International Women's Day 2010

International Women’s Day: View from the ground (in Wales)

Posted in 2010 03 08, Statements Press Releases, Wales by womeninlondon on 9 March 2010
    Feminist activist Hannah Austin on how International Women’s Day events this year are a great example of grassroots community activism

For women’s organisations, coming up for air from the daily grind to celebrate International Women’s Day is nothing new – the first IWD was celebrated in 1909.

But the level of participation from the wider community in Cardiff has increased hugely over the last couple of years.

Last year, we coordinated a festival of sorts to unite disparate IWD activities from women’s organisations and increase local participation. The level of response was overwhelming, and we ended up with a fortnight-long programme including most of the major venues in Cardiff.

This year, something similar is going on – but it’s growth has been more organic and community-led. There’s no steering group (as there was last year), no management, no infrastructure to speak of. The website we set up last year continues, where people can post their events for free. But everyone has really taken the ball and run with it. It’s as if the seeds were sown last year, and now people are just getting on with it themselves.

Personally I find the ‘DIY’ ethic and grassroots-led approach truly inspirational. While it’s certainly important for women’s sector organisations to raise the profile of their work, it is just as important for events to be community-focused, accessible, visible, and – dare I say it?! – fun.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s funding theme for this year is ‘getting more women into political and public life’. Few people would question the importance of getting more women represented in mainstream political institutions. But it’s also important to empower young women and girls to have the confidence to do whatever they want and to be inspired by seeing other women centre-stage doing things that interest them: whether that’s picking up a guitar, talking about their experiences or finding out how to stand for public office.

The way I got involved in activism was through music and arts, not through political debate or conferencing – that’s the same for lots of women I know around my age (25). I think a turning point occurred at Ladyfest Bristol 2004 (a feminist festival), where I met and talked to several women from Cardiff. We decided to stop moaning about the male-dominated nature of the music ‘scene’ in Cardiff back then, and came back brimming with ideas for doing it ourselves. From that, we organised fundraising gigs for local women’s refuges; Peppermint Patti was formed, and we organised a multi-venue, city-wide festival in 2006 with feminist workshops, female artists, musicians, performers and films, drawing the links between women’s under-representation in the arts and the feminist movement more widely. From these activities, further networks were formed, several of which are continuing and represented in IWD Cardiff 2010.

This is the way it works with grassroots action: networks create networks. Events like IWD should take multiple formats because people have different interests.

Feminism should be a populist movement focused on engaging as many women and men as possible in ending sexism, because sexism is damaging for everyone. And public life is not just mainstream politics; it’s also about what you do in your everyday life, about seeing your experiences reflected: seeing women centre-stage, and feeling inspired and empowered to do that yourself.

The ultimate aim, of course, is for none of this to have to happen – for there to be no need to organise events promoting women into public and political life, because they’ll be there already, with their lives unmarred by violence, earning an equal wage, with adequate and affordable childcare for their kids, and represented equally in all echelons of society. But until we achieve that, there is still a need for this. So get out there, get involved, and get inspired. Here’s to a public holiday for IWD 2011!

This is a guest post (on guardian blog) from Hannah Austin, 25, feminist activist from Welsh Women’s Aid. Hannah has been involved in organising International Women’s Day events in Cardiff from the outset. She is currently forming a network of women to work on a feminist festival next year called Breaking the Waves. You can email Hannah or Twitter: @FeministCardiff.

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