VIA Sisters Uncut

sisters-uncut-yarls-wood-protest-credit-levi-lawrence

On Wednesday 27th April, feminist direct action group, Sisters Uncut, will be staging a demonstration outside Western Europe’s largest women’s prison—Holloway Prison— the prison where Sarah Reed tragically died in January this year. The event is part of the “Women and Trans* Week of Action Against the Prison Industrial Complex” called by the Empty Cages Collective, with the aim of raising awareness of the violence suffered by women and trans people incarcerated and detained in the UK..

The organisers expect over 300 people to assemble outside the prison from 6pm. Sisters Uncut will then be hosting a workshop exploring the links between state and domestic violence, followed by a series of rallying speeches and a loud and visually creative protest to show solidarity with those inside and to commemorate the 77 women who have died in prisons in the last 10 years1.

Like so many other black and working class women, Sarah Reed faced violence and racism when she most needed care and support.  Sarah was beaten up by the Metropolitan Police, failed by mental health services, and denied access to vital medication whilst in prison for a crime of protecting herself against sexual assault. She was found dead in her cell in January this year. Sarah’s story is not an isolated case: last year Vicky Thompson, a transgender woman who was jailed in an all-male prison, committed suicide in her cell aged just 21.  The prison system is not only transphobic but forms part of a wider pattern of racist, sexist state violence against women.

Prisons are a dangerous and inhumane response to the social problems women face; black people are disproportionately criminalised2, and as the death of Sarah Reed showed, violence against black women is built into the very fabric of our institutions. 46% of women in prison are survivors of domestic violence and 53% of women in prisons experienced abuse as children3. The vast majority, 81%, have been imprisoned for non-violent offences4. It is therefore no surprise that incarcerated women who have experienced these and often other well- known precursors to mental distress, such as poor housing and racism, are 5 times more likely to have a mental health issue than those outside. In fact, despite making up only 5% of the population, women in prison account for 28% of self-harm incidents5.

These women need care and support, but the government has instead chosen to push ahead with its destructive policy to build 9 mega prisons by 20206. Sisters Uncut believe that the prison system should be dismantled and the money reinvested into services that can help people live the full lives they are entitled to, such as refuges, social housing, healthcare, welfare and community support projects.

Sisters Uncut recognises that violence against women is not only perpetrated by intimate partners and family members. It is also perpetrated by a government which enacts state violence against women both in its cuts of the domestic violence support sector and in its oppressive and marginalising housing, immigration and welfare policies which prevent women from living safely.

We will continue to take action to expose the violent institutional oppression in our police, prisons and mental health services: which are shaped by racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist  and class-based oppression.

We cannot fight violence against women unless we fight the state structures that create, enable and perpetuate it. Prison is not a solution to injustice, it represents injustice and state violence against women.

“it is our duty to fight for our freedom/it is our duty to win/we must love and support one another/we have nothing to lose but our chains” – Assata Shakur

Note: The action is open to all women, non-binary, transgender, transsexual, genderqueer and gender variant people.

Quotes

Cherry Haywell, a sector worker who will be attending the march said “‘I am attending this action in solidarity with all the black women who have suffered, and are suffering, all manner of injustice in the so-called ‘justice’ system. We need authorities to know that they can’t get away with treating black women in this way. Black lives matter and the lives of all women matter.”

Zainab Khan, a member of Sisters Uncut said “We can’t fight violence against women unless we fight state violence – simple. Violence against women, especially black women and working class women, is structurally built into our prisons, police and mental health services. Enough is enough – we need to take action!”