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Women Say at Speakers Corner on IWD

Updated: Feb 24, 2020


On International Women's Day (IWD) 2020, women from all over the country and beyond will head to Hyde Park in central London to the historic home of free speech and assembly, Speakers' Corner.


The tradition of free speech at this site goes back nearly 1,000 years. At the nearby Tyburn Tree, people were permitted a final speech before being executed, often in front of tens of thousands of spectators, and when the gallows moved, the tradition of political assembly and speech making remained in place. In 1866, when the government tried to suppress a meeting of the Reform League and locked the park's gates, demonstrators tore down the railings and rioted, and after years of social unrest, the 1872 Parks Regulation Act secured the right to meet and speak freely in Hyde Park.


From 1906-14 the Suffragettes held weekly meetings by the Reform Tree and on Women's Day in 1908 (on a different date to the present day IWD) 250,000 women marched for the right to vote. George Orwell is among many historic figures who have spoken here, calling it "one of the minor wonders of the world".


It is therefore interesting to note that, these days, political assembly is actually forbidden at Speakers' Corner, despite the gathering of mainly male eccentrics there every Sunday afternoon. The Royal Parks are all private land and, while they sometimes still permit political assembly in Hyde Park, they are never allowed at Speakers' Corner, which according to the Royal Parks guidelines "is an area that has specifically been set aside for INDIVIDUALS (my caps) to express their views and for others to respond."


Therefore, it is illegal to organise a meeting at Speakers Corner, and after discussions with officials of the Royal Parks and the police, we have made the meeting point for Women Say the paved area in front of Marble Arch, just outside the actual park, which is public land and the place where the police encourage demonstrations to take place, especially since problems in recent years between British Nationalists and Muslims.


On Sunday March 8th 2020, we will meet at Marble Arch at 12 noon and attendees can head as individuals to hear speeches on our own soapbox at Speakers' Corner or watch the speeches livestreamed on YouTube. Several women have already announced that they will be speaking, including lesbian feminist Julia Long, women's rights and free speech campaigner Posie Parker and Kara Dansky from the Women's Liberation Front (WoLF), all the way from the USA.


Another woman who has confirmed she will speak is Maria Maclachlan, the humanist celebrant who was physically assaulted by a young man at Speakers' Corner on 13/09/17. We are hoping that the debate has moved on since then and that trans-rights activists have realised that beating up and intimidating women isn't very helpful to their cause, and we will all be able to enjoy a safe and peaceful celebration of Women's Day and prove that women are free to assemble and speak in 2020. Nevertheless, we have discussed potential problems with the police and park officials and can reassure attendees that police are always present at Speakers' Corner on Sunday afternoons.


As all sound amplification is banned at Speakers Corner, we recommend that speeches are only a few minutes long and, to guarantee that your speech is heard, that you print it out for people to read while you speak. We look forward to a wide range of voices of women, young and old, with men welcome to listen and help us be heard.


If you haven't ordered a ticket via Event bright please take a couple of minutes to register here. The event is free but it's useful for us to have a rough idea how many women will be attending on the day.


Venice Allan


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