Reclaim what? Discussion forum (2011)

In August 2011 WCHM—on behalf of the ACT Women’s Services Network—in conjunction with the ANU Women’s Collective hosted a discussion forum titled Reclaim What?

The Reclaim What? discussion forum was an opportunity for all members of the community interested in campaigning against sexual violence to come together and talk about the future. 2011 marked the 33rd anniversary of the Reclaim the Night rally in Canberra and yet, in May of that year, young women and men were captivated by the SlutWalk movement, taking to the street to demand the right to be safe from sexual violence irrespective of how they dress; to stamp out the myth that victims of sexual assault provoke their attackers; and to empower women to make choices about the ways they express their sexuality by re-appropriating the word ‘slut’. Why did young people take to the street for SlutWalk, when they often stay home for Reclaim? What was it about the language, the message or the moments that sparked the movements that appear to have mobilised two groups, in two different ways, for the same cause? Or was it the same cause?

Reclaim What? brought around 60 younger and older women, men, students, members of the ACT women’s sector, and interested members of the community together to discuss the answers to these questions. A major topic of discussion on the night was the ideological tensions between Reclaim the Night and SlutWalk—for example, Reclaim has traditionally been a women-only event, whereas SlutWalk has promoted itself as an event for everyone. Some audience members and panellists found these differences to be very significant; Veronica Wensing, manager of the ACT Office for Women and forum panellist, argued that there were good reasons for keeping Reclaim the Night a ‘women-only’ event, and expressed major reservations about reclaiming the word ‘slut’ as a term of empowerment. On the other hand, panellist and ANU student Courtney Sloane commented that the focus on differences between the movements was counter-productive, and distracted from the anti-sexual violence agenda that Reclaim and SlutWalk share.

Panel members included: Gaik Cheng Khoo (ANU Gender Studies lecturer), Veronica Wensing (Manager, ACT Office for Women), Tim Bavinton (Manager, Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT), Courtney Sloane (National Union of Students), and Colin Aslin (ANU Student).

An important outcome from the Reclaim What? forum was the consensus that it’s okay for anti-sexual violence campaigning to be varied, to take a number of different forms, and to deal with a number of different issues. Sexual violence is too broad an issue to be dealt with in a single annual protest, and campaigns need to keep adapting to changing social contexts if they’re going to succeed.