Why can’t I go out without getting harassed? 

There are many ways in which an article about violence against women and non-binary people on nights out could begin. I could list off the overwhelming statistics – that 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment, and that 96% don’t report it. Or that reports of sexual assault in clubs in the UK reached a six year high in 2022. Or that 1 in 9 women were spiked on a night out after Covid lockdowns were lifted.

Content Warning: Sexual Harassment and Gender Violence 

There are many ways in which an article about violence against women and non-binary people on nights out could begin. I could list off the overwhelming statistics – that 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment, and that 96% don’t report it. Or that reports of sexual assault in clubs in the UK reached a six year high in 2022. Or that 1 in 9 women were spiked on a night out after Covid lockdowns were lifted.

I could use one of the many personal experiences – the regular gropings at the bar and on the dance floor, or witnessing bystanding men try to take advantage of drunk women in the smoking area, or taking a friend home early after they’ve been traumatised from being harassed, spat at, choked, or cornered. But the problem is, that whilst all of this is absolutely disturbing and disgusting, I think for most of us it actually isn’t surprising at all. Six years on from the #MeToo movement, those who claim to ‘not know’ or deny the reality that every single woman has many of these stories to tell, and that perpetrators generally enjoy impunity from both social consequences and the law, have purposely not been listening. 

So here’s another experience: on Saturday the 4 of March, members of ROSA attended the International Women’s Day (IWD) rally in Belfast city centre, where we had a lively and bold bloc, protesting against gender violence and femicide; where we stood in solidarity with all who are affected by the rise in viral misogyny and transphobia, and we said: no more! Later when some of us went out to celebrate, it was cut short because of the rampant sexism that so many of us were subjected to. Keen to make sure that the perpetrators were removed from the premises to prevent any further issues, we immediately reported the multiple incidents which took place that night to the bouncers. Whilst the individuals were removed from the premise, the overall response from both staff members and other members of the public fell drastically short of adequate. Friends of the perpetrators were able to make snide jokes and comments on their way out, whilst the bouncers made no effort to ensure those who had been assaulted actually felt safe afterwards. Unfortunately this too is an experience that will be all too familiar for women and non-binary people: when you’ve built up the courage to report only to be sorely disappointed by the lack of urgency and seriousness afforded to dealing with these issues. 

The very jarring juxtaposition of spending the morning protesting for an end to men’s violence against women to then hours later be subjected to exactly that; misogynistic violence and harassment, was a brutal reminder of just how urgently we need to build a movement against all aspects of gender violence and sexism. It couldn’t have underlined the point more as to why IWD can’t just be a day of gestures celebrating women’s achievements and equality. Rather, now more than ever, we need to bring the day’s radical, socialist roots back to the fore, and use it as a platform to build a movement made up of all oppressed people and workers of all genders – because doing so is now quite literally a matter of staying safe and alive. 

This spike in attacks and men’s violence against women is incredibly overwhelming when viewed in isolation – because how do we fight it? Sexism and misogyny are rampant – but they are not innate or inevitable. A Socialist Feminist analysis understands that sexism doesn’t exist in some isolated space in the minds of men, but rather is a product of the capitalist system. In the ruthless pursuit of profit, it uniquely relies upon the oppression of women, using sexist stereotypical gender roles, the law, the state, as well as promoting the patriarchal family structure to ensure women remain exploited both in our personal lives and in the workplace. 

Capitalism also has a real vested interest in cutting across any real movement of solidarity which could threaten the status quo. That’s also why the rise of figures like Andrew Tate and the far right don’t exist in isolation. The way the internet has been weaponised by powerful multi-millionaires and corporations as part of a global backlash against feminist movements like #MeToo shows how deeply entrenched misogyny is in capitalist society. Well financed influencers like Andrew Tate have been propped up, with the algorithms purposely targeting young men. The consequences of his content have been terrifying. He has sought to normalise harmful sexist attitudes and violence against women, by pushing a dangerous narrative of toxic masculinity and what it takes to be successful. We’re already seeing this play out in daily life. A frightening growing trend for many young women today is the amount of times we will have had to push back on comments from long standing friends, family members, or colleagues repeating Tate’s messaging, referring to him as a role model for young men or seeking to merely write him off as ‘funny’. But there’s nothing funny at all about the reality of Tate’s content. 

So where do we go from here in terms of being able to go out without being harassed or hurt? 

We need to actively fight for better training of staff in public spaces, for better procedures to be put in place should someone notice or report an incident. These procedures are also about the safeguarding of staff. Often it is the case that workers feel they can’t treat these issues with the seriousness they deserve for a fear of being singled out from management. We need both staff and customers to feel safe and able to call out any inappropriate behaviour, and it be dealt with swiftly and meaningfully. That means having very strict codes of conduct and practice in place, including providing safe spaces in nightclubs and hospitality settings for people who require it. Employers must be made to take their duty of care seriously to ensure their staff are able to carry out their work and make it home safely. 

It also means fighting for a thorough transformation of our legal and judicial system, so that victims and survivors are no longer re-traumatised. But of course we need to go far beyond that – because we know that these institutions are not there to protect us. That’s why we need to fight gender violence at its root cause. This is connected to the fight against chronic budget cuts and privatisation of our essential services – and forcing governments and employers to pay both services and staff properly. It means fighting to protect our NHS, for decent housing, and proper pay so no one is ever left stuck in a situation of domestic violence because they have no safe way of leaving. We also crucially need to fight for consent based, LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education to be introduced into our schools immediately.

The only way in which we’re going to achieve any of this is by putting pressure on the government and bosses alike from below. Change has never come about because the establishment had a change of heart and decided to gift us our rights. It has only ever come about through ordinary, everyday, working-class people getting organised and engaging in struggle. Whether it be feminist movements like the NiUnaMenos strike wave across Latin America,  #MeToo, or the hundreds of thousands of people who came out to stand against gender violence in the aftermath of the murders of Brianna Ghey, Natalie McNaly, Aishling Murphy and Sarah Everard – it’s movements of solidarity like these which meaningfully challenge backwards attitudes and bring about change. 

But the struggle can’t end there. Whether it be from the political establishment, the courts and the law denying us our rights, or the daily sexism we are subjected to – this system has shown that it has nothing to offer us. So long as we live under a system where the very foundations of its existence are built upon the pillars of sexism, racism and exploitation – we won’t ever be done fighting. So we need to consciously, and urgently build a movement within our trade unions, our workplaces, our schools, and communities. Because not only on a personal level is there nothing more empowering than getting active and channelling our deeply felt anger into a movement which takes on these critical issues – but it’s also the only way we’re ever going to bring an end to the daily experience of misogyny and gender violence.

Next steps:

  • Get in touch with ROSA! ROSA is an international Socialist Feminist movement dedicated to building an anti-capitalist movement made up of working class and oppressed peoples. We are involved in numerous different campaigns both North and South in Ireland as well as internationally. You can reach us through our social media or online through the socialist party NI website. Also keep an eye out for regular updates on the work we’re doing!

Social media details:

Instagram: rosanorthernireland

Facebook: ROSA NI – Socialist Feminist movement 

  • April 1st will be a day of action against gender violence & sexual harassment.
  • Come along to our open discussion group on the 6th of April about the different campaigns we are launching.
  • ROSA will be having a day of action on May 12th on international nurses’ day. 
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