Feminist Conference Comes to London by Rosie Fitzgerald
Olwyn Foundation was delighted to support Women for Women International’s first ever feminist festival She Inspires Me Live.
The amazing team at Women for Women International assembled a dream team of feminists – from seasoned campaigners to up-and-coming young voices in the fight for gender equality. Speakers shared their personal experiences from the frontlines of fighting the patriarchy, the essential tools in their activist toolkit, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Speakers included: Amna Akhtar, Nimco Ali, Kelly Anna, Alison Baskerville, Munroe Bergdorf, David Brockway, Jane Cordell, Charlie Craggs, Emma Gannon, Amika George, Rahila Gupta, Lydia Ibrahim, Mariah Idrissi, Harnaam Kaur, Kiran Kaur, Anna Kessel, Basma Khalifa, Hannah Little, Catherine Mayer, Jennifer Nadel, Hannah Price, Sarah Raphael, June Sarpong, Brita Fernandez Schmidt and Jude Wanga.
A DAY OF INSPIRING TALKS AND HANDS-ON WORKSHOPS TO ENERGISE A NEW GENERATION OF FEMINIST CHANGE-MAKERS by Rosie Fitzgerald.
On Saturday, one of the hottest days of the year, instead of spending the day in the sun, 200 women from all over the country got up early and poured into Women for Women International’s #SheInspiresMe LIVE Feminist Festival. Why? Because for women, unlike men, feminism isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.
Our enthusiastic host, Shivonne Graham was greeted with a huge round of applause from the audience, setting the supportive, positive tone for the day. Shivonne promised us a ‘fabulous, fierce, feminist time’. And she certainly delivered just that.
The morning was packed with talks from inspiring, diverse women. Although from all different walks of life, the speakers shared the same common goal: To fight for a world where all women are equal. And all of them gave us useful ‘tools’ to use when tackling issues we are passionate about.
TV presenter June Sarpong encouraged us to embrace our differences as a strength. Journalist Catherine Mayer told us to ‘make people uncomfortable’. Sports Journalist, Anna Kessel persuaded us to find a safe space in sport. Rahila Gupta, a member of Southall Black Sisters, shared a moving story about her Grandmother, reinforcing Women for Women CEO Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s point that telling our stories is the most powerful tool we have.
More tools came from podcast host Emma Gannon who advised us to diversify our Twitter feed. Eighteen-year-old founder of the #FreePeriods campaign, Amika George, encouraged us to involve men in women's issues. Jane Cordell, a musician who became deaf, taught us to sign and believe the phrase ‘You make a difference’. Director of Daughters of Eve, Nimco Ali discussed FGM, urging us to write to our MPs to invest in women. And finally, writer Jude Wanga pointed out the importance of intersectionality, reminding us we can’t leave a single group of women behind if we want to achieve equality.
By lunchtime, we all felt passionate, positive and proactive. I also felt a sense of relief. While travelling to the festival, I was anxious the day wouldn’t be for me. That I would find the speakers intimidating and the level of conversation too intellectual for me to understand, let alone participate in. How wrong was I? All the staff, speakers and attendees were treated equally. No one was placed on a pedestal.
The honesty of every speaker, their willingness to show their weaknesses, and the round of supportive applause behind every story told, and every question asked made it a safe space for everyone. Everyone was welcome, and we all belonged there.
The afternoon consisted of breakout sessions, and I was delighted to be in the Digital Activism session, where transgender model Munroe Bergdorf, founder of the campaign Nail Transphobia Charlie Graggs, podcast host Emma Gannon, founder of Revolt Sexual Assault Hannah Price, and co-founder of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Hannah Little shared their best digital activism advice.
We were encouraged to ignore trolls, persuaded the internet is more positive than problematic, told creativity creates successful campaigns, urged to ask for help, and reminded of the importance of self-care. The panel not only shared their successes but opened up about the mistakes they’d made during their journeys. Perhaps most importantly, we were told every small step taken in activism is important. We don’t all want to be the face of a campaign and it was encouraging to know that tiny things we can all do daily, such as signing a petition or sharing a tweet, can make a huge difference.
The second workshop I attended was Engaging the Next Generation, which included the only male speaker, David Brockway from the Good Lad Initiative, founder of Femini Magazine Lydia Ibrahim, and Amna Akhtar and Kiran Kaur from GirlDreamer. This session’s keyword was relevance. GirlDreamer explained they engage with young girls by using digital content, by utilising their personal experiences to relate to and challenge millennials from disadvantaged backgrounds, and by running workshops young people care about, such as long boarding and self-defence classes. Similarly, David discussed the importance of using language relevant to teenage boys, and Lydia argued women deserve more than they’re given in the media, saying her magazine was successful because it was relevant to women around the world.
More was added to our toolkits such as courage, including both genders in the fight for equality, knowing it’s okay to be vulnerable, and whatever can be entrenched can be changed. I left this session knowing the biggest group of people to identify as feminists is 69% of females ages 13-18. No surprise then that the festival attendees were overwhelmingly female millennials and I thought of the next generation of feminists with positivity. Most of us are already engaged, and it is the young generation themselves that are encouraging their peers to join the fight for equality.
t the end of the event, the audience took the microphone, confidently sharing their thoughts on the day. Everything from creating campaigns that cross continents to challenging sexism within your own home had been covered and I believe the whole room of women, all at different stages in their journey, came away feeling more enthusiastic, fired up, and prepared than ever before to create positive change.
With the emphasis of the day being on inclusion, diversity, and intersectionality, I knew that I belonged in the room just as much as everyone else. Perhaps a shame then, that of the sold-out event, not one man had bought a ticket. If we are to truly achieve equality, then everyone, including men, needs to be a part of the conversation.
So for the next #SheInspiresME LIVE, let’s all bring our boyfriends, brothers, and fathers. Let’s diversify the room even further and educate them on women’s issues, and what it means to be a woman. And let’s not keep our newly-found feminist toolkits to ourselves but share those tools with the men around us so we can all unite in the fight for gender equality.
PHOTO CREDIT Steve Murigi / Women for Women International