be a drop-in event from 4:30pm to 6pm. The march will then begin at the Union, accompanied by speeches.

FemSoc will host a concluding creative evening at 7pm on Sunday 27 November at BrewCo. Students are encouraged to offer their insights through the mediums of art, poetry and visual storytelling.

Both FemSoc and Saints LGBT+ expressed the importance of students getting involved with events such as Reclaim the Night. Both groups, however, also emphasised that supporting marginalised groups is something which can and should be done year-round.

Jack said, “We put on Queer Nights, our LGBTQ+ club nights, as well as events such as Let’s Get Quizzical, Drag Walk, and Glitterball. We’d really encourage people to support these events so we can continue to provide spaces for our community to be unapologetically queer”.

Sophia echoed these sentiments, encouraging students to come along to more of FemSoc’s events.

“We would love to see students at the march, but also at any of our events this week. We also run discussion nights, book clubs, social events, and other forms of feminist expression all academic year which I would really encourage all students to attend if they are interested in discussing gender issues or just learning more about feminism”.

These forms of feminist expression have indeed been diverse. Events so far have included Knit and Natter to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month; a Book Club meeting to discuss Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis; and a Halloween discussion group surrounding the intersection of misogyny and witch trials, and how the image of the witch is still prevalent in society today.

The momentum will continue after Reclaim the Night; FemSoc has further goals for this year. In line with their theme of intersectionality, the society wishes to expand on the discussion.

Sophia remarked, “We are a society that has always greatly benefited from communication with the student body. The key goal of feminism is liberation for all people from the patriarchy and I think by hearing from diverse voices throughout town, we can help ensure our society and our feminist practice is best able to reach and resonate with as many people as possible”.

Image: Lauren McAndrew

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