To exist is to resist: Million Women Rise

March 11th 2017 will mark the tenth anniversary of Million Women Rise's annual procession and rally to call an end to all forms of male violence against all women. It is more important than ever this year to show our resistance.

Sabrina Qureshi
10 December 2016

November 2002

It was cold and dark, but the voices of the women lit the way as they roared, “Reclaim the night!”… the sea of women marching in central London in the streets that I had walked as a young woman when I lived in a hostel up the road … the irony … the shops and restaurants that I had so often walked past without money in my pocket. Here I was on this march … a woman in an orange jacket approached me … this is a women only march. Yes I know I replied, smiling at her to reassure her I was in the right place … she repeats It’s women only…. yes, I say, I know …. she double checks me … I can see she is still unsure. I am aware that there not many Black women on this womens march… but I persevere. I’m here because I believe the streets are not safe, that women are being beaten every day in their homes, being raped and objectified here in the UK and across the world.

As we reach the rally point I feel the fire of the outrage, anger and power of women. The rousing speeches spoke to the injustice I was feeling… the fight that we have on our hands and the power to bring about redemption. I also could see I was a lone woman here as a Pakistani Muslim Black Lesbian. Women looked at me with intrigue, suspicion, but I know who I am. I also know that Black women are at the heart of this revolution, we are the holders of the truth, we embody the truth and our blood is our truth.


I talk to everyone I can about a critical mass of women to end violence against women … I speak with the women I work with, to the woman at the bus stop. I speak to my friends and lovers, I speak to my family. I feel possessed, driven, I am sick of feeling as if patriarchy is thriving and women are blaming themselves for male violence in all its forms ... capitalism, white supremacy, sexism, RAPE. “It's just the way it is Sabrina!... there's nothing we can do … they just don't care.”

But we do and we are they.


Million Women Rise (MWR) organised its first annual march and celebration of International Women’s Day in central London. It can claim to have organised the biggest women-only march in the UK since the Suffragettes. At its heart are Black Lesbian Feminists, bringing together the most diverse group of women the UK feminist movement has seen, and in solidarity with women across the globe, calling for an end to male violence against women.

MWR provides a very specific activist space…one which is rooted in, and honours black women’s work, leadership, creativity, contributions. At a time when our voices are becoming increasing silenced by the State…at a time when women like me are compelled to self-censor (speak in an ‘acceptable’ way) in order to attempt to achieve policy shifts, MWR offers us space to speak our truths… from our hearts and bellies...without having to tone down our words. MWR creates space for connections between women and girls… a platform to raises our voices to use our bodies as sites of resistance… this is critical… as it’s also a reclamation of our bodies. Marai Larasi

We make it our business to engage with all women but particularly encourage, support and engage with Black women’s group and individuals to have an active role and have their voices heard. MWR is a movement, self-funded and autonomous.

I became a member of MWR on a personal level, having a drive and purpose to ensure that my voice as a survivor was heard and listened to, influencing change and impact whenever I am able to. On a professional level, being the voice of those women and girls who have not yet found their voices and being able to support them to do so. Michelle Springer Benjamin.

Our commitment underscores our work in enabling the women we work with to find their voices, and carrying the voices of women and girls who are unable to speak out yet. MWR rose to create and define our own space, on our terms, with our voices at the forefront, not as the token ticking white boxes of diversity. We are not an after-thought. To self-organise is the courage to believe in ourselves, to stand outside the constraints and systems that oppress us.


Million Women Rise. Photo: Frederick Rapier.


I don’t feel like writing anything … the world is such a hostile place... a man with a name like a fart has just been voted by people in the US  to be their president… I knew it was coming. Eleven days to the 25th November… International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. I hear Malala wants to be prime minister of Pakistan.

There will be nothing about violence against women this month. This new Fart President has been accused of many sexual assaults by women. No one believes the women. What message does this send to women - it doesn’t matter if you are a rapist as long as you are good at making money.

The Yazidi women are being raped in the name of Alla … it sickens me that these men are getting away with raping 8 year old girls. The violence in the Congo is increasing as the mining continues… women being macheted. A woman's arm has to be amputated after police blew it off at a peaceful protest in Dakota for protecting the water in sacred land from an oil pipeline company. Patriarchy and capitalism are out of control.

We rose in 2008 calling a million women to rise... I believed that a million women would come together, stop the traffic and the country in its tracks and say, we have had enough - the violence has to stop. Just like the way they stopped smoking in public places overnight.

We were ten thousand women, but we marched and rallied and sent a message to the women who stood on the pavements that this violence is not ok. Rape is not our fault because of something we said or wore or because we were selling sex for money. That him beating you because you woke him up without a cup of tea or his football team lost is not ok or acceptable. That him meeting you at work and checking what you have done today and how much money you have spent or the way he constantly tells you have put on weight and are fat and ugly and no one will put up with you is not ok. All I know is that black women the world over having been surviving and resisting the violent onslaught, some of us have died a thousand times over and we are still here existing and giving, challenging and healing.

Racism and sexism for us come hand in hand, and we have to draw the line. No more!

10 years and still rising

Saturday March 11th 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of Million Women Rise's annual procession and rally to call an end to all forms of male violence against all women.

With ever increasing hate and violence against women, and especially against black women, minority, ethnic and refugee women and women who do not fit the so called norms of patriarchy, it is more important than ever for women to show our resistance and raise our voices - it is only together we can resist and ultimately end this persecution of women.


Million Women Rise. Photo: Frederick Rapier

Let the rise of women and girls continue I hope we see you in London or organising sister marches where you live.

“One woman, One body, One song, One love”

Read more articles on openDemocracy in this year's 16 Days: Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Commissioning Editor: Liz Kelly

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