From looking around the room a feminist could look like anyone. The women did not fit the stereotypes all too often associated with the feminist movement, ranging right through the age spectrum, gay and straight and of varied ethnicities.
There was also a significant number of men, not coerced there by women but fully engaged in the issues including those sometimes considered women’s domain – like maternity care and problems with the ‘sex industry’.
There was a workshop for men only on ‘Confronting Privilege’; part of a diverse programme that included feminist parenting, women’s internalised prejudice, reproductive and sexual health and workshops specifically for children.
One of the main attraction of the conference for Ctrl.Alt.Shift was the section titled ‘Reports From The Global Women’s Movement’, a panel of feminist activists, experts who have taken part in struggles around the world.
“If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu”, said Chitra Nagarajan in the day’s opening, and this is especially obvious in many places where war, poverty or corruption have caused dramatic imbalances in power.
Nadje Al-Ali started off talking about the Iraqi movement, where she said in many ways there has been regression in women’s equality. Leila Alikaramis told a similar story from Iran but pointed out, “Now women have showed themselves successfully in public life it is not possible to force them back into the private lives of their home.”
- M&S Percy the Sexist Pig protest
Tsitsi Matekaire talked about how despite violence against women and forced marriage by kidnap being prevalent in Ethiopia, women are increasingly organising and fighting for their rights.
Katherine Ronderos also spoke about women’s resistance and told the story of the Feminists In Resistance movement in Honduras – an energetic and compelling campaign against the violence of the recent coup in the country.
Katherine also highlighted how inequality in sexual identity, ethnicity, class and gender is always interlinked and should be tackled in intersections instead of in isolation from each other.
Complex issues were also explored by one of the most exhilarating speakers of the day, Marie-Claire Faray-Kele, recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a group who travelled from the UK in solidarity with women who are victims of mass rape, a weapon often used in conflict there.
Marie-Claire painted a damming picture of how the exploitation of natural resources in the DRC by multinational corporations have led to displacement of people and how she thinks the presence of NGOs and the UN is adding to the problems in the country by disempowering women who want to stand up for their own rights.
Every person told an inspiring story of women and men working for gender equality. Cynthia Cockburn, who chaired the section, called on the audience to learn from these struggles of people who are often working in very dangerous and more restrictive situations than our own. As Marie-Claire pointed out “feminism is not just a Western concept.”
Whether in the DRC or on the streets of London many women and men are taking part in the gender equality movement. Lunchtime activism was also squeezed in outside Marks & Spencer in Oxford Circus, as 50 people dressed as ‘Percy the sexist pig’ descended on the store and gave out leaflets calling for a Boycott of the chain after they sub-let one of their buildings (in Bristol) to Hooters.
Feminism in London showed the growth of an inclusive feminist movement in Britain; for around half of the delegates it was their first Feminism in London conference.
The final speaker was Finn Mackay who received a stand ovation for her call to action, but for me movements for equality were summed up by Natasha Walter, who said, “Never stop believing that the future we want will become the present we are living in.”