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My time at FiLiA, London, October 14th-15th

[Blog post by Asha Allen, EWL Policy and Campaigns Assistant, 23 October 2017] Over the weekend of the 14-15th of October I experienced my first FiLiA (formerly Feminism in London) conference. This is somewhat of an irony as I had lived in London for most of my life and I have only managed to have this invaluable experience now that I live and work in Brussels. Looking at the outline and agenda of the conference I was excited to engage with the various panels that tackled violence against women and prostitution as these are the areas in which I have developed my own feminist activism.

The conference began with keynote speeches from psychologist, academic and author Cordelia Fine and academic and blogger Claire Heuchan. Cordelia’s speech presented me with new concepts to consider that she discusses in her new book Testosterone Rex; by emphasising the scientific debate surrounding the gendered social structure there is little to disagree with. It was Claire’s speech on Interracial Solidarity in the Feminist Movement however that resonated with me more personally. As a black feminist, intersectionality is an important concept and having the opportunity to witness how this difficult topic can be presented to a majority white feminist audience was exciting. The speech was honest, truthful and phrased in a highly structured and balance way that all women in the audience, not just women of colour found solidarity in what was being said.

The first panel I attended was “Getting Justice for Women when Men Are Violent” in the main hall. The panel was a mixture of survivors, academics, lawyers and activists working to use the law to challenge governments when they fail to protect victims of violence against women and when women are discriminated against within the criminal system. Though informative, the session was also quite difficult emotionally; with the family of Eleanor de Freitas present asking for help to seek justice for her death, it was impossible to contain my emotions of sadness and empathy. The day continued with the same theme of attending panels discussing violence against women. A discussion on the reality of Femicide not connected to intimate partner violence was very educational; I was presented with new topics that I will personally research and learn more about.

The final panel of the day was entitled “Sexual Exploitation: Misogyny & Racism” (organised by EWL member European Network of Migrant Women) which was another enlightening and honest panel of issues I had previously been unaware of. The panel of speakers, all dedicated radical feminists did not mince their words and gave new insights into issues such as Devadasi’s in India, Temporary marriages in Islam and the normalisation of sexual exploitation. I had a personal connection with this panel as research I had conducted for the European Network of Migrant Women was presented at this panel. It was really pleasing for me to see that all copies of my research had been taken and that I had made a contribution to the movement in some way.

Saturday closed with the Emma Humphreys Memorial prize-giving event, it was heart-warming to see feminists be awarded for their work and dedication. Chlo Winfield was the standout nominee for me and she won the individual prize for campaigning against violence and domestic abuse against women after spending two years pushing the police to take action in her own experience in an abusive relationship.

Sunday morning began with a very tired start, but I was given energy I needed by a rousing talk by Stella Dadzie on the reality of black feminist lives and spaces throughout history. As a historian it was great to learn more about the histories of women I have the closest cultural connection to; something I was denied during my mandatory education. Winner of the previous night’s group award, Gemma Aitchison read a difficult and moving chapter from the book she is currently developing. It gave a real insight into her experiences and the realities of sexual objectification within the different elements of society.

Panel Trading in youth FiLia

The day continued with the panel “Trading in Youth”, a panel with a mixture of survivors and activists moderated by colleague Pierrette Pape from the EWL. Listening to the stories of Mia De Faoite, Grizelda Grootboom and Fiona Broadfoot was by far the most difficult and motivating moment of the conference for me; this was not the first time I had heard the stories of survivors but listening these women, sharing in their moments of pain and bravery was extremely powerful.

The next two panels I attended were somewhat different to the previous ones, but it allowed me to learn about completely new concepts and issues within feminism. This included a discussion on Sex Robots and their correlation to prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women. How can society reconcile the concept of a sex robot when they are so clearly modelled on the “inanimate” concept of a sexually exploited woman?

To say plainly that I had an amazing experience I think gives little justice to the genuine experience I had. Being in a safe space surrounded by radical and dedicated feminists allowed me to feel inspired but also to challenge myself to be even more active and committed to my feminist beliefs. I will certainly be looking out for the tickets for the next FiLiA conference.

Asha Allen

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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