She is just five years old. She was among thousands of men, women and children of all ages marching through the streets of Sydney last Sunday calling for women’s equality and an end to gender violence.
The highlight of the march was the demand that the streets be made safe for women following the murder of an international student in Melbourne a few days earlier. They chanted “What do we want? Safe streets. When do we want them? Now.”
Having come to Melbourne under an exchange program, university student 21-year old Aiia Maasarwe was attacked when she was on her way home from a night out at a comedy club. She was midway through the exchange. Her body was found behind a ledge outside a nearby shopping centre about 100 metres from the tram stop where she would possibly have got down. Police took into custody a 20-year old youth and charged him with rape and murder.
An estimated crowd of around 3,000 gathered at Hyde Park in Sydney where indigenous leaders, survivors of domestic violence and women’s rights activists addressed the gathering before marching to another park.
Author and sexual assault survivor Bri Lee said Maassarwe’s death reminded her of how difficult it was to provide strategies to combat such incidents when you were just focused on surviving. “It’s so, so hard to keep an olive branch in the palm of your hand when you need your keys between your fingers,” she said.
TV presenter and campaigner Yumi Styles said Australia’s culture of violence against women was a crisis. “It’s rooted in a widespread cultural acceptance that the values, the roles and the rights of women are lesser than those of men,” she said.
“Women have the right to be safe. To claim our space, to be respected and to have our voices heard,” she added.
The Sydney march was part of the global rallies held on 20 January organised by the ‘Women’s March’ born in the United States following the election of President Donald Trump. It is aimed at drawing attention to, and protest violence against women.
According to ‘Destroy the Joint’, an Australian group that researches and records the number of women killed by violence, 69 women died due to violence in Australia in 2018.
The ‘Women’s March’ is calling on the Australian government to address gender-based violence and to continue working towards equality for women. This year rallies were held in Australian capital cities where thousands participated.
The mission of Women’s March states: “To harness the power of everyone present to change the culture of violence against women for the next generation.
Australia’s culture of violence against women is a crisis. It is rooted in a widespread cultural acceptance that the values, roles and rights of women are lesser than those of men. It is time to change this culture so that the next generation of women can live their lives to their fullest potential: free from intimidation, harassment and violence. Women have the right to be safe, be respected and have their voices heard.”