With Deborah Orr’s Guardian article on 16th June 2011 being illustrated by Bristol Feminists, it felt a bit like ‘have a go at feminists day’. So, I have decided to write about the many achievements of BFN, to share with you what we do, what we have done and what we will continue to do in the future.
Since we launched in November 2007, we have aimed to have a discussion group at least once a month. Bearing in mind a few breaks, this means we have had nearly fifty discussion meetings.
Discussion is and always has been part of feminist activism. They are educational, consciousness raising, inspiring. They allow us to hear one another’s stories and one another’s truths. We have had discussion groups on the women’s body, FGM, forced marriage, women and prison, intersectionality, porn, rape, street harassment, body image, relationships, education, men – so many subjects and this is just a tiny sample. Discussion groups are led by members, and the subjects are chosen by members. This means that we talk about what the BFN community want to talk about. If you want to set up a discussion group to talk about the issues that matter to you, then you can. Get in touch and we can book a date, sort out the venue and spread the word. Discussion groups are for all members to say what they want to say. Book Group is also a great place to start discussion, share thoughts and experiences and read a good book.
Since we launched in 2007, BFN have put on a whole host of events, including two Reclaim the Nights, four film nights and one gig in collaboration with Indymedia, a pro choice protest, panel discussions, guest speaker events, flashmob activity, research projects and more. We helped organise the council’s International Woman’s Day event and have worked closely with other organisations to support their campaigning activity. We have also worked on public art projects and one member last year organised a series of workshop for survivors of violence.
BFN have organised letter writing campaigns, petitions, attended council meetings to protest licensing decisions, supported and raised awareness of other women’s campaigns, lobbied for parliamentary change etc. It has always been our policy to provide members with the resources they need (online or at organised activist meetings) to ensure that everyone is empowered to take action on campaigns that matter to them. Our members also blog, organise their own activist conferences and events or actions, which we advertise and do what we can to support.
Networking and outreach:
BFN stands for Bristol Feminist Network. Therefore it is vital for us that we work with other community groups, women’s services and public service providers.
Examples of our networking include working with the city council, the women’s forum, being part of the consultation process with the Women’s Voice strategy, Safer Bristol, the police, the Fire and Rescue service, The Bridge (SARC), Bristol Fawcett, the Bristol Uni Centre for gender violence research, Bristol Rape Crisis, One25, Bristol Indymedia, EVAW Coalition, various political parties, UWE Gender Research group, the Domestic Abuse Forum, local media, Daughters of Eve, the Watershed, the PCT and NHS, UK Feminista, Women’s Aid, V Day, Amnesty International, No Women No Peace, Victim Support, the NUJ and many, many more. We do our best to alert men and women in Bristol to the many services and community groups in the city via the links page on the website: http://www.bristolfeministnetwork.com/links.html
We currently have representatives of BFN sitting on the council’s committee that is looking at education and how we can improve PSHE around issues of intimate partner violence. We are really excited about the work this strategy group are doing and the impact it could have on encouraging work in schools on this vital issue. Members have also worked closely with the anti-violence groups to try and ensure that the impact of media imagery on levels of sexism and violence are considered and tackled.
In 2009 we sat on the city council’s steering committee for International Women’s Day, working with a range of organisations including SPAN and Silai for Skills.
We will shortly be showing a film about FGM at the Watershed. We have been in touch with women who work in sexual health and education to ensure that teaching professionals come to the event. The day will include speakers and a panel discussion from Daughters of Eve, the Orchid project and the PCT.
Despite being continually attacked in the local press (!) we believe it is important to keep them informed of BFN’s activities. Talking to the local press (be that radio, TV or print) allows us to reach and speak to people who may not have heard of BFN, may not consider themselves to be feminists, but who may then feel interested or inspired by the campaigns we run.
When we organise Reclaim the Night we make sure that we consult a number of organisations and community groups in the city to ensure that our aims reflect what they want from the march. One member produced an extensive database of contacts of women’s groups in the city to ensure that our marches are as inclusive and representative as we can make them.
We also support activism outside of Bristol. We are members of Object and UK Feminista for example, so we are connected to campaign activity all over the country. Our current featured campaign is regarding asylum seekers’ rights and homophobic persecution. We try and ensure that our work and campaigning focuses both on Bristol and beyond.
At BFN, we believe that education is vital to tackling violence against women and girls. We have historically tried to get in touch with schools with the aims of going in and working with teachers to encourage them to talk about consent and respect, media literacy and other feminist issues. We didn’t have any response from the schools so we are now trying new ways to engage. We helped disseminate the Women’s Aid ‘Expect Respect’ teaching pack to schools in Bristol and North Somerset. As mentioned before, members are involved at a strategic council level at looking at what we can do to encourage education around consent and respect. We try and do what we can to engage with educators, be that at school, management or HE level.
BFN is and always has been run by a skeletal staff of volunteers who have full time jobs, lives and other responsibilities. We do what we do because we believe passionately in liberation from patriarchal oppression. We are time poor, financially poor and resource poor. We give up our annual leave, our spare time, our evenings and lunch breaks to make sure BFN is what it is today. There are so many more things we would love to do, love to achieve and I hope that one day we will do. But in the meantime, I am so proud of what we have achieved. We are a respected organisation that has made a lot of things happen. We are able to talk to people high up in the city about what they are doing to tackle gender inequality. We are listened to and consulted on issues in the city about gender inequality. And I am proud that when women and men come to feminism, they can come to us. Lets celebrate what BFN have achieved, what we continue to achieve, and what we will achieve in the future.