It was a real privilege to be able to attend the very first Women’s Equality Party Conference in Manchester , which I considered a well-chosen location (as a fellow Northerner) due to transport links, and also affordability, which as we know, can often be a barrier to women. It was heartening to see children there on the day too, as I had brought my own daughter aged 14 with me. Her forward-thinking school had sanctioned the time off for her to attend, knowing that not only would it drive and inspire her interest in philosophy and politics, but she would return sharing full details of her trip with her peers, and hopefully pass on some of her enthusiasm. She also shared her visit on Instagram, which probably isn’t something you see everyday on a teenager’s social media feed.
One of the first people we met at conference was Harini Iyengar who is a leading barrister in employment, equality and education. She introduced herself to our group from Derby and proudly shared her WEP banner with us, so we naturally took a group photo and shared it on Twitter. We learnt that she had stood for the WEP at the Greater London Assembly elections earlier in May, and later went on to speak passionately at conference.
It was a delight to see the seating area looking full to capacity, and glad we had taken the decision to get seated early. I managed to get myself introduced to Sandi Toksvig, with my colleague Vanessa Boon. Sandi both on and off stage was brilliant, disarmingly hilarious, engaging and passionate. Her comical yet alarming perspective on women’s (lack of) actual record in history is often brought up in our house since. My daughter had not heard of Sandi prior to conference, but now proudly recalls her talk at WEP.
As the conference took place on November 25th which is International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women & Girls, there was a dedicated time of reflection to pay respects to those women and girls lost, and the conference screen altered to the recognisable orange hue. Witnessing the names relayed on the screen was incredibly moving, and this was reflected on the faces of everyone at conference. I recall sharing this to Facebook in the hope that it would strike up conversation within my network, so I could tell people about it in the hope that they would be moved to act too.
The history and introductions of the key women within the party was engaging and quite different from the polished, well-rehearsed speeches you would normally expect from a party conference. In fact, this whole experience really felt very intimate and like the beginning of something really bold and powerful, it was a privilege to be part of it, and I felt quite honoured.
Next, there were some spoken word performances and in particular one from Justina Kehinde was incredibly moving. Perhaps though, the memory that stands out for me the most were the open mic slots. This was a party conference, but real, actual people were welcomed and encouraged to come share their solidarity, stories, views, performances in front of everybody. Women of all ages, all walks of life, one by one, came to the front and described how they felt, sang, shared poetry, told of their anger, their hopes and dreams, some were carrying small children, some were in costume. But everyone was welcome, everyone was listened to, everyone had a platform, we were equals.
One of our group managed to take the stage for a brief moment, which was beautiful !, we were very proud, and we made it known ! We had managed to put ourselves down for a small group slot but unfortunately we ran out of time and had to head home as one of our party was heavily pregnant and still had a long journey to make onwards from Derby. I wished we could’ve stayed all night and for the weekend too, but made sure I kept up to date with the rest of conference through social media. My daughter and I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to attend together, and it really felt as though we were witnessing something that was going to gain momentum and become really powerful. On a high still from the days events, I signed up for WEP membership on the way home in the pitch black of the minibus, on my mobile phone. I would really like to attend again in 2017 and take my daughter because I could see first-hand the impact it had on her, she’s started to volunteer, not just with me, but independently. She’s creating ripples, in her school, her family and wider community. I’m fairly sure being at the WEP conference started some of these ripples for her, and me too. Let’s make some more.