International Women’s Day creates an opportunity for women everywhere to unite, pushing the feminist cause forward whilst simultaneously raising awareness of how far it has come. This spirit of unity was embodied by the International Women’s Day panel organised by Reclaim the Streets Southampton. The event, which took place on Tuesday 8th March at Mettricks in Guildhall Square, brought together seven panellists with insightful and varied perspectives on feminism to discuss core issues facing women in our society. With Southampton having the second highest rate of sexual offences across the country, the conversation set out to address the importance of women’s safety and the actions that need to be taken locally.
As well as celebrating women and female identifying people, the panel also addressed the anniversary of the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of an ex-police officer, Wayne Couzens. They also addressed the injustice of media coverage for the LGBTQ+ community, women of colour, disabled women, and older women in similar cases. Indeed, the issue of police in relation to women’s safety was raised during the discussion, as several panellists emphasised the systemic issues entrenched within the metropolitan police force. As Sarah Everard’s case reignited public debate and conversation surrounding the safety of women, and with the subsequent vigil last year moved online as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the event provided a wonderful opportunity for local Southampton residents to gather together and have a meaningful discussion regarding women’s issues.
The event was organised by Reclaim the Streets Southampton, with organiser Beth Mitchell moderating the panel. Among the panellists were representatives of various organisations which operate in the local area, serving the community and providing advice and resources. These representatives included Megan Crook and Victoria McCarthy from Yellow Door, Abiola Kingsley Faborode from Black Women’s Project, Levi Wellman from People’s Pride Southampton, and Jessica from Spectrum. Also on the panel were Lisa Mitchell, Labour councillor for Portswood, and Lizzie Reed, a sociology lecturer from the University of Southampton.
Yellow Door is a local organisation focusing on domestic and sexual abuse. The representatives highlighted the importance of education and prevention as an effective means of preventing various forms of abuse. This includes a range of initiatives such as the STAR Project – this project involves working with young people in educational settings, teaching them important things such as how to recognise unhealthy relationships.
Abiola Kingsley is the President of the Black Women’s Project at the University of Southampton. With confidence and passion, she shared her personal struggles as a black student and working behind the bar as well as expressing difficulties she and her peers face on campus.
People’s Pride Southampton is a local organisation representing Southampton’s LGBTQ+ community. They support local members of the community through important initiatives such as hosting events and providing support services. Chairwoman Levi discussed her own experiences as a young trans woman in Southampton, emphasising the need for greater safety and protection for trans women.
Bringing an insightful political perspective to the conversation, Labour councillor Lisa Mitchell emphasised the need for more women to be involved not just in politics, but in active political decision-making. Lisa explained how women in politics can bring much-needed perspective, subsequently creating policy which represents and benefits women on a wider scale.
Representing Spectrum Centre was Jessica, a social worker who openly shared her personal experiences as a transgender woman and being a part of the disabled community. Spectrum is all run by Disabled People advocating the importance of independent living and by focusing on their Social Model theory they offer advice to increase happiness and understand equality across different demographics.
Lizzie Reed focuses on sexuality as a lecturer at the University of Southampton. She supports people within marginalised groups to be seen and heard in the institution, using her research to encourage more discussion about identity-making.
To end the night, the panel included a Q&A section in which guests could submit written questions and hear the panellists address these. The event also involved a prompt wall – prompts were written by the organisers for people to write responses on post-it notes, eventually creating a wall full of different thoughts and perspectives on women’s struggles. The event was highly effective in its interactive aspects, as features such as the prompt wall, alongside the conversational nature of the panel, contributed to the inclusive and supportive atmosphere created.
Attendance at the event was impressively high, reinforcing the desire of many from the local community to address issues surrounding women’s safety. As well as the high turnout at Mettricks, the event was also live-streamed on Facebook for those who could not attend in person. A recording of the event is still available on the Facebook page of the event.