Interview with Sisters Uncut: ISSUE 2 EXCERPT
Meet the radical all-womxn collective with a community-first approach fighting against domestic violence and austerity while campaigning for the rights of women and non-binary people.
Interview by Michele Maria Serrapica
This interview first appeared in THIIIRD’s print Issue II:Femme, which you can buy here. As quarantine is forcing most of us home 24/7, THIIIRD has teamed up with the UK QTIBIPOC Hardship Fund, which means we are donating 40% of proceeds from our magazines (Issues 1-3) sold through our website to their fund. So read on!
Domestic violence is one of the many issues affecting many women’s lives, even in a multicultural and cosmopolitan metropolis like London. When the Prime Minister [Theresa May at the time – from 2016 to 2019], a woman herself, doesn’t acknowledge the issues many women of the UK population are at risk to, women stand to fight for their own rights, creating a flag under which to gather. It might be possible that you haven’t heard of Sisters Uncut, but they are a group of women working to change the way we deal with domestic violence and social abuse of women. Writing a strong and direct “Feministo” the group states:
“We are Sisters Uncut. We stand united with all self-defining women, non-binary, agender and gender variant people who live under the threat of domestic violence, and those who experience violence in their daily lives. We stand against the life-threatening cuts to domestic violence services. We stand against austerity.”
Sisters Uncut insists on being female inclusive, run, and lead. Because of this, they have a no men (cis or identifying) policy for their meetings and demonstrations of direct action – leading sometimes to negative feedback and rumours that their gender policies can be ‘rigid’ and exclusionary. However, they insist:
“We are fully trans inclusive and open to anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary, agender and gender variant person.”
I may be a man, but the group has inspired in me a great deal of admiration. The work they have done has seen them rallying a movie premiere, occupying Holloway prison, and reclaiming abandoned spaces to give back to the community. Upon their acceptance of my request to be interviewed, I was curious to know more about their origins and the way they operate to fight against the marginalised agenda on tackling violence against women.
Michele Maria Serrapica: I think London is one of the hardest cities to build a network of contacts [in and] to create a group or a collective strong enough to be heard by someone else other than your neighbours. But you managed to do it properly, and on quite a big scale. Sisters Uncut was created by domestic violence survivors and sector workers, but was it a specific episode which brought you together or a general need?
Sisters Uncut: “I think the reason was sadly simple: there were too many episodes happening on a weekly basis. Moreover, the “group” was concerned about the impact of austerity. Since 2010, cuts have directly struck people surviving domestic violence and this, added to a non-perceived state of emergency, was dragging us backwards in a grotesque and quick way.
Our first action as Sisters Uncut was on February 2015 when, on Valentine’s Day, we stopped the traffic in Piccadilly Circus and started giving away flowers in commemoration of the victims. Since then, different other actions across the UK (the protest at the Suffragette premiere, reclaiming closed council houses, etc.) had spread the word, had shown what women are truly capable of when united, had inspired others to join us, helping our voice to be louder despite the government’s efforts to silence us. And that’s how we became what we are.”
MMS: It’s horrible but, where I’m from, [Italy], government help for domestic violence victims is a very recent thing, and in the South [of Italy] it’s even worse. In my city (a 4,000,000+ metropolitan city) there’s only one big centre that is able to offer housing, as far as I know. I thought the UK scenario would have been better, but, from what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem so.
SU: “Well, two women a week are killed, and 2/3 of the victims are turned away from refuges. These aren’t good numbers at all. Not just good, these numbers aren’t acceptable.
Domestic violence is a product of a society [which] doesn’t care about quality of life. Domestic violence doesn’t mean only physical violence, it can also mean control over finances or emotions, and those victims are even harder to find out because they are not able to look out for help, they won’t look for help because they know nobody is going to save them, they know the government turned its back on them years ago. Furthermore, fundings are getting slashed, and these cuts firstly impact disabled people, women of colour and immigrants – all situations in which victims find extra barriers (language, right to stay, etc.).
Sisters Uncut wants to be there for the most vulnerable, and that’s why we’re occupying empty social houses all over London [and] asking the government to convert them in something useful.”
“[T]he Safer Spaces Policy preserves our meetings. If something happens, we have a culture in which you can bring it up, we actively work to make sure our spaces are as much open as possible”
MMS: I read on your website that Sisters Uncut is made of many different groups which meet weekly, and that you encourage women and non-binary people to set up a SU collective in their local area. Since there is neither a hierarchy nor a leadership, how do you organise your next move? Is every group acting towards the same general goal or is each battle a local battle?
SU: “We are all in contact with each other. Our decisions are made through a process called consensus decision making, which gives every member of the group an equal say and tries to make sure everyone is happy with the action the group takes. Every decision is made within what Sisters Uncut is demanding, and meetings, which are sometimes local and some other times larger, involving more than one group, are preserved by our Safer Spaces Policy. We encourage all women and non-binary people to join us, our spaces are all inclusive.
Group-wise: long running groups or members help new groups to set up in the best way possible, in order to start focusing on local issues since different areas have different needs. Nobody works for anyone; everyone works with everyone else. We are sisters, that’s not just a name.”
MMS: What’s your way to check all the groups are inclusive of all the women?
SU: “As I said before, the Safer Spaces Policy preserves our meetings. If something happens, we have a culture in which you can bring it up, we actively work to make sure our spaces are as much open as possible. Sometimes people might even say something racist without realising it. We’ve got few smaller separate groups for sisters of colour as a matter of fact because, under austerity, BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) special services have been the first to be hit. When we have people of colour gathering together, we can hopefully have a better perspective, we can hopefully be heard.
We invite people to join our open meetings, we try meeting new people in person by attending local events, making sure people know there’s someone watching their back, and they can join us in order to help watching other people’s back. Thinking you’re alone, feeling like nobody cares about you, there’s no hope for you, you live suffering or you die, well, that’s the closest step to mental health issues or, sometimes, death. But it’s easy to avoid it, you just have to stretch your hand towards someone, tell them you’re here, in case they want, in case they need.”
MMS: Is direct action truly the only way? I read about it on your FAQs for the first time and it really fascinated me. It’s not a strike, it’s not a flash mob, it’s not violent, it’s literally a direct action-something that hits you straight away, without harming, but waking you up. What made you choose direct action, and what has been your best achievement so far?
SU: “It makes people take note, take a listen and it’s really powerful. It’s a way to make sure the issue gets heard. Since austerity, in the UK, there are so many problems to be concerned about, but women’s are often the first to be forgotten and direct action helps people stand up and notice what’s the reality and what’s happening.
Success is a very broad thing, making people aware of a problem is part of our success. We do a lot of work on the ground too anyway. Right now, the South-Eastern Sisters are working with the council in order to rehome people who suffered from domestic violence. But there are many other ways we can affect, we can leave our imprint. At the Deptford Pride, for example, we had a stall and loads of people stopped by, asking for info, willing to join or help in any way possible. It’s all about having a presence within the community, in order to show them they aren’t alone nor isolated, we’re there, right next to you, don’t despair, you will never be alone, we’re fighting for all of us.”
You can buy a copy of THIIIRD’s Issue II:Femme by clicking on the image below. We have pledged 40% of proceeds from the sales of our magazines (Issue 1-3) through our website to the UK QTIBIPOC Hardship Fund.