I write this entry, on the train home, back to the sunny hills of Hebden Bridge, after attending the Feminism In London conference this weekend, in London. I’m almost too tired to write. And then I think about all the amazing, inspirational, fearless, fighting, and tired women, and I suddenly get my act together....
Where to start, Well early on a Saturday morning, a group, actually not a group, a SWARM of wonderful women sat in a room together. We listened to wonderful opening speeches, welcoming us to the event, gearing us up, getting us excited and I think letting us allow ourselves to get excited. The first keynote speaker was Shami Chakrabarti, a human rights activist, lawyer, and all round incredible woman, a woman who left me with one of my new all time sections from a poem…
Rise like lions after slumber,
In unvanqueshiable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – They are few…
A sentiment I needed to hear at exactly the right time. I think a part of me had been asleep a bit, or tired, or lost, or waiting. This woke me up, made me sit up and realize that I can contribute, and want to do what is asked of me, and there are a room full of women that aren’t asleep, and wont sleep, or rest until we have what we deserve. After Shami came Sophie Walker, the head of the Women’s Equality party, a party that I, and I hope more will join. Who’s policies unapologetically and with urgency address the absolute need for equal rights for women to be put the in absolute forefront of our governments agenda. By this point, after hearing just the opening speeches, I had already teared up three times, hurt my hands from clapping and was mentally noting as many thousand things as I could remember and this was all before 10.30 am. After the first speakers, we were all let lose on the conference to digest as many discussions and debacles we could fit into one day. What I also found myself doing was tearing up my previous choices for the subjects I was planning to attend, and decided to pick subjects that I perhaps hadn’t picked because I didn’t feel comfortable, as perhaps I realized I hadn’t noticed that maybe I myself wasn’t addressing my own challenges outside my ‘world’ of feminism. The first talk I attended was “Equality & Austerity, A contradiction in terms” an incredibly interesting discussion about how in the current political climate, measures to change Austerity is politically targeted at sectors that mostly affect women, or the reprocussions of applying cuts to those sectors, as a result will hugely affect women, in Tax cuts/pensions etc. I learnt about how capitalist companies owe a huge responsibility to the conforms of keeping women in lower paid brackets, or paying them less for the same or more work, I learnt how in Greece, they are paying for Austerity in blood. People are dying because they can’t get the care and support they needed from jobs that have suffered huge cuts and that women in Greece are paid 78% less than men. And I learnt just how much needs to be done during this time of political change to keep women at the forefront, and to not just allow liberal male thinking to still ultimately implement no change under the blanket of ‘Austerity’. I know…You wish you were there.
The next discussion that I went to was “Women, Peace % Security UN Security council resolution 1325”. I know some of you may be looking at the title of that discussions and thinking HUH?! Well so was I, which is exactly why I went. In this discussion, there was a panel of women from all kinds of international organisations, representing the safety and legislative protection in place for women to maintain their security. Unfortunately I learned that that safety is failing us, failing the women internationally who are still subjacated to rape being used as a war weapon, who are being tortured. Who are committing suicide or being murdered to escape the trauma around them, and who, when they return are still at risk of being rejected by their families and having no community or family to go back to. Mostly in this discussion, really I learned to wake up. I learned that this atrocious violence against women is essentially ignored by parties of men in ruling government, that DO NOT DO ENOUGH to support and implement steps to support international organizations and countries. I was horrified to hear some of the atrocities that some of these women still continue to go through, but mesmerized by the wonderful speakers and the incredible and passionate work they do to support these women, thanks to Lydia Stone, Abigail Hunt, Rothna Begum and Farhana Qazi for making me wake up and smell the coffee.
The next session I went to and arguably the most heated, was ‘Male Allies. Men, Sexism and Patriarchy” with Alan O’Neil. It began by all the men being sat together, and then congratulated for starting the ‘Men’s movement!’ a pun I did enjoy… lets just hope it continues. As a writer of an inclusive blog, I recognize the want and need for all genders to be involved with tackling women’s rights. What I learned in this discussion, is also a need to understand that not all feminists want that, and that’s also fine. It was uncomfortable, and difficult and heated, and also may I add not just at men, there was also tension between females, as I myself encountered, speaking up to a woman sat behind me who made a negative comment, and then at the end explaining myself, because above all things I do not want to alienate my fellow woman, but that is something that came out in moments in this discussion. I want men to be involved. But I don’t want to hold their hand. I want them to take responsibility for themselves, for a system they have slept through, and wake up and fight for their Mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriend, wives rights, and in turn for the rights of women internationally. It is however a discussion that I hope doesn’t end. There are some feminists that will march with men, and some without, it is our right to choose our fight. At the end of the first day I was tired, elated, enraged, excited, and was already figuring out what actions I was going to take and the campaigns I was going to be involved in. Evrything written down in notebook, it was a quick sleep and then up again for day two….
Day two opened with two amazing speakers, Bianca Jagger from the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, who campaigns for Human Rights, as well as massive environmental issues. An amazing woman, and a reminder of how international issues have huge affects on women and the world we live in. The next speaker was Max Dashu, about the History of Women, and how huge parts of womens importance has been neglected from history. In this beautiful presentation, I gained hope from the past, sometimes it can seem like having balance is a far and distant dream, and then you realize that human beings have already done it, we just got really fucking lost along the way, and now its time to find our way back. Again, leaving the first talks elated and engaged, it was onto the timetable. The first session I attended was with the wonderful Emma Rees, author of VAGINA. In this discussion named ‘vulvanomics’ we learnt about the historical hiding, of the female lady parts… down there…down under… why people can’t just say VAGINA or speak secpfically about the parts of the female genitalia without being coy or sexualized. We came to the conclusion that perhaps we’ve gone too far with Cunt, a crying shame as most of us do love that word… but, what are the alternatives, V? Yoni? Emma was a wonderful speaker, and I think for those of us that are continuing to try and think of words we should keep this alive on twitter! The next session I went to was chaired by Young Feminists London, on ‘street harrassment’, again another very difficult one for me. For me in this discussion it seemed the gravitas of street harassment had been slightly lifted. Although I think its great to encourage women to ‘fight back!’ we have to accept that not all women are able to do that. By that I don’t mean physically, I mean that some of them may live in areas where it is not safe for them to do so. I don’t think this makes them ‘victims’ it makes them smart. An interesting panel, but I did leave thinking that perhaps some of the more serious aspects were swept under the rug.
The last and final discussion I attended was ‘Campaign for Change’. An amazing panel of wonderful women from the #smashtheripper campaign, a petition set up to close the Jack The Ripper museum (Sign here) , Couting Dead women, Let Toys Be Toys, Yes Matters, and Annie Sugier discussing the importance of women’s equality in sports. All of these inspiring campaigners spoke with detail, passion, and motivation behind all of their work. I cried, I laughed, I clapped, I stood, I listened, I learned, and I left feeling able to start my own. It was the perfect last session to a wonderful weekend, Leaving feeling as though we all have the right, and the ability to create action, to make change, to stand up and be carried by a room full of women who are with you.
This weekend, I can honestly say was one of the best I’ve ever had. Sometimes with the movement you can feel lost. You can feel like your not doing enough, you can feel like you’re on your own on an island screaming at the rest of the world to listen. What I learned above all this weekend is that I’m not alone. We are in this together, we listen, we learn, we change, we write, we remember, we create action, and we create change. We are together.
I leave you with my tweet I made on the train pulling out of London:
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, Rage, Rage.
Until we get equal Fucking rights.