Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Think you know about issues affecting women today? Read on for a review of the Feminism In London Conference 2014

'I really like hardened milk but could we just not refer to it as cheese?' Yes I have said this, well not quite these words, but something very similar. I think my exact words were 'I am not a feminist but I do believe in equality' I can't take credit for the cheese comparison as this was far more succinctly put by event host, comedian and activist Kate Smurthwaite at the 'Feminism in London' conference MNH was invited to attend last weekend. Any stigma that I had attached to the word feminism was about to be blown apart by a day of starkly informative and impassioned talks covering a diverse range of subjects. I came away in a daze with easily enough material for a plethora of blog posts. So to do this experience justice and not just present you with a shopping list of topics, I have cherry picked just some of the amazing issues that were raised.

Comedian and activist Kate Smurthwaite opening the conference

The conference began with a dedication to the counting dead women campaign, with projected images of women who had died as a result of male violence, including a photo of 15 year old Shareka Marsh, shot by her boyfriend in Hackney 6 months ago. I have long been aware of the atrocious statistic that 2 women die a week as a result of domestic violence and to actually put faces to these women was chilling reminder that more action was needed to put an end to this suppressed and needless killing. After a rousing speech by Annette Lawson, Chair of the National Alliance of Women's Organisations, highlighting the ridiculousness of the fear surrounding the word ‘feminism’, we were then given an incredible talk by anti-pornography activist Dr Gail Dines. So, Porn on the internet - something I know is there but haven't ever investigated and always assumed that, unless you are willing to pay, it was meagre pickings. Being shown what, in a few years time, my own sons could easily access for free in approximately 10 seconds via google was sickening. I had no idea that nowadays you could no longer put porn into boxes marked 'soft' and 'hard' and then stow them away neatly: soft living on the newsagent top shelf; and hard away in a locked box under the counter of one of those 'adult' shops, only obtainable by bribing a shifty looking shop assistant. If you would like to view soft porn now then I give you 3 words, 'Game of Thrones' and the hard stuff is located on your internet search engine. This easily accessible, sexual objectification of women, portraying degradation, aggression and violence and packaged as ‘what men really want’ makes up 36% of the internet and is defining the sexual template of boys as young as 11. A UK campaign to challenge the effects of uncensored pornography has now been launched - Resist Porn Culture needs your support now. If you have a moment do take a look at one of Gail’s lectures on her website - click here

Just one of the amazing campaigns attending the conference  - Mothers at home matter
 This was then followed by a discussion chaired by research psychologist and journalist Clare Dolman, about the pressures on modern mothers to be ‘super mum’ and how this is permeated by the general lack of pregnancy and post natal mental support for mothers. In London alone only a quarter of the services required to provide mental health support are currently in place. Obstetrician Dr Susan Bewley then discussed the massive impact on women’s health caused by domestic violence, which in the UK affects 24% of women (versus Japan 17% or Ethiopia 71%). Women are 40% more likely then men in the UK to develop mental health issues and 75% more likely to report issues with depression. Probably two of the most thought provoking questions for me that were asked were ‘what is your image of an ideal mum?’ followed by 'what is your child’s image of an ideal mum?’, put forward by Dr Susan Pawlby who also highlighted the lack of support for pregnant women. Pawlby’s research also describes the impact of stress on an unborn child and is campaigning for mother’s maternity leave to have a compulsory start date of a month prior to giving birth, which is already in place in Germany. For more information about Dr Susan Pawlby’s research click here.  

The next talk was by Francis Scott, founder of the 50:50 Parliament campaign, currently petitioning for a debate to get better gender balance in parliament. The figures speak for themselves, women make up 51% of the UK population and yet men make up 77% of parliament. Currently there are just 147 women in parliament compared to 503 men. There are many factors that compromise women getting into politics, including the fact women are still paid nearly 20% less than men and that female MPs experience 50% more media intrusion than their male colleagues. Interestingly, 40% of the female population of the UK are mothers and yet only 12% of female MPs are mothers, even though the average age of a female politician is 50. There are numerous ideas that could create more political, and therefore constitutional, equality proposed by Francis and her team, including mandatory male and female representatives sharing one political seat or quite simply positive discrimination. If you would like to sign this petition please click here. Francis was incredibly impressive and when asked if she would consider going into politics and she responded that she would happily if 178 female MPs walked into parliament with her.

The day’s talks were concluded with the presentation of the Emma Humphrey’s memorial prize, recognising women who work against male violence. The nominees included an individual and group prize for some incredible and inspirational women and organisations - too many to list here but for more information about the nominees and  who Emma Humphreys was please click here. Their immense courage shown by these people who had fought through  unspeakably horrific circumstances was utterly incredible.

There was so much more, I haven’t even touched on the other campaigners that were present - No more page 3, The Feminist Library, Million women rise to name just 3 of so many. Possibly one of the most shocking statistics of the day was that more women die as a result of trafficking than war, cancer and incarceration combined. However, I’ll finish with my favourite quotes of the day from Dr Gail Dines, which I have paraphrased slightly: ‘Beyonce will be a feminist when she is the one fully clothed next to a naked JayZ'. You heard it here first - when it comes to success in feminism - get dressed. 

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