'Women are not safe': Hundreds march in London to protest violence against women

Hundreds of women have taken to the streets of central London to protest violence against women and girls.

Supporters of the Million Women Rise (MWR) collective walked through central London’s West End shopping district to Trafalgar Square on Saturday, claiming that the lack of action against male violence amounted to state inflicted or sanctioned abuse.

The group drummed, chanted and carried signs which said ‘together we can end male violence’ and ‘women are not the problem’ during the protest ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

Among them was Farah Naz, the aunt of murdered lawyer Zara Aleena, who told the crowd she is ‘always hopeful’ that a system which is ‘broken across the board’ and does not protect women can be changed.

The Million Women Rise collective claimed the lack of action against male violence amounted to state inflicted or sanctioned abuse

Failings in the probation service were among the issues which meant a known perpetrator was free to murder Ms Aleena.

Jordan McSweeney, 29, was handed a life sentence and jailed for at least 38 years after admitting sexually assaulting and murdering the 35-year-old law graduate in Ilford, east London, in June last year.

With her voice breaking, Ms Naz said: ‘Zara’s loss is society’s loss.’

‘Zara has brought me, my sister and my friends here but we are here for all women, all girls, to make a change and to make some meaning out of the tragedy that has happened to us.

‘We are in trauma but at the same time we are really heartened by the support in society of all sectors and leaders.

‘We are hopeful that things can change for other women and girls.’

She added: ‘The protest today is shining a light on the mistakes and on a system that is broken across the board.

The group marched from Oxford Street to Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday

‘We know from Zara’s case that probation made a series of mistakes, huge errors, that are so deeply painful for us as a family, and for us as a society to be aware of, because it means that women are not safe.’

The number of women who are murdered is a sign that something is wrong, she added.

Ms Naz said: ‘We already know that domestic violence leads to so many deaths and, that as it is not treated as any other form of violence, we have seen a lack of convictions which then releases men to murder women.

‘We know that probation has collapsed because of the privatisation that has happened and has then led to a system that is broken and has not been attended to.

The group was spurred into action by the justice system’s failure to help vulnerable women

‘We know that reviews have been written from when other people have been murdered and the recommendations have not been followed up.

‘We know that government leaders have failed us.

‘We know that the systems have failed us but there are also people working to change that.’

Danyal Hussein was jailed for a minimum of 35 years after murdering sisters Nicole Smallman, 27, and Bibaa Henry, 46, in 2020.

Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis, a pair of Met Police constables who took photos of the murdered sisters and shared the images on WhatsApp groups, were later jailed.

In a video message of support, Mina Smallman, the mother of the sisters, told the marchers: ‘We have so much important work to do.

‘The slogan I would like us all to adopt is that “it’s time”. We have had enough talk. We have had enough rhetoric. Now we are demanding that those in power put girls and women’s safety at the forefront.’

MWR also noted that serial rapist David Carrick kept his job as a Metropolitan Police officer despite multiple reports against him, allowing him to commit a string of offences over almost 20 years.

The disgraced 48-year-old PC, who was described as a ‘monster’ and ‘evil’ by some of his dozen victims, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 32 years after carrying out a ‘catalogue of violent and brutal’ sex attacks between 2003 and 2020.

The news comes after London mayor Sadiq Khan wrote to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman this week calling for ‘radical reform’ to the police dismissal process.

He said the crimes committed by Carrick and fellow Met Officer Wayne Couzens, who murdered Sarah Everard, showed the system was ‘not fit for purpose’ and called for serving officers found committing a ‘serious offence’ to be automatically fired.

The Home Office dismissed Mr Khan’s proposals as an attempt to ‘to cover up for years of failure.’