Photo: Rosy and her friend Esther at the Manchester event. Credit: Rosy Candlin.

By Rosy Candlin

Organised just a week in advance by local woman Jen Langton, the Women’s March on Manchester, one of over 600 sister marches to the main Women’s March on Washington DC , took place on 20th January to show solidarity with women across the globe. 

The sister marches were predominantly in the US, but it was truly a global movement.  In their unity there was an understanding that women in each city, country, and continent faced inequality in a myriad of ways. In Dublin Ireland, many people marched for access to reproductive health services and the legalisation of abortion. In Jos, Nigeria, where women have higher rates of illiteracy than men, leading to employment and economic inequality, women marched for their own rights to education and employment. In Manchester, care work by women is undervalued and often unpaid, and
women marched for their work to be recognised and the pay gap closed.

The evening before the Manchester march, I had thrown myself into sign making sprawled out on the floor of a friend’s living room painting ‘WE WILL RISE’ in bright red onto my sign. My friend’s sign read ‘VULVA LA REVOLUTION’ and I combated my envy of her wit by adding glitter to my Maya Angelou quote. I had also wanted to draw an angry womb, but I didn’t have the room or the artistic ability, so I kept adding the glitter.

Though thousands of people were planning on descending on London to March for equality, hundreds more responded to Langton’s Facebook invitation to do the same in Manchester. Manchester has historically strong links with feminist activism, being both the home of the Suffrage movement and the Pankhursts, so the upcoming march felt fitting.

On the day itself, I woke up feeling ready to get radical and shout loud with other likeminded people. I wanted my mum to come, so that we could share in this moment of female solidarity, but she said she felt a cold coming on and would give it a miss. I left the house, having mentally disowned my mother, and went to join what turned out to be hundreds of cheering and excited demonstrators in Albert Square.

Drummers played music as the crowd gathered together, showing one another their signs and chatting about what a contentious time this was for women’s rights. Lots of people asked to take photos of my friends sign and as I seethed with envy I noticed that the crowd had almost tripled in size. We had taken over the whole of Albert Square! The crowd was mainly women, but there were also a surprising number of young children, most brandishing audacious feminist signs that said things like ‘WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS’ and ‘GIRLS RULE.’

When the music stopped the crowd looked to the statue of Prince Albert, waiting to hear who the speaker would be. It was Hayley, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, from Coronation Street. From moment she stood on the monument, microphone in hand, the crowd was cheering and whistling. She spoke of unity and strength that could come from this freshly ignited women’s movement and reflected on Manchester’s historic role in fighting for women’s rights.  Hesmondhalgh was followed by a woman from Kenya who spoke to remind us that women’s rights do not stand alone, and that
racism is still alive in our city today. Poems were read and we all cheered throughout, when something rang particularly true. However, we stayed silent as a little girl, aged 10, stood up to the microphone to let us know that all people, no matter what their skin colour, or with what income they earn, deserve equality. The children were clearly driving this event.

The event ended with a short march past Manchester Art Museum, where Suffragettes rioted almost 100 years ago. It felt like the march was in tune with the globe, showing a unified face of activism for women’s rights, but most of all it felt in tune with Manchester’s relationship with women’s rights. I think the message we made was clear; we won’t stand for gender inequality here in Manchester, we never have, and we’re not about to start now.

Rosy is a campaigner based in Manchester. She runs Every Month which aims to make menstrual products accessible to all people experiencing poverty in the UK.

Oxfam works to put women’s rights at the heart of everything we do. Find out more. 

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