'Together we can bring the walls down!'

Claire Cain
Tuesday, 16 June 2015

On a sunny Saturday earlier this month hundreds travelled to a remote wheat field in Bedfordshire to gather outside Yarl's Wood Immigration Detention Centre and demand its closure.

As with any protest the purpose was to make some noise – to draw people's gaze to a little known injustice happening on our doorstep, and pressurise those in power to take a different course of action. Taking the protest to the door was also a very moving act of solidarity with the women held inside. We communicated through the walls to let them know they are not alone, not forgotten, and in turn they took hold of the protest and led it from inside. We formed a powerful collective of voices that acknowledged and chanted that 'together we can bring the walls down!'

This spirit, energy and togetherness could provide inspiration for another fight, one that is challenging a different set of walls - the failings and injustices for women affected by the criminal justice system.

That was the aim of our Justice Matters for Women: Time for Action! conference held by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and Women in Prison on 20 May 2015. We wanted to learn from and be inspired by other campaigns and movements. We wanted to motivate and kick start our own collective action to challenge criminal justice failure and promote social justice alternatives that tackle the root causes of harm for women.

Too many women are locked up in our prisons. Too many women whose lives have been marked by violence, poverty, sexual abuse, neglect and addiction. Women that have already been failed countless times by our unequal society are failed once more due to a persistent belief that prison is a just response.

Most of you reading this and those that attended our conference will already agree with and be involved in this fight. The knowledge, experience and passion in the room at our conference was evidence of this but the point is with that as our foundation we have the potential to be an effective, unstoppable, powerful movement for change.

But there is more work to be done to harness that power: we need to organise, we need to come together more and act on the fact that our strength is in our collective voice and actions. We need to not be afraid to make some noise together and direct it at those that have not yet had their eyes opened to the reality of our criminal justice system. The bigger the movement the better, the louder the noise the better.

As the human rights activist Betty Makoni said at our Conference we must 'exploit our freedom' – in Zimbabwe where Betty began her fight it is illegal to protest but she continued defiantly and was arrested many times having to ultimately flee her home. In the UK many of us have the freedom to challenge the status quo and take those in power to task. It is our duty to fight against all injustice for women in our communities and that means taking every opportunity to act.

To that end if you believe in our call to action then join with us. Our next event is that Justice Matters for Women is marching at the End Austerity Now Demonstration in London on the 20 June.

We are marching for women at the sharp end of austerity and inequality, we are marching in solidarity with women affected by the criminal justice system and we are marching against cuts and closures of vital support services for women in our communities. We want an investment and commitment to social justice not criminal justice.

Please join us on Saturday – exploit your freedom – make some noise – and together we can bring the walls down!

Register your details to attend the protest via the Women in Prison website

Empower. Resist. Transform.

Claire Cain is Policy and Campaigns Manager at Women in Prison