“Inter-sectional, inclusive feminism key in transforming Wales and Europe” Impressions from #FPE16

News / 29.6.16

The conference “Feminism on the Peripheries of Europe”, organised jointly by Plaid Ifanc Youth, European Free Alliance Youth and Centre Maurits Coppieters [25 and 36 June 2016], revolved around the issue of gender equality and the role of feminist activism in transforming Europe into a more inclusive, socially and environmentally just union, particularly following the news of a Brexit result to the EU referendum, which was held just two days prior to the event, setting the tone for the discussions and giving new meaning to Europe’s “peripheries”.

The aim of the event was to educate and engage young activists on inter-sectional feminist issues from a Welsh, European and wider context. Kick-starting the conference, the first panel looked at Welsh feminism, past and present. Women in Wales have always been a part of the movement for self-governance with many women involved in the Cymru Fydd project in the 19th century. Although the Welsh Assembly has allowed women to get involved in politics and boasts of a fairly equal gender balance, women are still fairly invisible in Welsh public life and men continue to hold the top positions in the public sector. Intersections of class, language, sexuality, gender, race, religion all play a part in sustaining inequality with impossible notions of “acceptable femininity” and the burden of “double work” (professional and home duties).

Dr Lucy Taylor from Aberystwyth University and Hanna-Marilla Zidan, a Finnish Palestinian activist, spoke about this double discrimination that many Welsh and European women face. Inter-sectionality is the recognition that women, in particular women belonging to minority groups or stateless nations, endure several intertwining struggles and systems of oppression along racial, religious, linguistic and socio-economic lines. Dr Taylor concluded that “without inter-sectionality, we risk reinforcing racism.” There is no ‘one size-fits all’ feminism.

This point was reinforced by Sahar Al Faifi, Assistant Secretary General of Muslim Council of Wales, who spoke about British Muslim women being vulnerable to the impact of double discrimination on the basis of their faith, color and gender. The consequences can be clearly felt in an enlarged pay gap and profiling in job application processes. Due to the rise in xenophobia and Islamophobia, “We are always demonized, alienated and associated with groups that have nothing to do with Muslims”.

Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, the Party in Wales, conceded that “even with improvements in gender equality, more work is ahead in ending sexism and racism”, including in her own party. In all spheres of public life, “Where we see inequalities, it is our duty to address them.” Leanne Wood stressed the importance of making representative politics truly inclusive for both genders, and advocated for effective interventions like quotas, as well as confidence-building measures for women in public life. She also added that Wales and Europe need feminist voices from Muslim communities like Sahar Al Faifi to guide feminist approaches to race and religion.

Johanna Green from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation added that as minority quotas favor the participation of mainly male minority representatives, whereas gender quotas tend to favor women from majority groups, minority women face an even greater risk of being excluded. The ideal would be to find a balanced strategy that would also promote the participation of women from diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds that tend to be disadvantaged because of their status as a double minority. Both Johanna Green and Leanne Wood concluded that men can play a very important and active role in furthering equality; all men must be prepared to challenge direct and indirect sexism.

The last panel discussed how negative attitudes and discrimination can impact the LGBTQI minority community in schools and healthcare, highlighting the importance of awareness-raising and alliance-building to defeat misconceptions and stereotypes. The conference ended with a film screening of the documentary film “Vessel”, as well as an interactive workshop on language and sexism, during which participants problematized how sexist beliefs manifest themselves in Welsh, English and other languages. Through group debates, participants found new strategies for countering gendered use of language, including education and language reform.