Women & Walking
Women and walking. The two seem to go hand in hand. It’s something we’ve done since, well, way before cars were invented.
History is peppered with examples of women walking as a show of solidarity when there’s a crisis to deal with or a cause to stand up for.
Whether it’s to raise awareness of the plight of disadvantaged women; to raise money for women’s health; to attempt to restore peace and humanity…
Read on for a few examples of why women walk.
Reclaim the Night Marches
About 30 years ago a group of women in Belgium banded together, lit candles and marched to protest the ways in which violence permeates the lives of women worldwide. This event, in 1976, became the first of many “Reclaim the Night” marches. It was soon followed by marches in Rome as a reaction to rape statistics, and in Ipswich in response to the murders of five prostitutes.
The following year women in West Germany united on the pavements demanding the right to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault.
Other such gatherings included a United States “Take Back the Night” march by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media. “Reclaim the Night” has grown from a widely publicised event, taking place in major cities to an event happening internationally from large metropolitan areas to small college campuses, with all participants advocating for the right of everyone to feel safe from violence. The marches are also held in New Zealand.
Interestingly, an International organisation named Marching for White Ribbon exists for men keen to end violence against women.
Women Walk Home
A passionate belief in the right to live peacefully without military intervention is the driving force behind “Women Walk Home”.
“Women Walk Home” is a non-party political initiative conceived by a group of Greek women living in Cyprus, and pursued with the support of aware women from the United States and Europe.
The goal is the reunification of the divided island republic of Cyprus and the peaceful coexistence of Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus. Back in 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus. As a result, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, which until then had been living alongside each other throughout the island, were forced into an artificial segregation across a military line (the Green Line) that still divides Cyprus in two. Today this infamous military line – maintained by 35,000 Turkish troops – divides Cyprus east to west and separates the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
In 1975, 1987 and 1989 women under the “Women Walk Home” banner braved United Nations and Turkish troops in attempting to cross the Line. Theirs is a determined, but peaceful, resistance to the division of Cyprus.
The aim of “Women Walk Home” is one of hope for the future of a reunited Cyprus.
Dame Whina Cooper
Dame Whina Cooper’s name is synonymous with the Maori Land March of 1975.
Mention this historic New Zealand march to those old enough to remember and the picture most likely to spring to mind is one of a wizened yet inspiring old woman leading the way.
Dame Whina led her march from Te Hapua in the Far North to parliament in Wellington to dramatise Maori determination to retain their land and culture and to galvanise Maori and Pakeha support.
At 80 years of age she led about 5000 marchers into parliament grounds on October 13, 1975. She presented a memorial of rights from 200 Maori elders and a petition supporting the objectives of the march signed by 60,000 people to the then Prime Minister, Bill Rowling.
Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders witnessed the march on the roads or on television.
The march was described not only as a tribute to Whina’s energy and mana but also as “a potent symbol of the Maori cultural renaissance” which gathered momentum in the years that followed.
Dame Whina became known as the Mother of the Nation, was made a DBE in 1981 and a member of the Order of New Zealand in 1991.
At the opening of the 14th Commonwealth Games in Auckland in January 1990 she delivered the message (which she often repeated in the last years of her life): “Let us all remember that the Treaty was signed so that we could all live as one nation in Aotearoa”.
Photo courtesy of NZ Herald, 1975
The simple act of walking is achieving great things for the cystic fibrosis cause.
Ten of thousands of people throughout the United States take Great Strides each year to show their commitment to “adding tomorrows every day” to the lives of those with cystic fibrosis.
“Great Strides” has become one of the country’s most effective and efficient fundraising efforts. Since the first “Great Strides” walk in 1989, more than $180 million has been raised to support the vital research and care programmes of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The fund-raising goal for 2008 is to reach $40 million.
March for Babies
More than half a million babies are born prematurely in the USA every year. So, during the last weekend in April, nearly half a million walkers in more than 1000 communities throughout the United States participate in a fundraising walk, ‘March for Babies.’
This highly popular walking event was created as a fundraiser to support the national voluntary health agency, March of Dimes.
The March of Dimes champions the needs of mothers and babies and supports lifesaving research, education, services and advocacy to help babies get a healthy start. Their mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing premature birth, birth defects, and other causes of infant death and disability. Participating walkers can be individuals, family teams or company teams.
Dame Susan Steps Out for Muscular Dystrophy
Back on October 20th, 1988 Susan Devoy took her first step on a very long journey in support of New Zealand’s Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was a journey that took 42 days, covered 2200km, spanned the entire length of New Zealand and raised half a million dollars. Susan aired the idea of the fundraising walk when she was a guest speaker at a Muscular Dystrophy function. It was sparked by something similar she’d witnessed in the United Kingdom – former England test cricketer Ian Botham’s walk for leukemia. The idea was well received in New Zealand with many people joining in for sections of the walk – they walked about eight hours per day – or helping in various ways such as providing food or sponsorship. One of Susan’s friends joined her for the whole walk, as did members of the Hebbend family whom Susan met through her involvement with Muscular Dystrophy.
Susan became a patron of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and remains a keen supporter.
Breast Cancer fun runs / walks
Pink balloons, face paint, costumes, wigs and decorated bras do a mighty fine job of creating an atmosphere of celebration and girl power. This blinding flurry of pink, moving at speed, is full of fun yet carries with it the serious message of breast cancer awareness.
In Tauranga, women adorned in pink finery – and a few men too – gather each year for the city’s Breast Cancer fun run/walk, which covers a 4.5km course through central Tauranga. The entry fee is $5 with every cent going to the Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service.
Walking for breast cancer involves millions of women worldwide.
Other walks throughout the world supporting the Breast Cancer cause include the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Race for the Cure and the Revlon Run/Walk for Women’s Cancers.
Through walking, women have found an effective way to raise awareness and critical funds for research, counselling and outreach programmes related to breast cancer.
Relay for Life
Relay for Life is a celebration of remembrance, hope and thanks.
It’s a relay in which a huge amount of good is achieved for the cancer cause through the simple act of walking or running in relay-style.
Relay for Life events are generally 24 hours long and held throughout the world – including New Zealand where they are staged with great enthusiasm and support.
Among the relay’s challenges, festive atmosphere and camaraderie are poignant moments. There’s the dusk Candle Light Ceremony to honour survivors and remember those who have died from cancer; and the opening lap, which is dedicated to cancer survivors. A registration fee is charged per team member. Each team is encouraged to set its own fundraising goals and work towards achieving them.
UNIFEM, Spring Walk
Taking a walk in springtime doesn’t sound like such a tough thing to do. Hundreds of Australians have found a way to not only enjoy a springtime walk but, at the same time, make a global difference in supporting women and children around the world.
The UNIFEM Australia Spring Walk began in 2001 with the aim of encouraging individuals to host a walk supporting the work of The United Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). This organisation provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies that promote women’s human rights, political participation and economic security in more than 100 countries.
The rules are: individuals or groups are invited to walk or run 5km and donate $2 for each kilometre or make a $10 donation towards UNIFEM Australia.
The Spring Walks programme honours the fact that millions of women around the world walk 5km or more every day to fetch water and gather firewood.