Next Meeting: 7pm-9pm, Tuesday 11th June 2013
We will be meeting at our new venue and shared premises!
Unit E (press the buzzer), 5 Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG. (Nearest tube Bethnal Green)
Re posted statement from Caroline Leneghan
Today I would like to show my solidarity with women all over the world on International Women’s day and to raise the issue of domestic violence against women. The RMT have released a model domestic violence policy for the transport industry which I hope gets rolled out to every employer.
I’m Caroline Leneghan, I’m a member of the RMT and assistant Branch Secretary of my RMT branch.
Until recently I was in a relationship with the RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley. During the relationship I experienced physical and mental domestic violence which made me feel hopeless to challenge. In January I reported a violent assault to the police that took place the previous year. On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face. The extent of my injuries meant I couldn’t go out for weeks. I had severe bruising and swelling to my face and body and he had pulled out clumps of my hair. I have decided to make a public statement about this because of his public position in the union and because I want to encourage other women to come forward who have faced similar abuse.
Additionally, as I am a member of the RMT I felt that it was important to raise my assault with the RMT. I believe that he will continue to perpetrate abuse and is a threat to female members. I want to continue my activism within the union but I do not feel safe to do so unless this matter is dealt with properly.
When I raised the assault with the union, I was subjected to what is known as as ‘victim blaming’. I was distressed and astonished at the questions I was asked and the investigating officer displayed a total lack of respect and sensitivity, and a lack of understanding of domestic violence. The investigator tried to make a link between my mental health and the assault and deemed it appropriate to inquire about my personal history, but has not deemed it necessary to look into Steve’s, despite the fact that it is his behaviour that is being called into question and not mine. The investigatior attempted to focus his attention on anything about me which could exonerate or mitigate Steve’s behaviour.
I was also shocked that the investigator asked to explain how someone of Steve Hedley’s build and proficient at boxing did not cause me more injuries. The investigator also accused me of causing the injuries myself. It is outrageous that when a woman reports an assault it would be considered feasible that she severely beat up her own face and further to also attempt to make a link with her mental health is collusion with the tactics of manipulation that abusers use to silence their victims. I felt degraded and that I had done something ‘wrong’ in reporting the attack.
These actions contribute to a culture where perpetrators of violence are never punished for their behaviour. It is a well known fact that women do not come forward when they have faced abuse because they fear the treatment they will get. Since receiving help from Victim Support I have learnt that it is common for perpetrators of domestic abuse to deflect blame for their actions onto their victims and attempting to discredit their claims and to shame them into remaining silent.
I think it is important to say that I am a proud member of the RMT because I thought it was committed to fighting for justice and equality for all workers. I had hoped that it would take seriously a claim against a senior elected representative and treat me with respect when I have made such a serious allegation. I am shocked and saddened that instead I have had to undergo a character assassination. No aspect of my life has been spared from scrutiny, using any detail, no matter how sensitive, used in a horrible and insensitive manner to undermine my claim.
I am writing this because I feel it is imperative that all organisations on the left take a look at themselves and question whether they are doing all they can to support their female members and fight sexism and abuse, in all its guises. I believe that we need strong unions and organisations like the RMT to fight all forms of inequality in society. It cannot do this if it allows sexism to go unchallenged and it fails to investigate its elective representatives seriously.
Women do not have equality in the labour movement or the left. This is a struggle and a fight that goes on everyday at work/ in our unions/ at home/ in meetings, etc. To women; we are what militant trade unionists look like. The labour movement continues to heroises a macho, aggressive archetype of what a good trade unionist looks like.
Recently highlighted problems on the left (e.g. the SWP rape case handling) have demonstrated the need for radical change. A support group made up of women from the left and labour movement to support women and challenging abuse and sexism should be set up.
In the past week my case against him was dropped by the police due to falling foul of their timescale for submitting a complaint. Steve has made an official statement to the RMT that the case was dropped and he was found innocent and exonerated. This is completely untrue. The investigating officer said the CPS would not prosecute because the incident had not happened in the past 6 months. Furthermore, I have been told that, had I reported it within 6 months, they would have had enough evidence to charge him with common assault. But due to the lapse in time, they instead had to arrest him on suspicion of ABH. However, the CPS sets a very high bar for chances of conviction (I was informed that they will only bring forward to trial cases that they believe have a 90 per cent chance of conviction).
Please see following link for original post
Today Ethel MacDonald, Artistic Director for the Feminist Avengers stated: “The Feminist Avengers call for other feminists to tell George that we think his attitude to rape and the sexual abuse of women stinks and invite him to “go fuck himself” and send a courgette through the post to him at his constituency office. Perhaps with a note “Excuse my sexual etiquette, but go fuck yourself, Galloway”.
Clara Zetkin, Spokesperson for the Feminist Avengers, raged about George Galloway, RESPECT MP when he disrespectively spoke out in support of Saint Julian of Assange, and like many of his supporters, has chosen to present his arguments as a rape apologist!
Ms Zetkin today said “Feminist Avengers are incredulous that during Galloway’s the thirty-minute podcast , scarily named “Good Night with George Galloway” stated: “Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 percent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape……at least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it“.
He goes on to say ‘Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.’ We are raging that he dismisses women’s experiences so lightly. He splits hairs that the word rape is being misappropriated in the St Julian of Assange case. After all, the claims are about inserting one’s penis into a woman’s vagina when she was asleep without a condom on. It is alleged that St Julian of Assange had consensual sex with the woman plus condom earlier on in the evening; therefore according to Mr Galloway and St Julian’s several supporters, this negates any need for consent or condom wearing in the future. Galloway went on to state that St Julian’s alleged behaviour is ” ‘something which can happen’. As a matter of fact, it precisely is not something that can happen without someone doing it! Mr Galloway accuses that using the word rape in the allegations against St Julian of Assange as ‘not rape, or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning’. Mr Galloway’s evangelical belief in and support for St Julian of Assange, and his demeaning of women’s experiences of unwanted, non-consensual sex is completely bankrupt (sic) and harmful to all women”.
“We call on feminist avengers all over to take action against Galloway, and correct his wrong explanation of rape and sexual assault”.
Rani Lakshmibai , International Secretariat of Situationist Internationale stated “the spectacle of belittling rape and sexual assault of women creates a global language and a global culture that means the violation and abuse of women becomes normal. Women have a human right to consent to have sex. “Insertions” into their bodies, without consent – implicit or explicit – constitute rape. George Galloway the British MP has tried to play with words and in doing so has harmed women. We fully support the Feminist Avengers in their action in saying “fuck you, rape apologist”.
Helen Crawford, Legal Advisor to Feminist Avengers explained “The United Nations recognises that violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread throughout the globe. It includes rape, domestic violence, harassment at work, abuse in school, female genital mutilation and sexual violence in armed conflicts. It is predominantly inflicted by men. Men’s violence and abuse is a major barrier against women’s equality and liberation. The right of women and girls to live free of violence from men’s violence and abuse is inalienable and fundamental. Women are not commodities to be bought and sold. It is enshrined in international human rights and humanitarian law. There is a pandemic of violence and rape against women and girls; we only ask that women are not violated and humiliated by men’s violence and abuse. Excusing rape as bad manners harms all women and dismisses the fact that rape constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of women, which is a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is against women’s human rights to describe rape and sexual assault as poor sexual etiquette”
“The direct actions of the Feminist Avengers are based on their anger and their struggle for women’s liberation. The invitation “to fuck yourself” is indeed only an invitation but also a invitation to be more responsible in deciding to redefine rape as poor manners”
Feminist Avengers took action against comedians performing tin the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh Free Fringe seehttp://feministavenger.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/feminist-avengers-take-to-the-fringe-2/Feminist
Avengers are found on Twitter @avengerfeminist the hashtag we use is #feministavengers
A direct challenge to direct and indirect threats of violence against women and an insistence on our safety and freedom in every sphere of life is fundamental to feminism, and so we are proud to join this action to ensure women’s safety wherever they go, and to raise awareness of the strength and solidarity of the women’s movement. We value the feeling of solidarity on a march with many women from different political spheres. We absolutely concur with RtN’s criticism of low rape convictions and poor media representation of women affected by rape, especially in the current political climate where cuts to rape support services are making it more and more difficult for survivors of abuse to access the help they need.
Like X:talk (a sex worker self-organised group that provides English classes for migrant sex workers), Feminist Fightback is absolutely against violence towards women, and in meetings this generally means we have a consensus to continue going on the Reclaim the Night march. As our position on sex work remains controversial in certain London feminist circles, we also agree that it is important to demonstrate this position when at RtN, in conjunction with the ‘red umbrella’ marchers, through chants, banners, and the symbolic red umbrellas.
We also feel that a visible sex worker presence on the march is imperative given the route the march takes through Central London, passing directly through the red light district (and until 2010 past Spearmint Rhino which raised the problem of critical and unsisterly remarks being made by a few members of the march towards the women working at the club).
However, there are a number of questions to be answered regarding RtN and Feminist Fightback. At the moment none of these problems necessarily preclude our involvement with the march, but they make it imperative to continue an open debate on the subject.
It’s worth remembering that in a diverse crowd like Reclaim the Night, most women are supportive of our presence. However this abuse by a minority remains unacceptable and deeply dispiriting. We think the RtN march is important – both in terms of the message that women should walk the streets in safety and as a visible and lively feminist political space – and that is why we continue to attend. And so now we would like the organisers of the march and its supporters to undertake to work with us, and to open a dialogue about how such abuse can be prevented in the future.
Feminist Fightback hosted a discussion to begin to think through some of the complex issues raised by Slutwalk.
We found the discussion a useful starting point in thinking about questions of race, class and sexuality.
See below for notes of people’s comments at the meeting…
Positively reclaiming our sexuality?
What do we feel about the strategy of slut walk, and for the movement generally?
Reading group and discussion on the politics of Slutwalk.
Wed 1st June 7-9pm, Bishopsgate Institute, London E1 (opposite Liverpool St station).
On 11th June Slutwalk London are inviting women to participate in a march against rape, which stresses that women should be free from fear of sexual violence however they dress or choose to express their sexuality.
This march raises interesting questions and has provoked some important critiques regarding the intersections of race, class and sexuality. The possibility of reclaiming the word slut has been called into question, with some women of colour feminists suggesting that this assumes a (white, middle-class) position of relative power and privilege which marginalises BME women. Another, related, critique is that the right to free sexual expression promoted by the march in fact relates only to a very narrow definition of sexuality.
One particularly important question is how Slutwalk will/ has been presented and re-appropriated in the mainstream media, potentially hegemonising a white middle-class vision of feminism and silencing other forms of women’s struggle in the process.
We think that Slutwalk’s aim to show that ‘whatever we wear and wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no’ is enormously important. Particularly when a senior Tory minister has just stated that rapes are distinguishable, and therefore that some are more serious than others. This view is obviously troubling, not least because it plays into the still wide spread assumption that some women have some level of responsibility for being raped, and that ‘real’ rapes are those involving a high degree of physical force and violence.
We would like, however, to use Slutwalk and the responses it has elicited as an opportunity to engage with the challenges of building an anti-racist feminist movement – one which recognises that women’s identities and experiences are often constructed differently according to race, class and sexuality. This means taking seriously the various critiques that have emerged, taking the time to discuss them and to consider how and/or if an intersectional feminist politics can be made visible on the day of the march.
As a first step we will be meeting to discuss some of the most prominent articles and critiques about Slutwalk (see below for a list of short readings). We will be contacting many other feminist, anti-racist and queer collectives to begin a dialogue on these questions which we hope will continue well after the march.
Everyone (including all genders) is welcome to come along to this initial open discussion on Wednesday 1st June, 7-9pm, Bishopsgate Institute, Bishopsgate E1 (opposite Liverpool Street Station). Please find below some suggested reading to inform the discussion:
On Saturday 23 April between 10am and 1pm supporters of Zara Senkan leafleted customers of , boarding at Victoria Bus Station. They highlighted a serious issue of sex discrimination and victimisation at the company.
Zara worked for the company for five years until the end of 2010 when she was sacked. During that time she was on the receiving end of bullying, sexism and unfair treatment by managers and co-workers. Zara was sacked shortly after she submitted a grievance to the company about some of these issues.
Zara started working for The Original Tour as a driver. In 2006, when she also began working as a controller, her problems began.
Supported by her union, the RMT, Zara is pursuing a case for sex discrimination through an employment tribunal.
All Zara wants is to set the record straight and prove that Original Tour was guilty of condoning and worse, perpetrating, clear sexist and unfair treatment that should have no place in any company. It is especially shocking that these bullying working practices took place at such long-standing, large company that claims to be “family friendly”.
Zara sums it up:
“They wanted me to have a nervous breakdown and leave the job, but they couldn’t break me so they sacked me”.
In 1970, 560 women came together at Ruskin College, Oxford for the first UK women’s liberation conference. The activist network Feminist Fightback met in London on 2nd May to look at how far we have come 40 years on, inviting all genders to “consider what feminism looks like today, how the struggle continues, and put the battles women fight today in the context of the history of the women’s movement.”
To aid comparisons of the women’s movement then and now the programme included two films: A Woman’s Place (Journeyman Pictures, 1970) and an episode of the BBC series on women, Activists (broadcast, March, 2010). Post introductions, the Feminist Fightback meeting continued with screening the 1970 film, which included footage of the Ruskin conference and The International Women’s Day March held in London in 1971.
A great sense of urgency surrounded the Ruskin conference. Many more women than the organisers expected showed up for the event. Whilst women across the class spectrum were enlivened by each other’s speeches and debate men were presiding over a crèche in the wings. Even long dead men honourably remembered by other men with head and shoulder busts in their image were not privy, women having covered them with shawls and scarves.
All aspects of women’s lives were considered in the context of British society in 1970 – Women in prison, trade unions, housework, childrearing, for instances. One woman spoke of the need for “our children to be liberated from us”, implying a suffocating atmosphere presided over family living, women isolated and confined by the mother role. Women questioned whether the so-called “maternal instinct” was a real or imposed thing. They talked of possible alternative family structures where other adults and not the mother alone have childcare responsibilities such as communes. One middle-aged working class woman, wholly unused to speaking before a large audience, grew in confidence as she spoke of her life as a housewife and mother of four children as a life of missed opportunities. Another woman said she would like not to be thought a freak because she had no interest in children whatsoever. Women discussed the thorough injustice of their economic dependence on men, their work as mothers going unacknowledged and unpaid and the political implications of that – reproducing a workforce for capitalism whilst simultaneously being disenfranchised by that system.
Some months later 4,000 women took to the streets of London for the International Women’s Day March with placards and banners demanding these basic rights. They presented their petition in writing to 10 Downing Street. The seriousness of their demands to tackle the inequalities imposed on them by virtue of their biology did not stop these women’s enjoyment of the march. There was a carnival atmosphere. A needlework dummy bound to a crucifix was held aloft by some women while others dance-exercised ironically to Eddie Cantor’s ‘Keep young and beautiful, its your duty to be beautiful’. One woman mocked beauty pageants, her sash reading, ‘Ms Stress’. Clearly the Ruskin conference had been a resounding success, women politicised and adamantly seeking immediate changes to an unjust system.
So how are things looking in 2010?
The sad answer is, not very good at all. In spite of the Equal Pay Act implemented in 1970 and the various adjustments made to it since women are still lagging behind men in financial status. They are far more likely than men to work in part-time employment as they are more usually the primary carers of either children and/or disabled or elderly relatives. Part-time work such as care-work or cleaning is given low status and is extremely poorly paid. The model of ‘superwoman’ is held as the ideal. Women are urged ‘to have it all’ – both the children and the career. This can effectively mean that you either pay – usually another woman – a low wage for childcare, or if lowly paid yourself, childcare will take up a disproportionate amount of your income.
Feminist Fightback are currently involved in a campaign to save Hackney nurseries, “cuts … being handed out in a piecemeal fashion, with no warning to nurseries all over Hackney.” Thus nursery fees go up and living standards go down making rubbish of Labour’s insistence that they were fighting to reduce child poverty. And Britain with a Tory prime minister is sure to make matters far worse, a part of the Tory/Liberal pact being to immediately put into operation Tory’s plans to severely cut funds to all public services so to appease the IMF (America’s chief say-so).
And so to the BBC4 documentary, where the feminist activists concentrated on made all these social conditions notable by not mentioning any of them. Finn Mackay is the founder of the London Feminist Network and Co-founder of the Feminist Coalition Against Prostitution and it was these movements that the documentary wholly centred around. Mackay is described on her blog, “She is a well-practiced public speaker with particular emphasis on violence against women, prostitution and feminism in the UK.” Indeed, she appeared a charismatic leader in the film as with a raised fist she delivered her speech at The London Feminist Network’s Conference to an all women audience, many of whom were in floods of tears.
The interviewer asked woman after woman what her chief concerns were regarding feminism. Cited were just these: male violence against women, prostitution, pornography and sexual objectification. There was much belittling of these women by the programme makers. They were mostly young, middle-class women living at home with their parents. Parents were also interviewed and rather geed along when showing prejudice against their daughter’s activism, one mother saying she could not understand her daughter’s penchant for dressing up while protesting against objectification.
Feminist Fightback rightly cut a huge swathe from this film that concentrated on food preparation for the LFN conference – veganism read as joyless Puritanism by the film-maker, and the viewer impelled to think likewise. Campaigns by LFN include Reclaim The Night, ‘Bin the Bunny’ (referring to the cynical use of the Playboy bunny emblazoned across children’s clothes etc.) One woman spoke of the horrific event that had made her become an activist in the movement: recounting that after her daughter’s friend had been gang raped, the police later made charges against her saying that she had perverted the course of justice, citing mobile phone footage her attackers had filmed. They eventually succeeded in getting the charges dropped but were further shocked to learn that there were no rape crisis centres in the whole of London.
There was some extremely disturbing footage of women from the LFN shouting “shame, shame” at people entering a lap-dancing club. They were shouting this as much at the female employees as at the male audience, creating divisions between those women and themselves.
After the film showings the mostly women crowd present at the Feminist Fightback event came together to discuss the films, make comparisons and consider the feminist movement today. In the lively discussion, personal experiences were used as much as the historical perspectives raised by the films.
Much noted was the absolute absence of considerations surrounding class or indeed any other political analysis in the BBC4 film. Women spoke of their concerns about others considering feminism an outmoded if not dirty word. There was consensus that we should openly and unashamedly say that we are feminists to other women and men. How this consciousness raising is exercised was another problem discussed – not wanting to come across preachy, for instance.
We discussed the issue of objectification so concentrated upon by the women from LFN. Participants articulated the belief that the media perpetuated women’s concern with their bodies by constantly documenting this apparent all consuming concern, anorexia, for instance, being a favourite topic of documentary makers. We discussed society placing such high value on being in a couple. One woman quoted a bride’s speech, “I was nothing till I met you”, “now I am complete”. People expressed concern over feeling that you had to do your best to feign interest in wedding preparations – cooing over the dress for instance, women feeling that they would otherwise endanger friendships, though they are not allowed the space to say, “this is shit”.
Many considered that LFN’s demand to have porn banned by the state was not a progressive argument, and indeed a simplification of matters, particularly demeaning porn being a symptom that needs to be attacked via its root causes and likewise the LFN’s attitude to prostitution; Feminist Fightback are demanding that sex-workers be decriminalised.
There was consensus that the BBC4 programme was horribly malicious and a farcical comparison with the 1970 Journeyman film. And what of women’s own sexuality and their enjoyment of sex, should this not be talked about?
Many other subjects were touched upon at this meeting. In fact all of the grass-root feminist concerns the women from the 1970 Ruskin conference were talking about then are still very much the concern of Feminist Fightback now. It is a terrible shame that the media present body image and objectification issues above all else as grass-roots feminism, when you only need to watch A Woman’s Place to know that that is absolutely not the case. Feminism must be bound with political activism.
by Sharon Borthwick
In 1970 hundreds of women gathered for a free conference at Ruskin College that would launch the Second Wave of feminism. As men provided the childcare, women discussed and debated ideas and experiences, and identified what the aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement as they saw it, should be.
Feminist Fightback invite you to an afternoon of film showings and discussions as we think about how far we have come, what feminism looks like today, how the struggle continues, and put the battles women fight today in the context of the history of the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Films will include:
Journeyman Picture’s A Woman’s Place (1970)
Excerpts from the BBC’s Women series (2010)
The follow text has been sent to the London Feminist Network, lead organisers of the 2009 London Reclaim the Night March:
On 21st Nov 09 Feminist Fightback went as part of a Red Umbrella contingent on the Reclaim the Night March in London. We joined RtN because we are committed to fighting violence against women, and we marched alongside X:talk and the International Union of Sex Workers in solidarity with sex workers organising to fight exploitation in their industry. Nothing in the publicity for the march bans those with our views, nor do we feel our politics to in any way contradict the spirit of an anti-violence march.
Unfortunately, we faced physical harassment and verbal abuse from some people on the march, and were told on a number of occasions that we were not welcome on it. Worse than this, however, was the fact that we were immediately approached and interrogated by the police on arrival – reportedly at the request of one of the stewards. We understand our support for the rights of sex workers to self-organise is at odds with the views of some other groupings in the women’s movement. Yet we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.
We strongly hope that this does not set a precedent for the further disintegration of feminism in London. And we are therefore asking London Feminist Network to guarantee that in future the police will not be used against other feminists to close down political debate, and that Reclaim the Night will be a space in which diverse opinions can be expressed. At a time when we face the prospect of a Tory government, threatening to roll out all sorts of further attacks that will have disproportionate effects on women, through public spending cuts and the repressive rhetoric of ‘family values’, it is even more important that we build a movement that can work together on all the issues upon which we agree, and allow room for difference and debate upon those we don’t. We should not be afraid that differences of opinion will block unity in action. In fact it is only by allowing space for diversity of opinion and embracing discussion that our movement will grow.
Why we joined the Reclaim the Night March:
As the newsletter we distributed at the march clearly stated, Feminist Fightback was on RtN to show our solidarity with ALL women resisting violence in their daily lives. We see the fight against gender-based violence as a central part of any feminist movement. We also wanted to stress that violence against women is not simply an individual problem, but systemic. Our struggle against it cannot be separated from our critique of the nuclear family; immigration controls; religious fundamentalism; the denial of reproductive freedom; the exploitation of our labour; police brutality and military imperialism. In other words, violence against women is not only perpetrated not only by individuals but also by the state.
This was also why we oppose the Metropolitan Police sponsoring the march. Feminists should not place any trust in an institution that clamps down on our right to protest, assaults activists, carries out racist stop-and-search policies, and continues to record domestic violence incidents as ‘no crime’, to name but a few examples. For legal reasons we may have to tolerate their presence on our demonstrations, but we see a march against gender-based violence which actively seeks the support and legitimation of the police to be somewhat farcical.
This, then, is the broader political context in which we, as anti-capitalist feminists, situated our decision to march in a contingent with sex worker organisations. The police harassment and immigration raids faced by the sex workers in Soho, whose workplaces the march passed by, is also a form of violence against women that should not be ignored. The Red Umbrella Contigent was formed after Feminist Fightback’s experiences of joining RtN in 2006 and 2007, when we overheard a number of misogynistic comments against sex workers, who were referred as ‘air heads’ and jeered at as we passed their workplaces, including Spear Mint Rhino. We do not think that it is the explicit intention of the RtN organisers to confront sex workers in this way, but we do think that a feminist march through London’s main red light district can easily fall into the trap of pitching one group of women – ‘feminists’ – against another – ‘sex workers’. We therefore thought it was essential that an anti-violence march in this context had to make feminist solidarity with sex workers heard loud and clear, and a central slogan of the march.
What: An evening of making trouble, sharing ideas and planning ways for women to fight back against the crisis, hosted by Feminist Fightback.
When: Tuesday 30th June, 5pm, and 6.30pm
Where: Paying a visit to Harriet Harman, Southwark Townhall (5pm), followed by film showing (6.30pm) at Studio 96, The Galleria, Pennack Road, SE16 6PW
All genders welcome!
This is a fundraiser for Lambeth Women’s Project www.lambethwomen.wordpress.com
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women, thinks that a ‘feminist’ response to the recession would be to place more women in top city jobs, putting them ‘in charge of the banks’. Meanwhile Harman supports the Welfare Reform Bill, which proposes to introduce US-style ‘workfare’ practices, forcing mothers of young children into minimum wage jobs or risk losing their benefits.
Harriet Harman likes to talk up her feminist credentials, but what kind of feminist only looks out for the interests of rich women during times of economic crisis? In fact, Harman has a long track record of selling out the majority of women she claims to represent – most recently playing a key role in blocking a Bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. If this is how the Minister for Women is going to act on our behalf, then we can do without her!
Fortunately, Harriet Harman’s feminism isn’t the only kind on offer. Many women in London are organising to resist the iniquities of capitalism – from the parents occupying Lewisham Bridge Primary School to protest against its privatisation; to hostel residents demanding decent housing in Hackney; to the Visteon workers who occupied their factory and finally won their redundancy.
Feminist Fightback has also been organising grass roots resistance to some of Harman’s biggest sell-outs during her time as Minister for Women – occupying the Department for Work and Pensions in protest against the Welfare Reform Bill, and taking direct action in solidarity with Northern Irish women who continue to be denied the right to control their own bodies.
Feminist Fightback invites you to join us outside Southwark Town Hall to show Harriet Harman that women have been fighting back in ways very different to those she proposes. We’ll be ‘decorating’ the Town Hall, sending messages to Ms Harman in a variety of ‘creative’ ways, and inviting our Minister for Women to come out and take a look!
This will be followed by a film showing introducing a number of women-led struggles taking place at the moment. We want this to be an opportunity to find out what’s going on in London; to make links with other women’s groups; and to find inspiration for how we can act collectively to take control of our workplaces, our communities and our lives.
Discussing and organising our fight for women’s liberation – open to all those who want to learn, think and plan for grassroots feminist activism… Join us for workshops which identify the interconnections between oppressions and our struggles against them. Work together with other feminists to find ways to actually change the material conditions of women’s lives.
Workshops include: learning from feminist history/ sex workers’ rights/ challenging domestic violence/ international solidarity/ a woman’s place is in her union?/ reproductive freedoms/ rape and asylum/ community organising/ queer and trans politics/ prison abolition/ self-defence workshop/ feminists and the capitalist crisis/ films, stalls and campaign planning
Organised by a coalition of groups and individuals. Groups involved so far include: Anarcha-Fem Kollective, All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Education Not for Sale Women, Feminist Activist Forum, Feminist Fightback, Left Women’s Network, London Coalition Against Poverty, Permanent Revolution, RMT Women’s Committee, Women Asylum Seekers Together, Women Against Rape, Workers’ Liberty.
Feminist Fightback joined the Red Umbrella Bloc on the Reclaim the Night March on Saturday 22 November.
On 22 November women from Feminist Fightback, Xtalk and the International Union of Sex Workers marched alongside other sex worker rights groups in a Red Umbrella contingent on the Reclaim the Night march in London. Our message: the aims of the Reclaim the Night march should include safe streets for sex workers. This is particularly important at the moment with legislation being proposed to further criminalise sex workers, giving increased powers to police to raid brothels. The “Red Umbrellas” stopped outside Spearmint Rhino at the end of the march to chant “Rights for Sex Workers”. Photos of us click here.
Today, we march alongside women on the Million Women Rise March with solidarity and respect. We are energised and excited to be a part of a rising tide of feminist activism. We are here to march and to show our resistance to the continued oppression and exploitation that the majority of women the world over continue to experience. We therefore think it is more important than ever to build a movement and develop a feminist politics that can fight for liberation and equality. Because of this, we think it is crucial for us to think hard about the kind of feminism that we want to work for…
We are feminists who want to link our fight for women rights with other movements for social justice and all struggles against capitalism and exploitation. We think as feminists it is crucial that we build alliances between these different struggles and to focus on the ways in which they interconnect. We do not think it is useful to prioritise one form of oppression over another, or to focus simply on women’s rights as separate from a wider system of exploitation. The privileging of gender (above race, sexuality or class) leads to the idea of women as eternal victims; to an ahistorical and static concept of patriarchy or male power; and to fruitless competition over who is ‘more oppressed’ according to different identity categories. This approach has been heavily criticised for taking the experience of white middle class women as standard and ignoring the experience of BME and working class women.
We understand all oppressions to be rooted within capitalism and the racist and patriarchal ideologies it produces. For this reason we do not think that real liberation for women can be achieved without also fighting capitalism. By capitalism we mean a system of power and control, which relies upon the exploitation of the working class and that puts profit before the needs people and the planet.
Violence and exploitation take many forms. It is of course crucial to oppose rape and sexual abuse but equally it must be understood that violence is not just perpetrated by individuals, but also by the state and in the name of big business. Immigration controls, sweatshop labour, poverty, police brutality, military imperialism and the denial of reproductive freedom are all forms of violence and must be named as such and opposed by all.
We support all women organising in their workplaces and against their bosses, be they sex workers, sweatshop workers or supermarket workers, teachers or train drivers, and we stand in solidarity with all women fighting for their rights- wherever they are in the world. For this reason we oppose the Million Women’s Rise definition of prostitution which links domestic abuse, rape and commercial sexual exploitation. For the thousands of women who work in the sex industry this demand is not only offensive but dangerous. To deny women the ability to choose to work in the sex industry is to deny their fight for better wages and working conditions. The demand to criminalise sex workers and the sex industry only serves to further the marginalisation and exploitation that sex workers currently face.
We want our campaigns and politics to empower women to fight their own exploitation rather than to depend on others for protection. We do not think a feminist movement should look to charitable organisations or ‘experts’ to bestow our rights upon us, but that we should build a movement involving as many women and men as possible to bring about liberation from below.
Feminist Fightback 2007, 20 October, University of East London