What are we chaining ourselves to the railings for today?
As part of the Wonder Women feminist festival, on the 4th of March a panel event took place at the People’s History Museum about modern feminism. The debate became electric as members of the audience questioned the panel on different aspects of feminism, I’ve wrote about the stand out moments.
The panel consisted of Qaisra Shahraz, a trustee of Manchester Multi Faith centre who devotes a lot of time to promote tolerance and peace. Dianne Ngoza, the lead member for United for Change and Manchester City of Sanctuary and Women Asylum Seekers Together. Hebe Philips, a community artist and LGBT youth worker with a passion for helping lesbian and bisexual women. Lynn Oddy, who spent the first 60 years of her life “trying to be a man”, now she is vocal transgender activist. Roshan Ahmed from Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation, also a local primary school teacher.
The panel began with the title question of the discussion, “what are we chaining ourselves to the railings for today”. Roshan mentioned the importance of her religion and how much of a big part it is of what she represents and the challenges women of her faith have to tackle. Award winning writer and activist Qaisra said: “The topic of feminism has been a part of my life since I was 14, I am particularly interested in it because I come from another part of the world, for me as a global woman I think rape, domestic violence, islamaphobia and education are the things that need to be tackled.”
Dianne has completed a degree in Engineering, in a very male dominated industry she struggles with being recognised as the percentage of women engineers in the UK is merely 8%. “I can recall when I was young growing up in Africa where boys are treated better than girls, when I moved to England I expected such a modern country to not have these issues.” Although the UK are much more developed than Africa there are still so many issues and there is such a long way to go.
Lynn brought up the conversation of transgender women: “For trans women in general the biggest issue to chain themselves to the railings for is the issue of medical treatment.” Hebe then explained her views on healthcare and education: “I’d chain myself to the railings for the hidden within the hidden, often the needs of young lesbian and bisexual women aren’t taken seriously, particularly in terms of healthcare support.”
Dianne brought up the issues she faced when completing her degree in engineering. “I was the only female in my class for engineering, the boys were always showing off and I wasn’t able to really express myself because even the tutors would question me and ask “why are you here, you should be doing something like nursing or medicine” they wanted me to feel that because I’m a female, I don’t belong there.”
The topic of women’s prominence in history then came up, Qaisra began the discussion: “When doing my masters degree, I discovered to my horror that 300 women writers of England were literally deleted out of history. I studied literature for my first degree, in a book by Dale Spender she said 300 women writers who had written about 500 novels within themselves but history had wiped them out, if you don’t print their book they are not in circulation and people forget.”
The discussion then continued as the panelist talked about how in order to move forward with feminism, we need to teach children from an early age about all the fantastic, strong and brave historic women. How can we expect young women to feel empowered and ambitious? We need to highlight the important women who have changed the world because they raised their voices.
An audience member, John, a politics student from the University of Salford asked the panel if they felt it was necessary to have women only shortlists in politics, or do they think it should be based on merit. Hebe responded: “It is all about who is shouting the loudest, and that is who is heard, we still need women only shortlists because a lot of women aren’t even invited to speak at political panels and if they are invited they aren’t taken seriously because people just make comments about their appearance or what they are wearing.” She underlined the lack of media coverage on women in politics and therefore perhaps by having a women only shortlist it means at least the women will be taken seriously.
Another audience member commented: “Having a women only shortlist seems unfair but you have to look at the broader picture which is the number of women in parliament. Recently there seems to be a lot of commotion over women that are suddenly being appointed as bishops and how unfair this is on men. But when you consider how many men are already bishops it is really important that we up those numbers, it is the only way we can achieve the bigger picture of women of more women being represented.”
A passionate audience member Amanda spoke out about the fact that the majority of audience participation that evening was from the men in the room, she said: “I am a working class woman and what I see and hear everywhere, in the press, in the communities, is that in every aspect of life women are disadvantaged subversively. When women do speak out, when women are the words “stroppy, harpy and gorgon” yes I’ve been called them all, they are criticised and harangued for their appearance. Do you see male politicians have their age published and what they’re wearing paraded across the papers? We have a lot of catching up to do, we need to fight the language, fight the assumptions and the ideas that women can’t be engineers.” She correctly criticised the panel for their approach towards the male participation “the whole tone of this needs to change.”
Amanda then moved on to another point: “We need to fight the elephant in the room which is social class, if you are a working class woman of whatever cultural tradition you are excluded from most modern feminism. So until you reach working class women and working class women’s problems you’ll just be talking amongst yourselves and not actually making any progress at all.” Amanda rightly received a round of applause for her contribution to the debate.
It was an animated discussion full of depth, insight and opinion. It was excellent to have so many diverse views from women of different cultures who were able to bring a mixture of experience with sexism and discrimination.
**A full listing of Wonder Women events can be found on the website here**