welcome to Feminism in London

In 2009 and 2010, I was part of the organising committee of Feminism in London. I welcomed attendees to the event in 2010. Proceedings in the main hall were streamed and you can watch it all here.

This is what I said;

Good morning everyone.  Welcome to Feminism in London.  I want to thank you all for coming here today.  I know women and men have come from Peterborough, Manchester, Bristol, Swansea, and Nottingham this morning.  In addition, everything that happens in this main hall is being broadcast on the internet.  We’ve heard from women in China and Iran who are tuning in.  Welcome.

We all know the reality.  We’re here because of the reality – because of the profoundly patriarchal world in which we live, and the ways in which patriarchy combines with racism, neo-colonialism and global capitalism to create a fundamentally unjust world in which, no matter where you are or who you are, life is not the same for women as it for men.

I came across a quote on twitter recently from a woman in Zambia on women’s representation: if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.

  • Women make up only 21% of our parliament and only 17% of our cabinet.
  • Women are bearing the brunt of the recession – and the cuts announced by the spending review this week.
  • Only 6% of reported rapes end in a conviction, with only an estimated 13% of women reporting rape to the police in the first place.
  • The idea that women ‘lie about rape’ is increasingly common.
  • Sexualisation was found to be a key influence on rising anxiety felt by young girls.
  • There are two men for every woman in our TV dramas.
  • Women are being paid 79% of men’s wages.
  • Their partners kill two women a week.
  • Worldwide, only 18 countries have women as elected leaders today – out of 192 nations.
  • Up to one billion women have been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Trafficking of women and girls was reported in 85% of conflict zones.
  • 82 million girls now aged 10 to 17 will be married before their 18th birthday.

Women’s poverty, female genital mutilation, sex selective abortions, forced marriage, dowry deaths… How can anyone say we’ve achieved gender equality –anywhere in the world? Women are definitely still on the menu.

However, things are changing.

  • Over 4,500 council workers in Birmingham won the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues earlier this year.
  • retailers this year have withdrawn Playboy pencil cases, padded bras and pole dancing kits from sale – due to protest.
  • Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime Bill was passed last November, shifting criminal liability onto men who pay for sex with someone subject to force.
  • Lap dancing clubs are now regulated as part of the sex, not leisure, industry.
  • Rape in war is now recognised as a war crime, crime against humanity and genocide – due to advocacy by activists.
  • Ten years ago this week, the Security Council called on countries to ensure increased representation of women at all decision making levels – due to the demands of women all around the world.

All of this is happening because of the feminist movement, the movement for human rights, for gender equity and justice, all over the world.

The aim of FiL is to inspire feminist activism.  For me, this is about putting on the glasses and seeing the world for what it really is – about people becoming feminists.  It’s also about the shift between people who think and see to people who act – from feminists to activists.

As well as providing a day where we think, discover and question, we hope to provide a means to connect as well.  We all know how difficult it is to be feminists – the stereotypes, the mockery, the ‘jokes.’  This is one day where we are all proud to be feminists; where everyone around you is a feminist (or at least thinking about it).  We’ve been wondering how it would look – over 1,000 of us in the same room.  Take a look around.  This is what our feminist movement looks like.

How many of you came to our first conference in 2008?  Hands up please.  Last year?  First time this year?  How many of you have taken feminist action – written a blogpost or letter, argued with a friend or colleague, stood up for a woman you saw being harassed,  gone on a protest?  We’re a pretty difficult bunch aren’t we?  And we’re going to continue arguing, protesting, writing… today, tomorrow, next year, fifty years from now.  We are a movement for real social change – it started centuries, millennia before us.  It will continue long after we are gone.

I want to end with something I picked up in Manchester a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not quite sure whether this will work.  Please do join in.  I’m going to say, ‘Tell me what a feminist looks like?’ and I would like you all to reply, ‘This is what a feminist looks like!’  Can we try that?

  • Tell me what a feminist looks like?
  • This is what a feminist looks like!
  • Tell me what a feminist sounds like?
  • This is what a feminist sounds like!

That’s the sound of 1,000 women and men together in the fight for justice, equity and equality; the sound of the feminist movement. We have a great programme lined up for you today – we hope it provides us all a space to enjoy, think, discuss, argue, reflect – and that today inspires us all, spurs us on, motivates us to act further.  Look at what we, as a movement achieved in the past year.  Look at what there is still left to achieve.  There is a lot to do – and we are doing it.

We can change reality.  We are changing reality.

Enjoy your Feminism in London.  Thank you.

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