A crowd of thousands booed in disapproval of Donald Trump, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Harvey Weinstein outside Downing Street yesterday, holding signs that read “Women Will Save the World” and “Pussy Grabs Back”. There for the London edition of the Time’s Up rally, which took place in several cities around the world this weekend, the protesters wanted to show their commitment to the fight for justice and equality, and declare “Time’s Up” on sexual harassment.
As MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, took to the stage around 11.30am, rain turned to heavy sleet but protesters held their ground. “We’re here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in America,” the politician announced, adding that “every day is international men’s day” and demanding equal representation for women in parliament and an end to the injustices women face globally, like FGM in Sierra Leone and rape in India.
Creasy’s speech would set the tone for the rally, one which claimed broad intentions. Although gender parity seemed to be top of the list of concerns – the event was organised by Women’s March London, and marked the anniversary of last year’s mammoth protest of the same name – speeches also covered topics like Islamophobia, transphobia and homophobia, as well as the refugee crisis.
Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, made a speech about how positive it was that men were finally being held accountable for their actions ahead of the forthcoming 100-year anniversary of women’s partial suffrage this February.
Refinery29 contributor Paris Lees took to the stage, admitting that she was nervous about addressing the crowd given a recent spike in transphobia. “I’m here for the same reason a lot of you are here: because we need each other,” she said, informing the crowd that the average life expectancy for trans women of colour is just 35 years.
Journalist and author Reni Eddo-Lodge was also among those to take to the stage, as well as Sophie Walker from the Women’s Equality Party and non-binary activist Maria Munir. The focus of all speeches was on intersectionality and inclusion. “Every woman counts. Every woman deserves to be safe. Every woman deserves to live her life without limit. And we leave no one behind,” said Lees.
This sentiment was shared by those who turned up to the rally. Fourteen-year-old Americans Michelle and Camilla explained that they were there as strong believers in equality for everyone. “That’s men, women, people of all races,” said Michelle, who heard about the event over social media.
“I’m moving back to America at the end of the year and I’m really not looking forward to living under Trump’s presidency; we really want to stand up to his bigotry,” Camilla explained, holding a sign that said “Anything you can do we can do bleeding.”
Arzu and Cindy, 22 and 23, both from Germany, had attended the rally because they’d found last year’s Women’s March so inspiring. “Obviously today is significantly smaller, this whole area was filled with people [last year], but I think it’s not really about the size, it’s that people decided to come,” said Arzu.
“It’s a shame about the weather. But I saw pictures from LA and New York, and it made me want to come back and feel the spirit,” Cindy added. “I’m so grateful that people showed up. It’s important to show solidarity.”
The event took its name from the #TimesUp campaign, launched by Hollywood stars in January in order to counter sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and stand with women who do not have a public platform. At the LA Time’s Up rally on Saturday, which had a reported turnout of around 600,000 people, actresses Natalie Portman, Viola Davis and Scarlett Johansson addressed the crowds, with Portman opening up about the sexism she faced in the movie industry from the age of just 13.
With an estimated 7,000 people in attendance – men, women, children and even a dog wearing a sign that read “Spaniels against sexism” – the London event was significantly smaller than those in the States, but the atmosphere was one of unabashed positivity. “I think when this many women get involved with something it’s an amazing energy,” said Twinks, a stylist from east London.
“Last year was so emotional,” she continued, “I was so overwhelmed by the women and how kind we all are to each other so when I found out about this I was like, ‘Fuck yeah I’m going!’ And I’m going to dress as a feminist, which is dressing exactly how I want to dress; you can’t tell me what to wear, how to act or what to say.”
When asked what changes they’d like to see in 2018, Arzu and Cindy explained that, for them, it was better legislation against sexual harassment and more solidarity from men on the issue. “I hope more men will get started on campaigning,” Arzu concluded.
Meanwhile Twinks called for better education on consent and more open conversations around assault: “I think we need to fully discuss how we feel as women, which is walking down the road and feeling fucking scared for your life or scared of being sexually assaulted in the workplace. We’ve been groomed over the years to think 'That’s the way it is my love' but it’s not! Pussy grabs back. I want sexual assault abolished.”
As for Equality Now, a charity which does legal work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women globally, concrete action beyond protests is crucial.
“Today, thousands braved London’s wintry weather to come together and send a clear message that enough is enough, but we need changes in policy and legislation that result in meaningful improvements on the ground,” said Jacqui Hunt, who is director of Equality Now's European office, which attended the protest as a group effort.
“There needs to be a shift in culture so that violence, abuse and discrimination against women and girls is never viewed as acceptable or inevitable. Enough is enough!"