Inspiring Women conference

Speakers at the conference.
Image: Rebecca D’andrea.Speakers at the conference. Image: Rebecca D’andrea.

On the 11th of March, Newcastle University hosted the annual conference “Inspiring Women”, as part of International Women’s Day’s celebrations.

Each year the event is devoted to a single theme or idea, and this year the concept was ‘Be Bold For Change’.

With a specific focus on the role of change¬-makers, it was a celebration of women’s achievements in all parts of society – social, political or economic.

Professor Kathryn Hollingsworth, Newcastle University’s law lecturer and the Chair of NU Women, opened the conference with a talk on how women face sexual harassment within the university environment, from both seniors and students.

Hollingsworth highlighted how female students and lecturers are often overlooked for their academic achievements as a result of their gender that eventually puts them in vulnerable situations.

Tina Simbo, an activist for the Angelou Centre, discussed race relations and gender. The work at the Angelou Centre supports BME (black and ethnic minority) women as well as educating pupils in North East schools about racial identities.

The event was also focused on how women in history had overcome both race and gender stereotypes in some of the greatest revolutions of time, such as the overthrowing of slavery in Haiti.

Alison Boydell, co-founder of JURIES campaign, featured and spoke out about Jill Saward, whose publically analysed story as a burglary and rape victim led her to her fantastic work in gaining legal rights for other women, who have suffered similarly. This was through campaigns and the charity J.U.R.I.E.S., which is still fighting for action after her recent passing.

In an open discussion between Bridget Hamilton, founder of Verbal Remedy, and Dr David Jones the floor was opened up to the audience with the question ‘Can Men Be Feminists?’ It began with an exploration of what is the role of men in supporting gender equality but broadened to issues surrounding politics, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and what it truly means to be a feminist.

Workshops ran throughout the day, covering everything from the gender pay gap with the Young Women’s Trust, which is currently at 18%, to how to gain confidence in public speaking and leadership.

Saffron KershawMee, Marginalised Genders Officer, said:

“Events like Inspiring Women are completely necessary to kindle a passion for change, to challenge societal norms, and hear stories from women who have been campaigning and fighting for decades on gender inequality whilst bringing to light the intersections between being a woman and being of colour.”

Saffron earlier promoted the creative side of gender equality activism through “Zines for Change”.

“I ran a similar workshop during my Beyond the Binary NUSU campaign in late January, and thought it would be perfect to encourage people to create zines on the concept of change and inspiration. The NUSU Inspiring Women’s conference was a breath of fresh air, and the atmosphere of community and togetherness made for a great day for all who attended.”

Mental health’s role in activism was also featured by Lucy Morgan, former president of Newcastle University’s Feminist Society.

She said:

“It was such an honour to talk at NUSU’s annual Inspiring Women Conference about student politics and mental health. Women and non-binary activists who are unapologetic about their political views experience immense scrutiny in comparison to cisgender male activists.

“This scrutiny had a really detrimental impact on my mental health while I was a student at Newcastle so it was really important for me to come back and share my experiences with it. The Inspiring Women’s Conference is something that NUSU should be really proud of as it gives women such as myself the confidence and the voice to talk about these issues in a supportive, inclusive environment.”

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