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women marching against violence Take Back the Night

September 25, 1998

Underneath the moon's bright light
In the city, in the country
All together, women take back the night.

Women participate in Take Back the Night Marches from coast to coast to coast in Canada in the fall. The marches are organized locally, but put together, they make a national statement about our collective vision, about our will to name and end violence against women and all the things in our society that contribute to such violence.

Andrea Dworkin, an American activist and author, said: "Women are often told to be extra careful and take precautions when going out at night. In some parts of the world, even today, women are not allowed out at night. So when women struggle for freedom, we must start at the beginning by fighting for freedom of movement, which we have not had and we do not have. We must recognize that freedom is a precondition for anything else. It comes before freedom of speech in importance because without it freedom of speech cannot exist."

In the city, in the country
No more silence
No more violence.

The story of these marches - why they began, how they began, how they are set-up and organized, what women in other countries do, what they have meant for personal action and social change-does not exist in one visible, accessible place. The need to do this reminds us that we must record our history and ensure that it becomes a visible, accessible part of the fabric of our country.

Not the church
Not the state
Women must control their fate!

Here's what we know:

  • The first march may have been held in Germany in response to a series of sexual assaults, rapes and murders
  • In 1976, women attending the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Belgium marched, holding candles to protest the ways in which violence permeates the lives of girls and women worldwide
  • By 1978, women were marching in Germany, the United States and Canada to symbolically reclaim the streets and to hear from each other
  • The slogan "Take Back the Night" was first used in San Franciso in 1978 as a theme for a night-time national protest march down that city's pornography strip of adult bookstores and pornographic theatres; it was part of the first anti-pornography conference in the US on November 4-5, 1978
  • 3,000 women marched, chanting and blocking traffic, and also listened to Andrea Dworkin speak
  • Vancouver also had a Take Back the Night March in 1978, organized by an ad hoc group known as the "Fly-by-Night" collective
  • Women wore witch-like costumes, walked through the streets of the West End, burned an anti-woman effigy on the beach and provided safety to each other by staying in groups
  • Vancouver and Toronto had marches in 1980, and by 1981, 6,000 women across Canada were participating in marches, as were women all around the world
  • The marches were and are symbolic - they have been women-only to underline that it is men who are responsible for violence against women and that women will not be passive and accept this but will take action together to change it

A world without fear
A world without pain
Taking back the streets is our aim.

You can add to this growing record.

Send us a Fe/Mail with the story of this march in your area, or post it on Chat. Share what you do and how it is organized as this may help others to put together their own "Fly-By-Night" group and to act. Keep a record and save samples of everything from your march - chant sheets, posters, flyers, T-shirts, buttons - and send them to the Canadian Women's Movement Archives (see Resources below for more details). Have fun and make change.

Hey, hey, ho ho
Patriarchy has to go!

resources for this story
  • Vancouver's Take Back the Night Marches have been organized by the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter since 1980. Click on Vancouver Rape Relief [rapereliefshelter.bc.ca] to learn about their work.
  • The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (Toronto) [metrac.org] hosts an annual city-wide Women's Safety Audit Night - people throughout the city are invited to come together in their own neighbourhoods to evaluate their sense of safety. Metrac urges women to host and participate in a women-only audit and to invite people to participate in a community audit - contact Metrac for a resource kit and training for participants by e-mailing safetyaudit@metrac.org or call the Co-ordinator at (416) 392-3137.
  • The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres [casac.ca] has contact information for women's centres and transition houses across Canada
  • Click here for more information on the Canadian Women's Movement Archives.
  • Laura Lederer, ed., Take Back the Night: Women on Pornography (Morrow, 1980), ISBN 0688087280 (pbk) and 0688087283. This book is an anthology based on the proceedings of the 1978 anti-pornography conference in San Francisco described above.
  • Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (The Dial Press, 1999), ISBN 0-385-31486-8. This book has a chapter entitled "The Pornography Wars", at p. 295.
  • Kinesis is a magazine published 10 times a year by the Vancouver Status of Women. Its November 1998 issue is slated to include an article on Take Back the Night in the November 1998 issue. Contact Kinesis at #309-877 E. Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 3Y1 for information on subscribing.

This feature was first published on section15.ca's predecessor site CoolWomen.

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