Saturday 12 November saw hundreds of women converge in central London for the UK Feminista’s national conference –FEM11. The conference came at a pertinent time for women in the UK. The government has admitted it has a problem with winning women voters, after women’s organisations and activists noted that its cuts had disproportionately affected women and families. Concerns over healthcare, education, child benefits and legal aid have also all bubbled to the surface in recent months, and women’s activist groups and organisations have been at the forefront of pushing for measures that do not leave 51% of the UK’s population out in the cold.
All of which makes for a positively febrile atmosphere for a conference addressing issues on women and feminism. The Quakers Meeting House in Euston was packed with a diverse crowd of attendees, women (and men) from all different backgrounds brought together by an overriding concern that women’s issues were not being heard and that feminism is the tool to address it. A veritable who’s who of notable feminists were attending the event, from Sandi Toksvig to Samira Ahmed and Shami Chakrabarti, while the day was capped off with a London mayoral election debate between all the party candidates, with the exception of Boris Johnson, whose absence did not prevent a lively debate on issues ranging from rape crisis centres to women’s safety travelling in London.
WRC was there on the day to host a workshop on examining the landscape for women’s organisations in the UK and what attendees could do to support women’s organisations in their area. We provided an overview of the political, economic and social landscape for women and the organisations they support, and then discussed how the change in government, the economic crisis and shifting attitudes had impacted on the work undertaken by women’s organisations. Many women were keen to know more about the localism bill, about funding problems for women’s organisations and, encouragingly, what they could do to help.
The workshop discussed what could be done, from volunteering, to using social media, to mapping where organisations were (or weren’t) in different regions, to petitioning local government to provide more support. A lively 10 minute exercise on how to develop a campaign for women’s organisations produced some great ideas on how to help – from contacting local business networks to using universities to link in with women’s organisations. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and focused – and it was encouraging to see so many young women from schools and universities so keen to support their local women’s organisations.
Afterwards, a stroll around the different stalls and gathered groups revealed dozens of enthusiastic conversations about feminism, women, government, politics, social justice and, most crucially of all, the best methods of change. It is almost a cliché nowadays to write of these ‘days of austerity’, but the fact remains that our current situation is a challenging one. All the more important, therefore, that events such as FEM11 take place, and remain so popular. Feminism is the lever by which we can change the situation for women – and women’s organisations – in this country for the better. It was great to be part of a day where this is recognised and applauded.