Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sisters Uncut Stage Die-In Outside City Hall On Sadiq Khan’s First Day

Sisters Uncut Stage Die-In Outside City Hall On Sadiq Khan’s First Day

The Debrief: The very same feminist protest group who staged a die-in at the premiere of Suffragette and dyed the fountains of Trafalgar Square red - to represent blood - have staged a protest outside City Hall on Sadiq Khan’s first day as Mayor of London

Photo by Jade Jackman

Over 100 members of Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group concerned with cuts to women’s domestic violence services, congregated next to City Hall. Some staged a die-in, others held aloft a banner saying ‘2/3 turned away’ and others held a banner saying ‘SADIQ, WHAT WILL YOU DO?’ Flowers were laid to mourn the deaths of dozens of London women killed by domestic violence. Their names were read out one by one and a two minutes’ silence was held. In the pouring rain, the activists lay on the sodden ground, chanting ‘Sadiq Sadiq, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when we come for you?’ and ‘All these sexist racist cuts, we don’t need them, need them’ while fellow activists, tourists, City Hall’s office workers leaving for the day and bemused-looking security guards (City Hall is on privately owned property) looked on.

It might seem hasty for Sisters to protest on the first day of Sadiq’s administration (the guy didn’t even take a briefcase into work today and spent ten minutes on the phone to David Cameron, like a new schoolboy getting a stern induction from the headmaster), but Sadiq symbolises two huge firsts for London. As well as being London’s first Muslim mayor, he is London’s first feminist mayor. And while he’s said he wants to be a ‘mayor for all Londoners’ and will take ‘a zero tolerance approach to violence against women’, the Sisters are urging him to ‘intervene immediately to secure funding for services in the capital’. 

It’s not enough for Sadiq to stop further cuts to women’s services, the Sisters say, because at present, lack of resources caused by cut budgets means two out of three women trying to get to a refuge when escaping a violent partner are being turned away. This means 3,000 women have been turned away from refuges in 18 months, according to statistics obtained by the Women’s Aid.

Speeches at the protest were also given by a representative from Southall Black Sisters, a specialist domestic violence service and Women's Aid. Raising fists and placards in the air, the group of feminist activists left flowers for the women killed by domestic violence outside City Hall's doors, before dancing to MIA's Bad Girls and Rihanna's Work.

As the crowds dispersed, and the various security guards unfurled their brows, The Debrief spoke to some Sisters about their hopes for Sadiq’s response to their calls to action. 

Jammy, 25

Do you think Sadiq will respond to the Sisters’ calls for action?

We feel very hopeful, he’s gone into office saying he’s a feminist, that he understands what it is to be a person at the bottom who needs access to the services we’re talking about. We hope he’ll tie the two together and see the lifesaving services that women need.

Are you pleased that it’s Sadiq inside City Hall today and not Zac Goldsmith?

We don’t hope for anyone in particular but we do know that Sadiq has knowledge of housing and benefits that we need for these women, we’re feeling positive

Sisters Uncut speak out for minorities specifically. Can you explain why that’s important to you? 

Women’s services are often all lumped together and people making cuts don’t understand the different needs of women and how not attending to them can make the threat of violence more present. We want specific needs to be addressed by specialist services for every woman, including BME women, trans sisters. Some don’t have good English, or recourse to public funds, they’re not able to go to their politicians so we’re being those voices.

This area we’re standing on right now is privatised, the security guards had a legal right to remove you, but they didn’t. Have security always responded like this?

We’ve had a variety of responses. Sometimes we’ve caused bigger problems in public places than in private places. I hope they can see that what we were doing was non violent and non threatening and that’s why they chose to leave us there.

Florence, 26

Do you think Sadiq will respond to today?

I hope so! He’s said he’s a feminist but that needs to carry it on in office

Are you happy that it’s Sadiq in here and not Zac Goldsmith?

Yes, 100%. The Conservative party have brought in so many cuts that are detrimental to BME women, disabled women, migrants, people who are in desperate need of support so I didn’t want the Conservatives to get into City Hall. But at the same time, the Labour government have done their share of messed up things. 

How important is it to you to be here as a disabled Sister today?

Ken Livingstone did great things to make public transport accessible to disabled people, and under the Labour government, there was the Independent Living Fund. It helped disabled women to live independently and it meant you weren’t reliant on carers or family and friends to help you out, which extends to mean you wouldn’t be relying on the perpetrator should you be in a domestic violence situation. The Conservatives cut the ILF, so disabled women have to have institutionalised care where abuse can happen, or they can become dependent on their perpetrator. I’m hoping that having a Labour mayor will help in some way.

Janelle, 24

Do you think Sadiq is going to respond?

He said he’s a feminist and if he’s a feminist he’ll respond

What do you think feminism means to him?

I don’t know what it means to him but to us it means ending violence against women and ultimately in London that means fully funded domestic violence services that can help women escape daily torture. 

Speakers today have said that cuts disproportionately affect BME women, can you expand on that?

Across the UK, BME women’s services, because they tend to be the smallest ones, can be hit the hardest. They rely on money from councils but council budgets have been slashed and they’re in an awful position where there are completely decimated services. Ultimately what we have is councils auctioning off women’s lives to the lowest bidder to save costs.

Are you pleased it’s Sadiq in here today and not Zac?

All we care about today is ending cuts to domestic violence services

The Debrief has contacted the mayor’s office for response. 

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Tags: Politics