"One of the things I love about the feminist movement is that we're each other's catalysts. We are always pushing each other to go for our dreams and to maybe try that project that we're thinking of, make it a reality somehow."
Dr Bec Wonders reports from FiLiA 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. Listen to interviews with an array of attendees and participants at the largest grassroots feminist conference in Europe. Over 1000 women, including 150 speakers from 32 different countries, gathered to talk about women’s rights, to reconnect and laugh with friends, to learn, listen and strategise for a feminist future.
Cover illustration by Bec Wonders
LIVE from FiLiA 2023 in Glasgow
Bec Wonders 00:00
Hello and welcome to this recap of the 2023 FiLiA conference in Glasgow. Just a brief warning that this episode contains some strong language.
Over 1000 women gathered together from all over the world to talk about women's rights; to reconnect and laugh with friends; to learn, listen and strategise and envelop ourselves in the safety and darkness of a women-only disco; to go to bed full of new ideas and wake up to do it all again the next day. FiLiA, the largest grassroots feminist conference in Europe, is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland this year. My name is Bec Wonders, I'm an artist and historian at the University of Oxford, and this is the record of FiLiA2023. The venue for FiLiA this year is nestled under the train tracks of Glasgow Central Station on Argyle Street, infamous for raves and alternative theatre in the 90s and early 2000s. The elusive artist Banksy considered a suitable canvas for his stencilled work back in 2001, and today, it has even taken its reluctant place in the annals of women's history. Known as The Arches back in the day, the venue went into administration in 2015, but recently reopened as Platform.
The hustle and bustle of the conference makes it easy to forget that, for a brief moment, it was a very real possibility that FiLiA would not have happened at all this year. There's a twisted irony in the venue's name ‘Platform’, given that merely 24 hours before the doors of FiLiA were set to open, it attempted to bay to outside pressure, and remove the very thing which its name promises. Thanks to the quick actions of the solicitors representing FiLiA, however, Platform was reminded in no uncertain terms that such a cancellation would be an unlawful breach of the Equality Act. So, despite an organiser’s worst nightmare of facing the loss of a venue the day before the event, FiLiA2023 is indeed finally going ahead.
We're standing outside the FiLiA venue, there are women queuing up to check in and attend the conference. And on the other side, there's a group of protesters blasting music, holding up signs, shouting slogans such as ‘Shame on you’. Again, ‘Shame on you’. I would say it's a very distinctly male presence on the other side of the road. Let's just leave it at that.
Right, okay, I got my wristband, I'm inside. And I am just greeted by an incredible selection of feminist books by the radical bookseller News from Nowhere. And this is an amazing way to start a conference with a reminder of the legacy of women's writing and women's work that has come before today. And, well, let me go see if I can find some women who are willing to talk to me.
Sally Jackson 03:22
I'm Sally Jackson, and I'm one of the trustees and volunteers at FiLiA. I think my mind has just gone completely blank now ‒ running on coffee and adrenaline. But I was just saying, women are coming in now ‒ you're seeing the seats filling up, the energy starting to buzz. And it's like, yes, that's why we're here. That's why it's important. And I am so glad that we're doing it. You know, I think we find a space, let women meet, and the work gets done.
I'm Marie. I drove from Bordeaux, but I live in Leipzig. I want to hear a lot of inspirational women, and also connect and network with women. I like the sisterhood and solidarity. And also I like to meet all the women again.
Esmée Streachailt 04:04
I'm Esmée Streachailt, and I came here from Washington, D.C. I feel like I landed in the middle of tribe, you know? There's a lot I don't have to explain to people here, when I open up my mouth and start talking, and I don’t have to cover all the ground again. So, it's really fantastic to have that to relax into. And then find my way learning new things from all of these women. I mean, people are here from everywhere in the world, you know. There are things I've never seen or heard that I'm going to learn. That's going to be astonishing. And just the ability to hang out, visit with these women like this. Quite an honour. Amazed. I've taken a real interest in what's happening with young women with adolescents, and there's a couple of panels that are going to address some of those thoughts. So really, really want to meet those women and see what they're thinking about.
Hi, I'm Giulia[RL1] . I travelled from London. I mean, there's nothing else like it right? It's the weekend where I get to do all my radical feminism with all these women who are amazing and that I get to meet and, after listening to their podcasts and reading their articles and supporting their organisations, just really excited. I wait for this all year ‒ nothing like it. And my work is here as well. I'm a trainee solicitor at the Centre for Women's Justice, which is a small legal charity, which aims to hold the state to accounts on issues relating to violence against women and girls. I hope I'm going to leave with a tonne of new books, a tonne of new ideas and for… disrupting prostitution, pornography, anything. I mean, last year, I joined new political parties, I joined mailing lists, you know, WhatsApp groups about how to end pornography. I mean, all kinds of ideas get sparked here.
Speaker on stage 05:48
No more sleeps, it's finally here. FiLiA Glasgow is here!
Bec Wonders 05:56
And so FiLiA has officially begun. The huge queue outside is slowly making its way in. Women are taking seats, cheering, getting ready for a packed weekend of feminism ahead. I mean, the atmosphere is buzzing. I don't know how else to describe it. There's a real sense of anticipation in the air. The first day, we'll see women such as the Scottish MP Joanna Cherry in conversation with the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Reem Alsalem. It will see a panel on the impact of the cost of living crisis on women; there's a talk by filmmaker, Vaishnavi Sundar, on feminist advocacy through films; there's a global panel of diverse feminist voices reporting from their countries and diasporas; there's a feminist fundraising workshop; a book launch of the new anthology Sex and Gender edited by Selina Todd and Alice Sullivan, there's a session on surviving the criminal justice system after rape and sexual assault; several films are being screened, and I mean, there's so so so much more on the agenda that I haven't even mentioned. But let's check back in with the women here and see how they are finding it.
Shona Craven 07:32
I'm Shona Craven. I was at FiLiA last year in Cardiff, and it was incredible. So I thought I definitely have to come when it is on my doorstep. I mean, just the gathering of women in itself is incredible, let alone all the panel events and really interesting speakers, sometimes on events that I already… or topics I already know about. Other times, mind blowing presentations on things I really knew nothing about.
I'm Sarah. I'm a lesbian, radical feminist and I've travelled from France. And I'm here doing the steward team for FiLiA security. A huge gathering, an international gathering of a lot of women and a lot of lesbians from everywhere, with a lot of different workshops and topics. So, it's really nice. I hope everyone is safe, everyone woman is safe, and that we can have a little bit of fun sometimes, and that all of us leave Glasgow feeling stronger. Of course, we need more women prioritising other women. So that would mean like women-only spaces, but also like creating things together. And I think for that we need to learn how to not reproduce misogyny and racism and other oppressions between us.
Victoria Gugenheim 08:49
Hi, I'm Victoria Gugenheim, I'm a women's rights activist, body painter and a makeup artist and I've travelled from London to be here. It's my second time. And I was really impressed with a wave of genuine sisterhood and solidarity last time, felt totally inspired to take more positive action, and so I'm back here. I feel like FiLiA, it's full of the type of women who understand the real issues affecting women, and they actually get shit done. This isn't just some kind of mealy-mouthed dodgy conference where people go and talk and go home. There's real power, there's real taking action. And it's really beautiful, actually. Networking, organising, solidarity, finding out more about what's happening with the plight of women around the world and being inspired to take further action. That's what I want from this weekend. And so far, it's not disappointed, already! It's only the first day it's, yeah, it's been brilliant.
My priorities are empowering and working with domestic violence survivors, especially rape victims, making sure that they have a voice. I work with Maryam Namazie, who runs the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, and also runs One Law for All. I've been the resident artist for the last 10 years. And I want to make sure that voices are not erased, and I want to make sure people understand what's going on in Iran, and that they can do something. Like if you, say for example, if you look at the Woman Life Freedom protests we've been orchestrating, that makes sure that we're visible in the media, that people don't forget about Mahsa Amini, Jina Amini, and so that's really important to me that these… because these women have nobody, you know. They're forced into cloth bags; they're not taking it anymore. And we have to make sure their voices are heard. So I'm here for all women, and especially the women of Iran. Woman Life Freedom!
I'm Julia and I travelled from Berlin, Germany. It's my third year. And I had so much fun in the last years, I wanted to come back and not only see the women who I met, and who I really enjoy, but also get a bunch of books, learn from other women from around the world. This is one of the only places where I can actually hear the words spoken from the mouths of women who come from places I've never been, and I probably won't ever go to. So, it's great to learn, gain that knowledge, so I can share it with the women who I am around in my city. I've already learned a lot from the opening session and from the talk between Joanna Cherry and Reem Alsalem.
I am really looking forward to the party; I love to dance with other women and just have fun. And yeah, I just hope to enjoy the time, to learn a lot, to gain better knowledge and also to feel comfortable. It's also a really comfortable atmosphere and I enjoy it also for that reason. I think one of the things that helps make it a comfortable atmosphere is that the people working on the staff ‒ the women, excuse me ‒ who are part of the staff here, they're really helpful. They are ready to assist you if you have any question. There's friendly faces, smiles, also engaging conversations. It's a place where you can actually be yourself and engage, share your ideas, ask questions, challenge. I love this kind of atmosphere.
As a lesbian, I would encourage women to think about their relationships with other women. That would be like a big, big goal outside of this conference, to really think about how you relate with other women, and how that compares with how you relate with men. I would encourage women who are listening to really think and analyse, think critically about how you are with men or with women. How's that different and what's better for you.
Claire Heuchan 12:30
My name is Claire Heuchan. I'm a very proud member of the FiLiA team. I am FiLiA's Director of Anti-Racism and Lesbian Community Engagement. FiLiA means community to me and home, I think, it's an incredibly powerful thing to be part of a collective of like-minded women, working towards the shared goal of liberation for women and girls. It is just so encouraging, and even in periods of depression or burnout, FiLiA just lifts me up and keeps me focused. Behind the scenes for a conference, it's always quite intense. But it is such a joyous and victorious feeling to be gathered here with over 1000 women talking about our rights, the issues we face globally, and how we can organise collectively. That is a great feeling.
Helen Joyce 13:23
My name is Helen Joyce, I wrote a book came out a couple of years ago called Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality and now I'm the Director of Advocacy for Sex Matters. So, I'm here because I always try to come to FiLiA and see, you know, more than 1000 women who understand what women's needs and rights are, and who want to come together in sisterhood. It's a great event. I come away always energised by the sisterhood and the… just the support and the stories, even though some of those stories are pretty sad, actually. I see familiar faces and some new faces. And one thing I've already noticed this time, is there are more young women. I mean, there are always some young women but there are more this year. And so what's exciting to me and what I think will come out of this FiLiA, and is probably building on previous FiLiAs, is the next generation of young women who are taking up the torch for celebrating women but also protecting women, and doing that as women together.
I was fascinated to hear Reem Alsalem talk about her work at the UN brilliantly interviewed by Jo Cherry. And I've also just been at the session that was on activism, on political campaigning. And that was a great group of women talking about everything from how to do a really small grassroots campaign that engages with your local councillor or your local MP, to how you would take a judicial review and what you might hope for from that. So for me, it's about learning practical things that I could imagine using in the next year.
I'm Fiona. I'm a support worker at Beira's Place; it's opened up in Edinburgh in the Lothians, and I've been working there for the last year or so. So Beira's Place was set up because there wasn't anywhere in Edinburgh that was exclusively single-sex for women-only. So there are loads of services that women can go to, but not any that were designated completely single-sex. And we knew from grassroots organisations that a lot of women have been excluding from services. And so the centre was set up, just to make sure people had a choice, you know, so women have got the choice where to go, and they now have the choice of a single-sex service. So I'm here today to listen to what everyone's got to say. And to just hear all the different threads of issues that are coming up for women around the world. It's actually been really exciting. A lot of people are coming up and saying ‘oh, we've heard all about it’, you know, ‘it's nice to see who you are’, and you know ‘how is the work going?’ and asking you know, how things are progressing. So, a lot of encouragement, a lot of women saying that it's been inspiring, and it's led on to other things as well.
Jayne Egerton 16:09
I'm Jayne Egerton. I'm part of Women's Place UK. I'm a second wave feminist of sort of 80s vintage. I love FiLiA because it's so global; it's so international; there's a real diversity of women. I'm hoping to, in a sense, consolidate some political friendships that I've made online. I've just met a woman from Pakistan, in fact, that I only have an online friendship with, so it's really thrilling to meet her. I'm exhausted. But I was by 11 o'clock, you feel kind of quite emotionally churned up. You know, because you're hearing difficult painful experiences from women. I think that's always the case with FiLiA. I had to leave a workshop last year because I was crying so much, I began hiccupping. I was disturbing everybody else. But it's also heartening, and it's positive, so it's that mix, isn't it? I suppose I'd like to see what might be called a genuinely intersectional feminism, which centres women, and I think you see that at this conference.
Bec Wonders 17:21
And so, tired and exhausted, but full of inspiration, women begin leaving the venue as day one of FiLiA draws to a close.
Day two starts off bright and early, and the venue is already packed at 9 a.m. I attended the morning panel about the sex industry, which features testimony from prostitution survivors all over the world. And I managed to catch up with one of the amazing panellists, my good friend, Merly.
Merly Åsbogård 18:01
Hi, my name is Merly Åsbogård, and I am at FiLiA as a prostitution and sexual abuse survivor. So I am invited to join a panel. I think that FiLiA is one of the most amazing places, because it brings so many survivors together from all different countries. We can, you know, cheer each other on, but also share our knowledge, and we can share how we are working and what works and what doesn't work. FiLiA is always a very special, very good vibe. You see people you haven't seen for a couple of years, you know ‒ I am from Sweden, so I don't go every year. It's my third time. Of course, you run into people that you've seen before. And then you run into people you've never seen before. It's a new connection. And it's just amazing. You just expand your whole social calendar and the whole social list of people that are very interested in doing what you're doing. But maybe not interested in doing what I'm doing, but we're doing it together, we're doing it separately, but we can meet here and talk about it. FiLiA is one of the best places to hoard energy for next year.
So my expectations for the future, is… I needed this kick in the butt, to do what I need to do, which is finish my book! It's an autobiography, and mostly just surrounding my 16 years since I was a child to adulthood in the sex trade, and it's been good to have a publisher coming to you and say ‘We want your book’. Then actually writing it is really painful. So, but I'm almost done, but I needed this kick and I needed this vibe to do it. I want to see us get, not just angry, get productive and stop with the bullshit.
Bec Wonders 19:45
Wow. Incredible words to start the day with. Day two has lots in store from everyone. From women in trade unions, to a lesbian book group meet-up, to feminist thought in and beyond academia, to an organised march highlighting the harms of surrogacy, another book launch even, this time of Secrets and Silence by Beatrix Campbell, and even a direct action art performance by the artist Angela Wild. Speaking of Angela, let's chat to her and catch up with some more women to hear how they're getting on.
Angela Wild 20:31
Hello, my name is Angela Wild. I'm a lesbian feminist activist, I'm also an artist. So I'm at FiLiA for plenty of reasons. One is the hugs and the sisterhood; I come from a really rural place, and coming here means this is my social, biggest social feminist interaction of the year. And obviously, the speeches like so many women have so many stories, some harrowing, some uplifting, but it's really important to keep track of what's going on. And I also sell merchandise and promote radical feminist culture and visual things for women to rebel, yes!
I'm also very lucky to have my stall in the main room, so I've been able to hear a lot of the speeches, and I was so impressed by Reem and how she was speaking about… I mean, the fact that she's really legitimising our fights in official places. But she was also saying ‘I can't do this without activists on the ground’; it was really nice to feel the collective work at different levels of power on, you know… like something we feel disenfranchised and powerless. And we are, in fact everywhere now. So that, to me is very positive. I'm trying not to crash because it's such a tiring thing. I find it difficult, like I'm trying to go to the party tonight. It's going to be cool, but it's so exhausting, you never know. And just also reconnecting with a lot of friends, you know, there's women from plenty of countries that I haven't seen or that I just see once a year. You, for example! So catching up.
So I've worked for two years on a little project called No Men Beyond This Point, where I've built a kit, to put in a handbag, basically a handbag kit, where you can place a woman's space somewhere, wherever you are, around you. So, it consists of some poles and base and then a ribbon, where you place a symbolic boundary around you and invite women in. And then social experiment, see what happens. So if men become hostile, as they might, then we have to hold our ground. How are we going to do this? What are we going to say? I've got a copy of the Equality Act in the pack, just in case the police is challenging us. And then if it's peaceful, I've got some separatist texts to talk about. I've got some chalk; we can write on the floor. I don't want to say too much, but basically, it will depend on how it goes. I know from experience how hard it is to create a boundary and maintain it. So giving the women the opportunity to face that, but also it is a separatist conversation we're having. And separatism is a word that scares women all the time. It's normal, because it means placing a boundary; it means saying no; it means facing men's rage. And so it's an opportunity to talk a bit more deeply about this politics.
Eleri Hedley-Carter 23:10
My name is Eleri Hedley-Carter. I am a student at Oxford University; I research women in contemporary Britain, and I'm also working on a podcast on anti-pornography for FiLiA, which will hopefully come about in the New Year. I'm hoping to get together a group of researchers, survivors of the sex trade, and women who work within the Violence Against Women sector to talk about the history of pornography, apply some feminists theory to our experiences and the history that we know, and then also talk about contemporary issues to do with pornography, linking it to wider issues of prostitution, also issues to do with pornography in schools.
I went to Cardiff for the first time last year, and I couldn't miss it again. And it's lovely to be in Glasgow, it feels very relevant, given everything that's happened with the GRA in the past year. And it's just nice to be around sisters! I think there's lots of young feminists here; it feels like we may have less access to feminists discussions, or fear of, you know, being cancelled within our friendship group or schools or universities. And we also have the added pressure of like, not having economic stability, and fear of what might happen to our careers if we express our views on either male violence or any gender critical beliefs. So it's really important to both meet younger feminists that have some sort of way of organising, in a similar way to how the older feminist network do, which is so powerful here.
I was very impressed with the film Fly So Far, which documents the experiences of women in El Salvador who've been in prison for between 30 to 40 years for crimes of homicide based on their experiences of miscarriage and domestic violence. And it was really beautiful film, with beautiful imagery and a real focus on female community within those prisons and outside of it. And that just added a new perspective that I was really interested to learn about.
I think one of my personal priorities at the moment is spreading women's ideas. I have a big pipe dream of opening a women's library in Oxford where I'm based, because I feel like all of these important texts and women's ideas from the second wave and even before, they're already out there, and we hear about feminism and discussion of women's ideas in the news, and it's as if these are presented as new theories. When, if we had more access to these texts, I feel like it would not only revive some of these arguments that are still so relevant in our times now, but also create that space for dialogue and consciousness-raising, and women's community-building around the central feminist principles and theories.
Bec Wonders 26:36
And before I could blink my eyes practically, day two draws to a close. Where did the time go? Women are getting ready to dance the night away in the safety of our own company, under the arches of Glasgow Central Station.
And here we are, I can't believe it's already day three. There's a definite hush in the air as two days of intense feminist activity catches up with everyone ‒ nothing to do with the party last night... Today's schedule is once again packed with sessions that cover a wide range of topics such as peace and security for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, self-defence, consciousness-raising and singing workshops, the intersection of racism and sexism in prostitution and human trafficking that is presented by Asian Women for Equality, a lecture on the feminist artists Maud Sulter, and a panel on the history of witches. And again, so, so much more. Let's see if any women are awake enough to speak with me...
Hi, my name is Alexandra. I am a Polish radical feminist. And I am here because I am a part of the Women's Liberation Movement! And I want to connect to other women globally. This is actually my third FiLiA. And I keep coming back because I am such a fan. There's no other place like it. It's just the energy is incredible. I always feel so incredibly empowered and filled with energy for the next year, so that I can keep on coming back and get more and more and then do my work back home.
JK Rowling just unexpectedly joined a panel. And she spoke about the need for single-sex spaces based on her experience of setting up a women's shelter. And it was just incredible. I cried for the entire hour. It was such a great gift from FiLiA it to us women activists. I think everyone was just perplexed and just incredibly shocked. But also, I don't know, it was so warm and loving. It's just incredibly supportive to have her on our side. So it just felt really heart-warming to me, next to just being completely starstruck.
I'm feeling overwhelmed because of the amount of incredible things that keep on happening. But I also feel like I always learn new things from FiLiA. It's, first of all, I find it really precious that I can learn about the women's movement in other countries and have this feeling of global connection. Because I feel like me myself in my work back in Poland, doing this grassroots work, it's really… what we need is this global sisterhood so that we can learn from other women's experiences. So that's what I try to get from FiLiA, to learn how other women are doing their work, so I can be more effective in mine.
Bec Wonders 30:09
Can you tell me a bit about, how was a party last night?
It was so much fun. I am always just, all over the place, and just completely excited about the fact that it's women-only! It's so special to me. I experienced it for the first time three years ago at FiLiA. And I keep on telling all my friends that they have to experience it, because there's no other place like it. You can dance like crazy, and no one is watching! What I tried to focus on most as a young woman, is the over-sexualisation of women, through porn, through the prevalence of prostitution, through media and mainstream culture. And I see that affecting young women in in a very destructive way. So I try to… help women find a way to enjoy their lives, free from exploitation and violence, and sexual violence specifically.
Rachel Rose 31:15
My name is Rachel Rose. I'm from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I'm here just as my own self; I'm not part of an organisation. But back in Vancouver, I worked for a really long time in a rape crisis centre. And I love feminism. I love being around women, and FiLiA has been amazing for that, yeah, I'm amped up. I've just been so inspired. I go home after every after every day of FiLiA, and just journal. I've been taking… trying to take notes as much as I can about every workshop I've been to. And then yeah, just reflecting my own thoughts about how, what I want to take away from this, like going back to Vancouver. Everyone here is so friendly, so kind, it's so wonderful to be in a room with so many women that think like you, where like… it's just… I can't even describe the atmosphere. It's just wonderful. The energy is just… it's a lot. Yeah. Right now I work in mental health and harm reduction, which is in conflict with my values. And just being here, I'm like, I need to leave that. That's going to be my first thing. And I just feel so inspired to think about new career trajectories for myself, maybe I don't even want to stay in Vancouver.
JK Rowling came. Nobody said anything! It was not on the thing. Oh my god, it was just amazing. All of a sudden, as I'm like walking down the hallway, there's just like screaming, the building is just like, vibrating with like screams and cheers. And I was like, what is happening? And it's JK Rowling ‒ JK Rowling is in the building! So I like, ran back to my seat. And honestly, just so motivating to sit and listen to. Yeah, and just the sense of sisterhood and solidarity in the room ‒ a once in a lifetime thing. No matter what workshop is going on, whatever different topic, it always links back to how violent prostitution is for women. And how like, inherently racist it is. There is very important, crucial, vital work that we need to be pushing for.
I have made so many new friends here that I'm like, I'm gonna stay connected to even when I go back to Vancouver ‒ you build a global network with women. And you just are inspired off of each other. And one of the things I love about the feminist movement is that we're each other's catalysts. We are always pushing each other to go for our dreams and to maybe try that project that we're thinking of, make it a reality somehow. And if they want that sisterhood and solidarity, if they want to try and make their dreams come true, they will build relationships with women and support women-only space.
My name is Yagmur. I'm 27; I've been coming to FiLiA since 2018. I started coming here when I was a student in London, and this time I travelled from Paris. It's a way for me to keep track of time. I like this annual event; I like the fact that it's a ritual; I like the fact that I get to see women I've met the year before and I keep coming also because it brought me major changes in my life. And what I also enjoy seeing when I come to FiLiA every year is to see women evolving, going to places where they want to be. I see women growing and I see myself growing. So I can like, basic example is that, after every FiLiA, I love to say that, after every FiLiA, I break up with whatever boyfriend I'm seeing at the time. So it kind of gives me the energy to do things. And I will be, I know I will be ecstatic for like, the whole month. For someone who's as megalomaniac as I am, to be humbled is rare, and when I come to FiLiA, I'm humbled. I come recharged. I come here to recharge, really, if I had to summarise in one word, is to recharge. The highlights was seeing the friends, like talking to friends, and it's interesting how you can get intimate very closely at FiLiA. Women, I see them in the corridor, and it's like, I will tell them extremely intimate details within like three minutes, and be like ‘Bye! See ya!’ and it's fine. I don't feel worried about it; it really helps me open up. I think this was the highlight for me this year. I'm absolutely gutted I missed JK Rowling. The party is one of the major reasons I come there.
Bec Wonders 35:54
Can you tell me more about the party?
Yeah, the party. Okay. The party was a life-changing moment, because I'm a passionate dancer. And I think women need to dance. Emma Goldman: ‘It's not my revolution if I can't dance.’ When I see women dancing, it gives me hope. And it's not a coincidence that it's forbidden. I mean, it's forbidden for a very good reason. And I think liberation comes from that dance and the fact that we're women-only. And it's unique to let a woman… for women having these experiences for the first time in their life, I know it's life-changing. To be able to move freely with women, is a step towards recreating that space in every aspect of your life. It’s like now, from since my very first FiLiA, I've come to a point where I only go out with women; I only dance with women. I've even like, it's when I got out of FiLiA, like at the end of the day one, that I remembered men's existence.
So I see major failures in the feminist movement. It's not necessarily our fault. But we're not creating new thought. We're not evolving in feminist philosophy, because of the major trans attacks. So, for example, we must move forward and make pornography and prostitution the major historical atrocities they are. Because what we always have to do as women is that we resort to other existing atrocities that are committed to men and compare them. Well, prostitution should be the height of the horror. We need to move forward with the laws we've already passed, implemented, we ought… because by reacting we're not acting enough. I think we feminists tend to stay together a lot, within our own groups. We should always have one foot outside in the normal world, and we should be placed everywhere. I mean, this is how you make a coup d’état, right?
I would like to do my feminism without any guilt tripping, that would be my key takeaway, because it's something I do a lot. And it's not helping anyone. Helping out of guilt is not the way forward, I think helping out of willingness and sense of justice, and not just because you feel guilty, because you haven't had that experience. I'm realising it now is as we speak, I feel like a lot of my actions sometimes are motivated by neglecting myself out of guilt, of ‘I haven't had that experience, so I shouldn't have any benefit at all whatsoever in life’ it's like I should give everything I have. Maybe the discourse on privilege is kind of playing into this: this idea that you're privileged just because you have basic rights. It's not helping at all I think.
Sarah Mah 38:46
My name is Sarah Mah, I travelled from Montreal, Canada, and I'm here as a collective member of Asian Women for Equality. I think we expected to meet a tonne of feminists from around the world, leading feminists in the UK, and that is what we got and more. We developed so many connections with women, so many connections with Asian women. We were part of one panel, and we also delivered a workshop, and two things… So first is we wanted to share our ongoing research on the advertising for prostitution in Canada, specifically as it relates to Asian women, and to look at that advertising through a feminist lens and to look at prostitution and the stereotyping, what we call the sexualised racism of prostitution. The second, was to talk about some of the legal changes that have been happening around prostitution law in Canada over the last 10 years, and to deliver the very good news that at Canada's Nordic-style laws have been upheld in Canada this year.
I think FiLiA has been really enriching and reinforcing for our collective Asian Women for Equality as a self-organised group of Asian women. It really underlined for us the importance of women-only organising and women-only space. And that we have to keep that; we have to keep women's leadership; we have to keep these spaces for women, so that we can talk to each other. We're not able to talk to each other anymore, and we're in an environment where it becomes increasingly hostile to do so. So I think this really underlines for us… and we're ready to defend women-only organising and women-only space.
We understand prostitution as a very extreme expression of male supremacy; we understand in the context of violence against women, of sexism, racism and class. And I think one of the major campaigns that we're involved in is the campaign for women's economic security. So, the campaign for a guaranteed liveable income, that is generous, that has no strings attached, that is universal, and that is really given in honour of women's work, and our rightful share of the wealth, as Canadian feminists have expressed for the last 20 years. That's what we want to see. We want to see women free of male violence and male supremacy, but we want to see women also be able to achieve freedom and liberty, and economic security.
Jane Clare Jones 41:44
My name is Jane Clare Jones; I'm from Brighton in the south of England. I am here because The Radical Notion, which is the magazine that I edit with a collective of amazing women, have a stall. And I was also doing a workshop. Feminism is difficult, right? And we don't always have a lot of resources, and we do a lot of work, and it's not always super harmonious and things can get quite scratchy and difficult. And we have to keep pushing and reminding ourselves why we do things. And then we come here, and we don't have to remind ourselves why we do things anymore, then we remember why we do things. And that's where, it's like, storing up like, a lot of nourishment for the year to come to keep working. Everyone seems to have lost their voice... we have to shout at each other! But yeah, but no, it's been really, it's been really lovely. The power of women's space is, like inexpressible, in words, I think.
There's so many different things going on at FiLiA. And women talking about the sex trade, women talking about pornography, women talking about, you know, violence against lesbians, women talking about reproductive rights, many different aspects. And I think it's important to kind of pull all those different aspects together, and give some kind of thinking to like, what's the fundamental structure that holds all these different manifestations of women's oppression together? So that's what we were trying to do. It's just having the opportunity to remember that what we're doing is impacting other women's lives, and that it's giving them strength to carry on with what they're doing is very, that is very nourishing, in and of itself.
A priority for me, now, is thinking about how we reclaim women's VAWG services, and make sure that women who have experienced male violence can go somewhere where a) they know that they will be only among women, and b) where they can get a feminist analysis of their situation. People think that feminist theory is like some abstract thing. It's not. It explains the material conditions of women's lives, and it explains to women why certain things have happened to them. And understanding that those things have happened to them because they live inside a structural system, and it's not because they're bad or stupid, or they need to be ashamed, or they did something wrong. That's fucking liberation. And it's really important to me that those spaces go back to doing that work.
I'm Lisa-Marie, and I'm a co-founder and one of the volunteers with FiLiA.
Bec Wonders 44:29
How are you doing right now?
Oh, my gosh. A mix of elation and exhaustion. Really proud of the team, amazed, when we think that three days ago, we didn't have a venue; that was taken from us. And the amount of work that's been put into making this happen ‒ by all the volunteers, the speakers, the attendees is mind blowing and a testament to the Women's Liberation Movement and how we all pull together when we need to. It's fucking awesome actually. It's a challenge; it's exciting; it's busy. We make mistakes, with something this big, we're bound to. I'm just in awe of the organising that's gone on before. And we're going to need to keep… I tell you what, we had a waiting list of 760, I think, at the most. So what that tells us is we need more organising. There's room for more meetings, be they consciousness-raising groups, be they local, be they national, be they international, women want to gather. There is a movement building, and women want to gather; we need more organisers.
Bec Wonders 45:31
What does FiLiA mean to you?
Everything. Everything. I didn't find feminism until I was nearly 40. And second wave feminists, second wave sisters have gifted time, and been really patient with me and taught me so much. And I still have so much to learn! And I just think that FiLiA hopefully contributes a small part, but significant part to Women's Liberation Movement. And it means everything, I've absolutely dedicated myself to it for the last 10 years. I love it. I love it. My favourite moment in it is in about four hours, when I put my head down on the pillow and I sleep for the next 24 hours, and then I wake up, process at all, and then we start organising the next one.
We have a venue booked for 3000. Because we've doubled and doubled in size. And we are going to double in size again. So our next one is our tenth. Women have cried, laughed, connected. I tell you what I love most, is when there's a woman from Australia and woman from Morocco and they meet for the first time, I think that's the thing. The sessions are fantastic and gorgeous and wonderful. The space, if you bring women into space together, magic happens. And for me, it's those connections. It's those connections and what happens from them. That's the magic. That's what I love the most.
Bec Wonders 46:50
And there you have it. FiLiA2023 has come to an end. 1500 women attending over 150 speakers from 32 different countries. 760 women on the waitlist, a Glasgow institution taken over by women's laughter, tears, hugs, conversation, controversy, learning, challenges, connection, love, friendship, and feminism. Like many of the women said, there's just nothing like it. Until next time, FiLiA, the big tenth anniversary in sisterhood and solidarity, signing off.
[RL1]Am assuming the spelling above is correct, have changed from Julia here.