Anti-austerity women shut down a London street

Acitivist group Sisters Uncut stopped traffic in Southwark Street in protest against cuts to vital domestic violence services.

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Ahead of Thursday’s election, a group of women have closed down a street in Southwark, London in protest against austerity.

Sisters Uncut are a women-only group who take direct action for domestic violence services. “We want to draw attention to the fact the last government cut services by over 30 per cent,” says organiser Lisa Strange, “and we think the next will do the same.”

In response, the group organised a march of several hundred women in central London with banners reading austerity kills and not one more dead woman”. The protest began with a commemoration of women murdered by their partners or families in which the names of the dead were read outside City Hall. (On average, two women in the UK are killed by a current or former male partner each week.)

The group then moved in down to Southwark Street, where they created a roadblock outside the London council offices. As I arrive a chant starts up: the women united will never be divided.

Women protest in Southwark Street. Photo: courtesy Sisters Uncut.

The council, Lisa explains, have cut vital services – especially those supporting BME women and young children. 

“Women are bearing the brunt of austerity,” she says, “and some women are bearing the brunt worse than others.” Thirty-two specialist refuges have been closed between 2010 and 2014.

As well as setting off smoke flares in the suffragette colours of purple and green, the women occupied the roof of the council offices and dropped a banner bearing the legend “they cut, we bleed”.

The women's banner at the top of the council building. Photo: courtesy Sisters Uncut.

“Women aren’t being represented by mainstream political parties,” Lisa tells me. The action by Sisters Uncut today is about reminding people that women can take up political space. “It’s a symbolic thing: women supporting each other to take spaces and take to the streets.”

Joanna, a survivor of domestic abuse who attended the protest, says “I genuinely believe that without a domestic violence support worker I would be dead . . . I’m protesting because everyone should be allowed access and support from people who understand.”

Sisters Uncut is an intersectional group open to all who identify as women. Tomorrow they will be outside the US embassy at 6pm in solidarity with anti-police violence protesters in Baltimore.

The national domestic violence helpline offers help and support on 0808 2000 247.

Members of the LGBT communities can also access tailored support from Broken Rainbow on 0800 9995428.

Stephanie Boland is head of digital at Prospect. She tweets at @stephanieboland.