Last weekend, Claire Rush from the Sophia Network attended the sold-out UK Feminista Summer School along with two of Girls’ Brigade Advocates, Rachel and Danielle. She shares her thoughts here... and her relief that she was finally in a place where she was not the only feminist in the room.
Over 500 women and men came together from across the UK for a unique weekend of hands-on training in taking action for gender equality and campaigning for a world without sexism. The event occurred as the new feminist wave of digital activism is gaining momentum. Speakers included Lucy Holmes from the No More Page Three campaign which has received over 100,000 signatures and prompted a response from David Cameron and Laura Bates, creator of The Everyday Sexism Project, which gives women the opportunity to speak out against casual misogyny in their daily lives.
The Summer School programme was extremely diverse as workshops explored issues like intersectionality, LCBTQI, disability, migrants and faith (you can check out facilitator Natalie Collins review of this session here). Participants were equipped with a variety of skills like how to set up a campaign, how to get in the headlines, how to lobby and how to plan creative protests – it definitely was hands on! Another great aspect of the weekend was the ‘Open Spaces.’ Open Spaces sessions on both Saturday and Sunday empowered participants to share shills, facilitate discussion and plan action with other attendees – a brilliant tool!
It is a really exciting time for feminist activism as digital media provides us with more and more opportunities to highlight gender inequality in innovative and speedy ways. I felt empowered by attending and I felt affirmed that I could make a difference. Acting Director of UK Feminista, Sophie Bennett, said: ‘People are organising events in their local schools, communities and workplaces. Feminism is back in the headlines and back on the streets for good. It’s clear that change won’t be brought about by a small group of policymakers behind closed doors. Instead it takes ordinary people to stand up and demand change.’ There was a feeling of anticipation in the air – if new campaigns are going to emerge, they will definitely emerge from this Summer School.
I asked Rachel Saxby, a theological student at Cliff College and a member of GB’s Esther Generation, to share her thoughts on her experience of the Summer School and feminism in general.
The highlight of the Summer School was... a fantastic accidental meeting with a woman who is launching The Everyday Sexism Project in Japan. Her passion for the project and her excitement inspired by the questions raised from the website is infectious.
The session which really challenged my thinking was... Shaista Gohir’s workshop on lobbying as it raised many questions on the methods used to bring about changes in society. Shaista, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, asked who the most influential people are in our communities; the answers given mainly revolved around local government and other elected bodies. Most people, including Shaista, believed these people to be the most influential in our towns. This surprised me as this belief overlooks the significance of ‘soft power’; the gentle drip-feeding of expectations from parents, teachers and the media. These ingrained beliefs can have both positive and negative effects on a person’s worldview. It is these beliefs, which have a marked impact on individuals and therefore these opinions which need to be challenged, alongside policies being changed.
I was disappointed at... the lack of diversity in the age of the speakers and attendees at the Summer School. While it was fantastic to see so many young people interested in gender issues it would have added an extra dimension to the weekend to hear from experienced campaigners from decades past, or from the current activists from organisations such as the Women’s Institute or Fawcett Society.
I think that feminism is a... belief that men and women are of equal worth, and therefore deserve equal rights and opportunities.
I believe that feminism and Christianity are completely compatible because... while God chose to walk and talk across the Middle East as a Jewish man, he went out of his way to teach, welcome and love women, men, Jews and Gentiles. The Holy Spirit calls women to be disciples, campaigners and leaders and the Father loves each woman as His daughter. If we are to love as Christ loves then it is vital that we see others as he does, equal in him.