Million Women Rise Thousands join the march through the streets of London

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The Independent Online

If the theme was oppression, the mood was anything but. Whistles, songs, chants and cheers drowned out the regular din of a Saturday lunchtime on Oxford Street as thousands of women rejoiced in their collective – if temporary – power. Men on the pavement watched open-mouthed, unsure what to make of the colourful spectacle of yesterday's Million Women Rise march in London.

Monique Stretton could have told them. The 21-year-old from Leicester says that, for her, turning up was all about showing any of the three million women who experience violence every year in the UK they are not alone. "Hopefully, people who need help and who walk past will realise there is support out there and make that phone call," she says.

All along the route from Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, people are transfixed by the display of female solidarity. Camera phones flash as passers-by capture the moment. Bizarrely, it's mainly men who are taking pictures. "It's always the men," says Amy White, 24. "They take them while clutching on to their girlfriends."

Marchers like Amy and Monique embody the latest wave of women who are standing up for their rights, specifically in this instance not to be abused. They are young and passionate about their cause. "It's events like this that make people realise there is a feminist movement. It's celebratory, not angry," Amy adds.

For Sabrina Qureshi, who started the marches three years ago, the events are about raising awareness of violence against women. "I'd just had enough. A young woman I used to work with saw a man attack a woman in the street and she felt really powerless to do anything. So we decided to march to increase our visibility and to show that there is a way forward, a shared vision of a world without violence."

Qureshi adds they are helping to empower a whole new generation. "My three-year-old niece, who has been on all three marches, now calls herself a 'super she-ro feminist'." What she made of the event is not clear but four-year-old Zayna, who came with her mum, Syreeta Loney, was definitely impressed. "It's very big." Which, one hopes, sums up the impact it will have had.

Susie Mesure