Yes to Gender Equality: Why Feminism Matters
Contributors: Nadia El-Nakla, Anna McFarlane, Sarah Browne, Sara McHaffie. Report written by Sara McHaffie and Sarah Browne.
Nadia El-Nakla began the conversation. She said that as a society we like to use labels and to label people but as feminists we need to avoid this. There are a lot of misconceptions about feminists and feminism but feminism is about equality between men and women. As feminists, although we are diverse, we need to keep a single goal in sight and aim for equality. We need to understand the historical context but avoid trying to copy past feminist activism and instead think about what our priorities should be today.
People are conditioned to think equality has been achieved and there is no need for feminism but this is definitely not the case. She believes that in Scotland the best chance we have to get gender equality is to break from Westminster. But there will be resistance to our calls for gender equality because it challenges the status quo.
The participants were then asked to introduce themselves and to say what they thought about feminism and about women’s participation in the referendum and how it was portrayed.
Discussion focused on:
- How much the referendum made you realise how dominant men are in politics but that the referendum was refreshing as it provided space and room for women to speak.
- There was concern that women were used by political parties in the referendum just to increase their votes.
- The paid employment sector is the biggest barrier for women, especially relating to childcare and how we, as a society, define what is valued.
- For many in attendance, independence wasn’t about constitutional change but was a vehicle to change society.
- There were also concerns about the sexualisation of women’s (and men’s) bodies and the cultural pressure placed on women regarding how they look and behave.
- Education was one space which was discussed in relation to the pressure placed upon women as it was felt there was a lot of sexism apparent in high schools.
- Gender equality should also include an analysis of health inequalities and the issue of men and health.
- There was general agreement that what was good for feminism is good for women and men.
Discussion then moved on to focusing on which issues we should prioritise and how we keep the momentum, post-referendum, going?
- The issue of women in prison was raised both as a successful action when women campaign together and lobby political parties but also as an ongoing issue with regard to how we ensure marginalised women have their voices heard.
- Disarmament was seen as a very important issue as it links to male violence against women. If the State itself is violent (and provides arms to other countries that leads to violence against women) then it creates conditions for male violence against women.
- Childcare was seen as a very important issue. Maternity and Paternity leave seen as an issue that could unite all of us and we should thank feminists for raising this.
- The role of the media was discussed. It was felt that we can hold media outlets to account and social media is important as a way to gain some control.
- Health inequalities were debated and there was discussion over how far it was due to class or gender.
- Feminism was viewed by some participants as a barrier as it put off people. However, there was general agreement that we should promote more understanding of feminism and that as a term it is inclusive. We also need to be careful that feminism isn’t co-opted and used as a brand.
- We need to focus on institutions and systems, primarily capitalism and patriarchy.
- While it was acknowledged that men suffer from sexism, it was discussed that this rarely holds men back as it does for women.
- There was some discussion of the gendered nature of the benefits system and how cuts to benefits were disproportionately affecting women.
Ways to campaign on these issues were also discussed:
- Quotas should become law and there should be audits for policies
- It was felt that people should work on issues that interest them but should link with others to keep momentum going. Discussion is important.
- Important part of this discussion is deciding upon what sort of vision we want. What do we want society to look like?
3 things we proposed for the afternoon discussion:
- Valuing women and their time and labour, working to give a voice to marginalised women.
- Creating choices and opportunities for women of all ages and economic independence.
- Universal 24 hour childcare, shared responsibilities for childrearing, maternity and paternity leave including seeing childrearing valued as work.
The world café session was well-attended and there seemed to be a good deal of interest in the topic of women and independence.
There were three different groups who came to discuss the issues raised in the morning workshop, and to expand on the ideas that came out of it.
The three points from the morning workshop were expanded somewhat. They would now read more like;
- Freedom from intimidation by threat or use of violence or sexual coercion, regardless of marital status and an end to all laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and men’s aggression towards women (the seventh demand of the women’s liberation movement). Women should be valued along with their time and labour. We should work to give a voice to women marginalised due to race, sexuality, disability, poverty, imprisonment, migration status and drug use.
- Creation of choices and opportunities for women of all ages. This would include education that empowers girls, better quality of care and services for older women and challenging of gendered stereotypes which pressure girls and women to make particular, limited choices. Economic independence is crucial. One key way of achieving this is a citizen’s / universal income.
- Childrearing must be valued. Responsibility for childrearing should be shared. A citizen’s income would give more flexibility with regard to maternity/paternity leave. Universal 24-hour community-run childcare will remove barriers to women’s participation in society. Other barriers such as poor bus services should also be considered and challenged.
These goals should, once achieved, be audited to ensure they work as they should.
We also need quotas for balance in parliament, in management, on boards and in unions.
We discussed voter participation. There was someone from RIC Ayrshire in attendance who brought up the subject of women who use drugs who try to avoid anything like registering to vote that might put them on the radar of social services, due to a fear of losing their children.
There was a discussion of women who suffer under the politics of austerity. The point was made that women tend to live longer than men, so policies affecting older people predominantly affect women.
The discussion went back in the direction of voter participation with consideration of older women’s voting habits. It was mentioned that there was a lot of complaining about older women having voted no, when many older women round the table had only really met yes voters in the same demographic. The way older women were discussed in the media at the time was tinged with misogyny.
Older women are often cut off from social media so it’s entirely possible that some did vote no purely because they were more vulnerable to scaremongering and lacked the counter to the mass media scare stories that social media provided.
We resolved to be careful with our language, and remember than older women are not inherently conservative. Any campaign for independence should remember not to dismiss older women.
We had a discussion about the manufacturing of choice and consent with artificial binaries encouraged with a first past the post system like the one in Westminster.
There was an interesting exploration of the concept that ‘security is not military’. We heard about the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)’s work. We talked a little about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualisation. Women found it difficult to think about themselves and their own self-esteem and self-actualisation but could consider it with regards to their children. This then led into discussions about self-esteem and identity for the women participating.
We talked for a long while about the way toys are coded for boys or girls. We heard about activism challenging this in Morrisons in St Andrews. This led into us talking about what to do about the sexualisation and objectification of girls and women.
A new group of participants came along whose response to the morning’s goal of free 24-hour community-led childcare was to look at other family-related barriers to societal participation. We talked about buses needing to be more family-friendly in terms of cost, timings etc.
Someone expressed the need to keep women in the workforce – women train to perform particular jobs then find themselves unable to use that training as it’s hard to combine work with family responsibilities.
There needs to be decent legislation which challenges this. Some countries have better laws which allow women the time to express breast milk, for example.
The conversation veered back to mainstream press – it was jokingly suggested that if the daily mail and the record were banned things would improve and there’s maybe a grain of truth in that.
A discussion of pornography concluded that it can’t possibly be feminist in fact, even if it might be feminist in name. This led back neatly to the adoption of the seventh demand of the women’s liberation movement, with the porn industry being one of the institutions shoring up women’s oppression.