Meet Sisters Uncut, The UK’s Most Disruptive Feminist Activists

Sisters Uncut, who chant catchy slogans and dance to Rihanna and Beyoncé at their protests are the UK’s most exciting, media-savvy, direct action group. Comprising cis, trans, non-binary and all other self-identifying women, the Sisters fight for the rights for survivors of domestic abuse. The name “Sisters Uncut” is a nod to UK Uncut, who oppose austerity cuts by successive Conservative-led governments. However, the Sisters have eclipsed UK Uncut in notoriety, and consider cuts as “policies [that] have unequivocally increased the risk faced by victims of domestic violence.” As women lose financial freedom, they are more likely to remain in violent or abusive relationships.

As the Sisters' chant of “Back up, back up/We want freedom, freedom/ all these sexist racist cuts/ We don’t need ‘em, need ‘em,” explains, intersectionality is key to the group and their “feministo” states that: “we understand that a woman’s individual experience of violence is affected by race, class, disability, sexuality and immigration status,” and their “safer spaces policy” requests that, in meetings, everyone is to be mindful that some Sisters are survivors of domestic abuse.

The statistics the Sisters work with are grim. Two women a week are killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member, yet services provided for survivors of domestic abuse are depleting. At least 34 specialist refuge centres have closed since 2010. One out of three women in London in the past 18 months attempting to flee a violent partner have been turned away due to cuts in refuge resources.

A “die in” at the Suffragette premiere brought the Sisters international headlines; by lying on the red carpet of the Meryl Streep film, they brought a story, set 100 years previously, into the here and now. Romola Garai, who acted in the film, said: “I'm happy to see the suffrage movement is alive and happening”. And Helena Bonham Carter thought it was: “fantastic! … I think this is exactly what our film is about. It's about if you've got something that you feel passionately about and feel that there's an injustice being done, to protest and to be heard.” Carey Mulligan said the protest was “awesome” and expressed sorrow that she missed it.

Luckily for Mulligan and countless British women the Sisters’ work continues. As well as attending anti-austerity, anti-racism and pro-immigration marches and protests, the Sisters have launched more stunts. To coincide with the then-Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement, the Sisters dyed Trafalgar Square’s iconic fountains red to symbolise the blood of those slain in incidents of domestic abuse. They also held a die-in outside the Mayor of London’s office on Sadiq Khan’s first day in the role, calling for him to commit to being a feminist and ringfence funding for domestic violence services cut by his predecessor, Boris Johnson. The Sisters also seek freedom for women imprisoned at Yarl’s Wood, an immigration detention centre where detainees have alleged abuse at the hands of guards and six allegations of sexual abuse of detainees are currently being investigated. The Sisters let off smoke flares in a multitude of colours outside the detention centre in Bedfordshire to draw attention to the issue. A spokeswoman said: “Yarl’s Wood is an embodiment of racist, sexist state violence against women.”

Protests have occurred nationally, from Doncaster to Portsmouth, where the Sisters protested against cuts to domestic abuse services. In a Portsmouth council meeting, the Sisters released 4,745 pieces of confetti, to symbolise each incident of domestic abuse reported to the police in Portsmouth in 2014. When a Sister was arrested, a spokeswoman remarked: “It’s outrageous that throwing confetti is considered to be a crime, yet decimating life-saving domestic violence support services is not. The councillors who want to make these cuts are the real criminals here.”

The Sisters have recently staged their longest stunts yet; week-long occupations of premises in Peckham and Homerton - two of London’s most rapidly gentrifying areas - to “fight for homes free from violence.” The issue is that “a scarcity of secure, social housing and deep cuts to refuge funding means survivors are regularly turned away or housed in unsafe temporary accommodation or hostels.” According to the Sisters, one in eight people presenting as homeless when applying for council housing cite domestic violence as a direct reason for their circumstances. It’s yet to be seen if the council will meet the Sisters’ demands (including a request to fill 1,047 empty council homes and refuse to implement the government’s Housing Act)/ In the meantime, the women are providing tangible and practical help to local women and their families. The occupied buildings are a safe refuge for survivors of domestic abuse, and the Sisters donate food and supplies, in addition to hosting workshops in employability and writing and of course, Sisters Uncut meetings.

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Photo Credit: Sisters Uncut; Eve Hartley