International Women’s Day Interview with Vice President of FemSoc

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2017 has been a big year for women. With the inauguration of a President who regards some women as ‘pigs’, and increasing controls on Roe vs. Wade in America, we must work together to raise up other women and promote intersectional feminism.

This year, the campaign theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #BeBoldForChange to ‘forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world’. Deputy Opinion Editor, Ana Bond Esparraguera, spoke to Devin Valentine, Vice President of FemSoc to see what Southampton students are doing to support International Women’s Day on March 8th.

First of all, what is International Women’s Day? 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual celebration of womens’ achievements and struggles, and an introspective look at how the fight for equality is far from over. Every year they release a different theme around which the day revolves – last year it was ‘Gender Parity’ – the focus being on levelling the disparity between genders in areas such as representation (politics, STEM, etc) and access (education,healthcare,human rights, etc). This year the theme is ‘Be Bold for Change’ which focuses on the amazing things women, past and present, have done and are doing in their fight for equality, and looks to the future asking us what we will do to make things better.
The history of IWD is very cool – if you can believe it, the very first demonstration that we honour with this date happened in the USA, in 1908 on March 8th. Hundreds of working-class women protested in New York, demanding the right to vote and the right to form their own worker’s union. This movement snowballed, and a few hundred workers turned into 30,000 the next year – and they got their union. Meanwhile, around the same time in Europe, the Second International (international socialist and labour organisation) declared in 1910 that a day is dedicated to women and the struggle for women’s suffrage. Shortly after this in 1917, on March 8th, women held a mass demonstration in Russia demanding ‘Peace and Bread’ – which was a crux point for the Russian Revolution. In 1922, Lenin declared March 8th ‘women’s day’, where it eventually became a national holiday in the Soviet Union. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until 1975 that the UN officially recognised the date as International Women’s Day.
What is Southampton’s feminist society doing for International Women’s Day? 
Credit: Southampton Feminist Society

FemSoc have been a part of the citywide planning for IWD since September 2016, so a lot of effort has gone into the event this year to try and spark a revival – in the past, IWD was a big celebration in the city, and a few like-minded individuals decided it was time we made it that way once more. There will be a full day of events on March 11th, the first Saturday after IWD – from 10 am until 4 pm at West Quay there will be a plethora of stalls, where you will find Femsoc with our ‘ask a Feminist’ stall, our video from Hampshire Reclaim the Night, as well as general leaflets and information about gender equality and inspirational women. We will also be on the Redbrick (or Concourse, if it’s raining) on March 8th with the same stall, the idea being that we are putting ourselves out there and inviting inquisitive minds to come and see what we are about and check out all of the great things we have achieved and are still working towards.

Aside from the stalls at West Quay, there will also be musicians, dancers, a WSA fashion show and a play by Nuffield Theatre throughout the day on stage – it doesn’t stop there either! At The Art House, starting at 2 pm we will have four different speakers and guest panels talking on a range of topics. At 2pm is Dr Diahanne Rhiney, founder of Strength With In Me, a charity dedicated to domestic abuse intervention via education and empowerment of young people, at 3 pm is ‘What does it mean to be a Woman in Science?’, a University of Southampton panel where four scientists will open the floor to the public to discuss this topic. 4 pm is a lecture by Dr Jennifer Craig-Norton, another UoS lecturer who will be speaking about the difficulties faced by Jewish refugee women in WW2, and at 5 pm Vic Dale will be talking about the current situation for women in Pakistan and the struggles they face. After that, from 7 pm onwards, we will have an evening of music at The Art House with four bands to finish up the IWD celebrations.
 How can we celebrate women on International Women’s Day? 

I’m wondering if you mean on an intersectional level. I’m happy to say that this year we have an extraordinary amount of representation for women from all walks of life, which is so fantastic as so often these events can get very Western-centric and suffer from a “White Feminism” perspective, often ignoring the bigger picture of the fight for women’s equality worldwide. So I’ll go through a couple of the amazing community trusts and charities who will be at West Quay:

Medille Trust, who help victims of human trafficking in the UK; REFUGE – domestic abuse charity; Purple Community Fund – supporting socially disadvantaged women and children with education, rehabilitation, re-building and sustainability; City of Sanctuary who work to make the city a warm and welcoming place for refugees – the list is huge, and I think one of the best ways you can support women whose voices often get lost in the crowd is to come to West Quay on March 11th and have a look at these amazing charities, learn more about what they do and celebrate the diverse culture that some of these women have brought with them to the UK. Obviously, that sounds a bit self-promotional but it is going to be a huge concentration of information and celebration of not just women’s history and achievements in the UK, but globally too, and could be a great starting point for anyone interested in being more involved to volunteer with any of these causes. I think, though, in general, the devil is in the details.
When I talk to my sister (who is about 4) I try to consciously resolve gender biases before I talk to her – we were in hospital, for example, and I think things as simple as saying ‘oh he is the nurse!’ or ‘she must be the doctor’ help to deconstruct these inherent social biases we pass on to the next generation. That’s the important thing. Lead by example, it takes effort on your part to think before you say things, but I really believe this is how we move forward regarding gender equality. Go to the effort to research things – when your younger brother gets into sci-fi, tell him about Mary Shelley – and maybe when he becomes a comic book artist, he won’t even dream of portraying women as mere sexual props. When your little sister says computers are for boys, let her know that a woman was the key creator of the coding language computers use today. Obviously, this also applies to stereotypes for men, but we’re talking about IWD.
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Hello, my name is Ana and I have the privilege of being deputy opinion editor for the wessex scene. If I'm not talking about politics then I'm probably ill or complaining about the Tories...

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