Feminism in London 2009

What a great day! It is very difficult to close such a gathering, to follow all the amazing speakers and workshops that we have benefited from.

The first thing I have to do is to thank all the amazing women who have organised this event. They have spent a year working on this and done a great job. So please stand up and be recognised by your sisters for what you have achieved: Amtojh, Laurie, Chitra, Sally, Esther, Alice, Jennifer, Yasmin. And the group wanted me to say special thanks to Anna Fisher, for the 110% she put in this year, to making sure this event was a success.

We also need to thank all the volunteer stewards and of course Kate for keeping the day together and on schedule.

Give them all a round of applause.

We are gathered here today of course in very turbulent times. Our planet is in crisis, global capitalism has imploded. And as usual, it is the poorest people who pay the biggest price; and are doing so again, here in our country as we deal with yet another inevitable recession. Many of our sisters and brothers have lost their jobs, their homes. And in such uncertain times it is often the rights of those most oppressed that are first to go. Our rights as women have come into question. Is this the proper time for equal pay? Can we afford rape crisis centres? What does it say about our society when our basic rights are considered a luxury? When our equality is seen as a privilege for the good times only?

What an insult; to all those women: mothers, partners, carers, who hold up families, communities, our society. To the women: who always work hardest in the bad times. Taking two or three or more jobs, providing for their families and dependants. Or leaving University with qualifications as good as ‘the next man’ yet having to compete for scarce jobs that now more than ever will be saved for ‘the best man for the job’.

It is true that equality is not cheap, and neither are we. Our rights are not cheap, our citizenship is not cheap, our humanity does indeed come at a price. And we are here to claim nothing less than those rights, whatever the cost. Because for too long we have paid a heavy price, while our oppressors have profited from our labour, our minds, our bodies; and have built their empires literally on our backs, have raised themselves up, by beating us down. Patriarchy shapes us and leaves its mark on all of us, and we are all survivors of it. The inequalities of this system manifest in women’s bodies. They are made real in blood and bruises and tears while we count the numbers – the 1 in 4 women in our country living with domestic abuse, the at least 40,000 women who are raped every year; most of whom will never see justice. Or the women in our prisons – over half of whom are survivors of domestic abuse, a third survivors of sexual abuse and over 60% of them, mothers of young children. And of course the most final statistic is the body count, of the 2 women every week in our country, who are murdered by a violent male partner.

Now more than ever we need our women’s movement and the women’s movement needs you. Not least, because history shows us that in recession, nations turn to the right; looking for scapegoats, looking for anyone to blame but those whose pursuit and mishandling of power created the situation in the first place. And such times are dangerous times for women, for all women, and especially so, for women of colour, for women seeking asylum in our country, for women raising children on their own, for poor women. And in these times we need a women’s movement to stand up for us, to fight for our rights. And we also need this movement to lead the way, to speak out for all those oppressed by these systems that we did not create. For our sisters and brothers of all backgrounds, for our environment that we all share, for the living creatures that we share it with. We must make sure that our movement marches on the bridges we build between each other, between different groups, between our allies in different countries and across the world.

And that is why you will see a variety of groups represented here today who are working on all of these issues and many more. Groups campaigning against militarism and for peace, for equal pay, for refugees and asylum seekers, against racism, for the environment and animals, for children. Everywhere you will have looked around our conference today you will have seen women leading the way for social justice, for peace, for a different and better world, not just for ourselves and our own issues, but for the benefit of the whole of society.

And so I hope that today you have learned about new groups and that you will become involved with some of the organisations you have met here. Become change makers in your own families, communities, in the world. Spread the message that Feminism is back!

For how is it that we have allowed our movement to be so denigrated for so long? That we have allowed the proud name of our Women’s Liberation Movement to become a joke, for the title of our politics to become an insult – where Feminism is a dirty word? We are portrayed as humourless, as prudish, as backward – in a world that reduces us to objects, that finds entertainment in our rape and abuse, that tells us we have it all, while trying to reduce us to so little. What our great postmodern society is trying to hide is that there is, in fact, nothing new about the oppression of women. There is nothing new about the objectification of women or the selling of women’s bodies. Unfortunately, this has been the status-quo for centuries. And so in fact, it is us who are radical, it is our movement that is pushing the boundaries, challenging the norms. It is up to us to tell these truths, and while our movement is so misrepresented it is up to us to represent it; against all the lies.

Lies, like those told to us, the ones that we have all survived. That we were lesser, that we were nothing, that what we look like is more important than what we think, what we know, what we do.

Lies like those told about all the teenage women here, all the women in their 20’s. You are the main target of much of our misogynist media and advertising and you are also represented in our media and culture in ways that are usually not positive for you, that are far from inspirational, that do not even begin to describe who you are and who you can be. And then, to add insult to injury you are often blamed for this very situation, as if you yourselves designed ‘Playboy’ merchandise, as if you yourselves are making money from sales of ‘novelty’ pole dancing kits.

And perhaps the greatest lie: that you are the generation that has sold out Feminism. How wrong, to use the term sold out, when the backlash has been sold to you; when all you are given to sell is yourselves. It is not you who have sold out, for we have nothing to gain, and have gained nothing, from the backlash against us. Which takes our movement, takes the language of our liberation, turns it on its head, and sells it back to us. That is not our liberation. Liberation does not look like ‘Playboy’, it does not look like ‘Spearmint Rhino’, it does not look like ‘size Zero’, it does not look like Gok Wan.

Yes, it is a lie that you are the generation that has betrayed Feminism, when all around me and all over the world I see young women resisting, against all the odds, women succeeding, women winning.

That is what liberation looks like!

And just as the last decades have proved what Feminism can do, so will you, and I for one can’t wait to see what you are going to do with the next 30yrs.

And although the backlash against our movement is fierce, we must take this as a compliment. You have to push hard against this system before you are noticed, it is only when power is threatened that those who hold it will bother kicking back. And so, you know what they say, if it aint hurting it aint working! Once, we posed a real and present threat to the status quo, and we will do so again.

This is a great time to be a Feminist!

On behalf of the London Feminist Network I’d like to thank you all for coming and for being part of today, and we hope to see you all again on Saturday 21st November in central London to Reclaim The Night against rape and all forms of male violence against women. This year our march will be led by Europe’s largest women only drumming band, ‘SheBoom’, 50 drummers all the way from Glasgow – so you won’t miss us! We need your help to make sure our voices are heard over the drums!

Lets close down the streets for women. Lets send a message to all those rapists and abusers who unfortunately may never see justice served, let them know, in the strength and visibility of our movement; that they have not broken us, that they can never stop us. Lets send a message to all our silent sisters, carrying their abuse and their history like shame; let them know, in the strength and visibility of our movement, that they are never to blame for men’s violence and that we always believed them.

March for your sisters, your friends, your daughters, march for yourselves. March for our movement.

Thanks very much, see you at Reclaim The Night on Saturday 21 November 2009.

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