As I my steady my hands on the metal barrier, I try to size up the massive security guard who has irritatingly placed himself right in front of me. Waiting anxiously for the signal, I try to decide what side I’ll go for. To his right or to his left? I feel like a footballer in a penalty shootout. Before I have time to settle on a decision, the horn goes and I’m scrambling with 14 others from Sisters Uncut onto the red carpet of the Suffragette premiere. Thirty seconds later I look over and see Helena Bonham-Carter, just 10 feet away, being interviewed about us. "Oh my God" I think, "we’ve done it".
On Wednesday night we successfully disrupted the film premiere with a die-in, to highlight the devastation that domestic violence cuts are making to the lives of women across the UK. Rather than protest the film as such, we wanted to use the publicity of the night to remind the world that the fight is far from over. Two women a week are dying at the hands of a current or former partner in the UK, and, after all, dead women can’t vote. We organise in the spirit of the Suffragettes themselves and feel certain that had they been alive today, they would have been down there with us. These were their tactics, and we feel proud and humble to be carrying the flame in the continued fight for liberation.
It wasn't our intention to protest the film itself, but we are by no means uncritical of it. While it's positive that the suffragette story is being told from the viewpoint of a working-class woman for once, the all-white cast erases the contribution and achievements of women of colour in the movement. Where was Sophie Duleep Singh and her Indian sisters, who led the Black Friday deputation to the Houses of Parliament in 1910? This protest ended in police violence and the death of two suffragettes, yet in the film we see no sign of the pivotal role women of colour played in it. What's more, Suffragette's promotional film shoot earlier this week included the slogan "I’d rather be a rebel than a slave". As many people pointed out, is this to suggest that being a slave is some sort of lifestyle choice?
I don’t point these things out to be churlish, but because as a woman of colour I know we have always fought against the double burden of sexist and racist oppression and have always been ignored in our fight. Thirty-two of the domestic violence services that have closed since 2010 were specialist services for BME women. Next month we will be fighting the next closure, supporting the specialist Asian women’s service Apna Haq in Rotherham who the council plans to axe. Women are hardest hit by austerity and women of colour harder still. In this context, true representation of our struggle and achievements is non-negotiable.
My final message is to potential sisters. Please join us! Sisters Uncut is made up of a diverse group of women, and many of us are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Our latest action was more successful than we could ever have imagined, but this is just the beginning. If we are going to succeed, we have to become a movement. Impossible as it may seem, I have every hope in the world that we will see the end of violence against women. The Suffragettes achieved the impossible. So can we.
To find out more about Sisters Uncut: https://www.facebook.com/sistersuncut
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