Two weeks on from the International day to End Violence Against Women, the Womanchester Feminist Collective were making their presence felt in the centre of Manchester on Saturday.
Strung up around the bronze statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in the corner of St Peter’s Square were rows of love-hearts.
Brightly coloured and bobbing in the breeze, there were 108 in total, some hand stitched, some made from metal and glass, each one individually hand-made, and each one representing one of the 108 women killed by a man in the UK in 2022.
The accompanying flyers read: “We create these hearts to honour and remember the women whose lives were cut short by men.
“We acknowledge the pain they suffered – pain that their loved ones will always bear.”
Volunteers stood in the rain handing out flyers to the shoppers, students, families and football fans passing by on the busy afternoon. Many stopped in their tracks to take a closer look at the eye-catching display and ask questions, often falling silent upon learning what the hearts represented.
The memorial was organised by the Womanchester collective to mark the International Day to End Violence against Women on November 25, as well as the ensuing 16 Days of Activism against Sex-based Violence.
Among the volunteers was Gemma Aitchison, a feminist speaker who founded her own campaign group Yes Matters UK in 2013 after her sister Sasha was tragically murdered.
“When it comes to charity fundraising and stuff like that, women get less than cats,” Aitchison said.
“We’re way at the bottom of the pile, it’s like [violence against women] is just accepted, so we’ve got to fundraise.”
The hearts will be auctioned to the public – called “homing a heart” – and all proceeds and donations will then be split between Trafford Domestic Abuse Services and the Femicide Census, run by Karen Ingala Smith, which documents the names and stories of women killed by men in the UK every year since 2012.
The hearts themselves were made by volunteers all over the region as part of the group’s #HeartsForMurderedWomen campaign, which has been running since 2019 and has raised approximately £7400 for women’s organisations since then. Last year, the campaign raised £1200 for each.
It is a cyclical process where volunteers can get involved in raising money for womens’ services – but for Aitchison, the hearts are more than just a fundraising tool.
“These hearts are for taking time to think of the women while you’re making them, because their lives mattered, and mattered enough for us to do something about it,” she said.
Aitchison believes one of the biggest barriers to change is defensiveness.
“Whenever we talk about violence against women and girls, immediately [we hear] it’s not all men, getting defensive about it… you can’t solve a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it,” she said.
“It’s not about saying that it’s all men, it’s about saying it’s not OK that these women are being killed, let’s do something about it. We can’t seem to quite get over that defensive hump.”
The volunteers in the square also cited We Are Survivors, an organisation supporting male victims of sexual abuse and rape across Greater Manchester. The charity marked the International Day to End Violence Against Women with posts across their social media.
1 in 3 women have been subjected to violence at least once in their lifetime. It's one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. If you or someone you know needs support, this list of services is a great place to start: https://t.co/i5g61Mpih0#WeAreSurvivors pic.twitter.com/RYpaRmw82d— We Are Survivors. (@ThisIsSurvivors) November 25, 2023
The hearts will be available to purchase via Womanchester’s social media early next year.
Image Credit: Mancunian Matters