On the 8th March every year, women come together to meet, talk and celebrate for International Women’s Day.
It’s a day of recognising the mountainous path which women have had to tread to achieve gender equality but it is also a day of looking ahead, to seeing how much further we’ve got to tread. This year’s theme is ‘Make it happen‘ which resonated in the speeches of every woman who stood up within the four walls of the M-Shed exhibition rooms, in Bristol. Bristol Women’s Voice organised a schedule of talks, slam poetry and workshops to coincide with #IWD2015, an event which opened my eyes and will open yours too.. (regardless of gender)
This girl can
Sport England’s initiative This Girl Can was launched in January 2015, This Girl Can tackles the fear of judgement which women feel when exercising and suggests that sweating is the result of working out, feeling powerful and accomplished. On a community level, Bristol Girls Can is connecting girls who have concerns about exercising to swimming, cardio and aerobic classes in and around the area with Commonwealth games medalist Claudia Fragapane’s backing. The launch of Bristol Girls Can has seen 7 influential women come forward from a range of different sports acting as inspiration for other women, there will also be a number of campaigns and activity days encouraging free participation in local sport centres.
It’s alright Michael Gove, I’ve got your back…
The most hilarious talk of the day was actually for a very serious issue, but the comedy timing of Faduma, Syeda and Hamda meant I actually listened to every word that was said about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and the great things that Integrate Bristol were doing to help prevent it. FGM is a female circumcision, a surgical procedure which involves ‘sewing’ a woman’s genitals. FGM is not exclusive to culture or religion, let’s shift this taboo, it’s not just a intangible concept of a horror happening in a 3rd world country – it’s happening in the UK, even in Bristol.
Integrate Bristol has made some serious headway by escalating the issue of awareness to a global level by launching a petition to get Michael Gove to write to all schools in England explaining about FGM. The petition received 234,373 votes on change.org. Michael Gove even attended a school lesson on FGM just one week after meeting 5 women from Integrate Bristol, a meeting which Faduma laughed at ‘I mean, we were 5 brown girls and Michael Gove, I thought, “Don’t worry Michael, I’ve got your back!’ we all roared with laughter at this comment, only for Faduma to follow on “I lie, I don’t really have your back!”. Gove was just a stepping stone for these headstrong women, with Fahma Mohamed famously meeting Ban Ki-Moon, head of the UN, presenting her petition to take the awarenes of FGM to a global level. Faduma commented on the fact that as part of her role, she has been talking to people in the medicine industry – she then reflected honestly about how badly she’s doing in Biology at the moment. Worldwide domination one day, passing Biology As-Level the next day.
Slam poetry and life lessons
Slam poetry is a a totally new concept to me but Vanessa Kisuulle, multiple grand slam spoken word winner and all round nice girl laid out a letter to her brother and a Personal Malleable Manifesto in a public performance that left everyone stunned. Her first poem delved into the personal confines of the selfish thoughts of an older sister who had to welcome a younger brother into the world and consequently share some of her mother’s love. The poem starts off bitter and resentful until she sees the beautiful baby and likens the feeling, the sight and the smell of new to ‘nirvana on laundry day’. Her letter incorporates a maternal fear of something so precious to grow up in a world so scary. There’s one line which stays with me, ‘sometimes, getting out of bed feels like you’re learning to walk all over again’ and it reminds me that her message is true to all of us who still have those days where we’re just not feeling it.
The Personal Malleable Manifesto is a sincere and sobering message, delivering a 16 point checklist of life-affirming points. Vanessa firstly outlines not to be too serious and invites us to laugh at ourselves, “you are ridiculous after all.”. Just a couple of minutes later she’s suddenly the voice of reassurance, pausing briefly “I know it’s hard sometimes, I know it’s hard sometimes”. I felt a collective nod as she said this.
The following message felt important, celebrate individuality, femininity don’t knock it:
Wear prom dresses to Sainsburys and sequins to casual coffee dates, don’t wait for special occasions that will never arrive. Youth was made for bright colours and hemlines that hug upper thighs – give your future elderly self something to smile fondly about.
But the message that received an welcomed response from the audience:
Opinions are made out of putty, not cement.
This message draws me back to the overall theme of making things happen, as girls learn not to sit under the glass ceiling but to realise their potential to smash through it altogether. Let the same fears of judgement discussed with This Girl Can also be completely blown away with the knowledge of it’s temporality. Someone’s opinion is not a permanent artifact, and even if it was – your aspirations move so fast you lose sight of it.
I just need to provide a shout out to the ladies behind Breathing Fire theatre company, they lead a workshop which had the whole room in hysterics. I came into a room with over 30 women (complete strangers to each other) introducing themselves, with each introduction they made a gesture whether it was a wave or a wiggle – everyone then welcomed the introduction by saying hello and imitating the gesture. This.was.hilarious.
Members of the audience could actually participate in this workshop instead of being spectators, I loved this idea as everyone shared their identity and their experiences through their introductions.
If we learn from experience, then hearing these women’s experience provided the steepest learning curve. Whether it was Faduma, Syeda and Hamda from Integrate Bristol juggling their political and social activism against Female Genital Mutilation alongside their Psychology homework. Whether it was, Vanessa Kissuule looking me in the eye while voicing childhood perceptions of her stoic mother who seemed to have the firm foundations of lego, but infact could fold like tracing paper within the quiet hours of the night.
These women stood up and looked confidently around the room, they knew who they were and what they were doing. They didn’t just simply recite their dreams, but they demonstrated how they followed their dreams. In other words, they made it happen. Deborah Fleming, member of the England’s Rugby Women’s team quoted Thomas Edison in her closing speech and I will do too, because if one IWD 2015 has made me realise today, don’t just think that you can, actually do.
If everyone did what they were capable of, we would astound ourselves.