Written by Abi Symons

In The News

“Austerity makes it harder for women to flee abusive situations”

Sisters Uncut recently made the news with their protest at the film premiere of Suffragette. In advance of today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Abi Symons spoke to Janelle, a representative Sister, about the growing movement.

Sisters Uncut members protest at the Suffragette premiere. All photos: Sisters Uncut.

Sisters Uncut members protest at the Suffragette premiere. All photos: Sisters Uncut.

What is the purpose of your organisation?

We are a diverse, feminist collective, made up of self-identifying women. We oppose austerity measures impacting domestic violence services. Essentially we’re feminists who believe any woman fleeing domestic violence should be supported by the state. You can read more in our Feministo (https://sistersuncut.wordpress.com/feministo/), but our number one key message is this: austerity makes it harder for women to flee abusive situations and live safely.

Why is that?

The more services that close the more women will die. November 25 is the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women [and girls]. Ironically on the same day George Osborne will be publishing his spending review.

We anticipate the announcement of further austerity measures. They’re expected to come in the form of cuts to local authority budgets, mental health services, housing benefits… all the usual places you’d expect to see them. These add to the problem and if you look at the bigger picture they make it much harder for women who rely on these services to flee their abusive or violent situations.

Sisters Uncut member with a megaphone.How did Sisters Uncut form?

A number of us are domestic violence support workers – we were incredibly stressed on a personal level when Government cuts hit our services. Fewer women can access the lines of support and safety that they’re trying to reach. It was actually a very pragmatic start. We are all incredibly passionate about all women’s rights to a safe life. Now we have a huge number of domestic violence survivors and we are constantly growing.

Are you funded or is it entirely volunteer-led?

We are completely grassroots and although there is a PayPal link to send financial support, we are not a registered charity. We are individuals taking to the streets and we organise together. Of course we want our voices to be heard but most of all we want our demands to be met. They’re very basic demands – for women to be able to live safely, and if they can’t do that, then we demand they have the funded support they need from the government to be able to live a safe, unthreatened life.

Have you come under any legal or media fire or do you feel supported by the media and public?

Considering we’re made up of minorities, a mass movement of self-defining women and non-binary people, we actually feel largely supported by the public and media.

Of course when we act we sometimes disrupt people’s days. When you take direct action it is very disruptive. It’s meant to be. But women are dying and if anyone has issues with our tactic, then maybe they need to take a step back and rather than be frustrated with us, maybe they need to direct their frustration at the fact that two women a week are dying due to domestic violence.

A shorter way of saying it is: yes, our actions are disruptive but you know what? Murder is disruptive. There isn’t anything more disruptive than that.

Protester holding a 'Dead Women Can't Vote' posterI understand there’s a policy that doesn’t allow men to attend meetings or be part of protests. Can you explain how you came to decide that?

Sisters Uncut is a consensus-run organisation – we had an extensive and careful discussion about the inclusion of men in our activities. We came to the decision collectively that as well as protecting services from cuts, our priority has to be creating a safe space for domestic violence survivors. These are the people we’re fighting for. It is essential that they’re at the heart, front and centre of the group.

We felt it’s not necessary to have men there. Actually, excluding men has created a much more interesting media picture too. You see a lot of photos of men and we’re putting a new, female face on civil disobedience. It’s incredibly empowering to take to the streets solely as women. And in our meetings, it’s reassuring and empowering to access a space where you’re not going to be dominated, interrupted or humiliated by a man. That’s so often what happens to women in other spheres of life.

“Yes, our actions are disruptive but you know what? Murder is disruptive. There isn’t anything more disruptive than that.”

What if men want to support the cause?

Although men are not welcome physically at our actions (to ensure the women who have survived domestic violence and abuse feel safe and comfortable) we totally welcome their online support. We urge men to share articles about us, give money if they want to financially contribute, spread the message, tell their mothers and sisters and other females in their lives. We encourage and ask you to use your voices and platforms so our voice can be heard and our message shared.

Are you just London based or are you countrywide?

Sisters Uncut is growing faster than we could ever have imagined. We have regional Sisters groups starting up all over the country. Part of what we’re doing now is putting sisters in touch with each other who live in the same town. We encourage any sister to start her own group and we’ll send a toolkit to help. The more sisters who join, the stronger the movement will become.

What’s in the toolkit?

All you need to know about setting up a sisters group, from running and facilitating a meeting and correct consensus processes to planning a direct action.

How do you see the future of the movement panning out?

Sisters will only going to continue to grow and get stronger until our demands are met. We won’t stop until women’s rights are addressed by the Government and funded appropriately.

Sisters Uncut marching against evictions.

Sisters Uncut marching against evictions.

What will you do if you achieve the aims of the organisation and obtain the funding required for the support services? Will you keep meeting and turn the momentum to something else?

Austerity is state-inflicted violence towards women. Our goal is to end austerity measures that impact support for domestic violence victims. The much bigger problem of course is domestic violence itself and its prevalence in the UK. We will carry on focusing on eliminating that – the root cause.

The best way to keep women safe is to stop domestic violence altogether. We will never stop fighting for that.

Any upcoming events?

We are staging a mass memorial on Saturday 28 November. It will be a visually beautiful funeral procession through London to commemorate the loss of women’s lives and the domestic violence services that could have and should have helped them. We are meeting at 12.30pm in Soho Square.

• On average, two women a week die because of domestic violence in the UK. This statistic is obtained from the Office of National Statistics 2015 Homicide index (http://bit.ly/1BNXig1) and backed up by the Femicide Census led by Women’s Aid.

• One in two disabled women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. There is very little support available for these women because the abuser is frequently the carer. This makes it incredibly difficult for the survivor to reach out for help.

• One in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. You can view the full infographic here: http://bit.ly/1HvwLxQ

• One call is made every minute to the police reporting domestic violence in the UK.

If you or someone you know might be experiencing domestic violence, Sisters Uncut have provided the numbers of charities and support lines on their help page here: https://sistersuncut.wordpress.com/need-help/

If you want to give financial support to Sisters Uncut and the work they are doing you can do so here: http://bit.ly/1jgF1Gs

Sisters Uncut also have a Facebook page where you can find out about upcoming meetings, events and activities: https://www.facebook.com/sistersuncut/?fref=ts

@klutzface1

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Written by Abi Symons

Abi Symons is a writer, feminist and klutz. She’s handy with a pen and paper but not to be trusted near expensive objects. www.klutzface.com/blog