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WVoN goes to UK Feminista summer school

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Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

I was lucky enough to get a place for the free UK Feminista summer school, which took place last weekend (13-14 August) at the University of Birmingham.

The gist of the weekend has been well covered by the Guardian, so here are my own, more personal perceptions about the weekend.

Firstly it was heartening to see so many young women attending – in all there were 500 women (and some men) attending the two-day event. As I expected, everyone was friendly and had attended with a genuine spirit of enquiry.

For some, the event represented the chance to expand their existing knowledge:

“I got involved organising coaches for Million Women Rise in Manchester, so wanted to find out more about getting involved.”

“I have taken part in direct action recently due to the cuts and stuff and I wanted to integrate the two things.”

Whereas for others, it was the beginning of a journey for more information:

“It is only recently that I have considered myself as a feminist, it wasn’t really talked about in the house where I grew up, so I came along to get more information.”

“I have a ten year old daughter and am not happy about the sexualisation of women…wanted to find out more information about this so I can help her through her teens.”

“I want to empower women on my campus.”

Secondly was the content of the weekend, which opened with speeches setting out both the local and global issues that face women, contextualised within a call for feminists, of whatever persuasion to accept difference and work together.

After this, the provision of parallel sessions meant that we were all faced with some hard choices about which sessions NOT to go to!

I chose to see what psychology had to offer feminism and learnt that getting people involved with any cause had a much greater success rate if people were presented with a ‘negative’ rather than a ‘positive’.

So instead of presenting people with the statement ‘if you join us you can change the world for the better’, it is better to present an issue that would affect someone negatively on a personal basis.

A good example is: “Did you know that taxi drivers no longer have to undergo an enhanced CRB check and so sex offenders can now get taxi licences?” (This is true and will be the subject of another post).

I then went to the session led by writer Laurie Penny, who talked about how the media can help get messages across.

During this session I, and others, were quite astounded to hear from a young woman who stated that to join a university radio club, women were required to put up with some nipple tweaking from the male leader of the club.

She confirmed that she had complained to the Students’ Union and the University hierarchy and been told that nothing could be done.

This reminded me, sadly, that sexual harassment is still happening everywhere to young women and the ‘better put up with this, if I want to be in the gang’ mentality is alive and kicking.

It also highlighted that sexual harassment of women is still being routinely dismissed by those in authority. In essence though, this particular incident confirmed the need for this particular weekend.

Other sessions I attended dealt with the recent Arab Spring uprisings, women’s reproductive rights, building for International Women’s Day and resisting the sex industry.

The weekend ended with a session on ‘The Global Struggle: international feminist resistance’ which underlined both the need for a global context for women’s struggles and also for women all over the world to reach out to each other in solidarity.

Overall, the weekend was well organised, very informative and a great place to meet friendly like-minded women and men.  So thank you UK Feminista.  Good job.

UK Feminista are putting on and are collaborating with several forthcoming events; also there is a facility on their website to find local groups.  So what are you waiting for?  Get involved!

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