Ikamara Larasi, member of Imkaan, addressing attendees (including myself) at NAWO House of Commons event 29/04/14.
On the 29th of April, I travelled up to London to meet the creators of Belle Jar, Louisa and Juliette. We had been invited via email by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO), to an event at The House of Commons to discuss ‘Young Women, Media Representation and Europe’. We made our way to Committee Room 10 where we were greeted by Project officer Rosie, and ‘No More Page 3’ campaigner Lucy Holmes.
What followed was an evening of insightful, informative discussion. Two panels addressed the attendees; the first of which included Lucy Holmes. You may be familiar with the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign and Lucy’s reasons for starting it (if not, read here). She spoke about the dehumanising qualities of Page 3, and the knock-on effect this has in other areas of media representation; the strongest example being women’s sport which receives just 5% media coverage, the same coverage as Men’s darts.
The second speaker was Isabel Chapman, journalist and project leader of the award-winning ‘Oii My Size’ campaign. This campaign is dedicated to teaching young boys about how detrimental sexting, street-harassment and sexist chat-up lines can be to young women. It was refreshing to see that this initiative included male involvement as well, making the issue seem more approachable and the goal more achievable. The campaign has had its largest success in London boroughs and is looking to expand.
The final speakers for the first panel were Ikamara Larasi and Lia Latchford, members of the Black Feminist Organisation Imkaan. This organisation is dedicated to eradicating violence against girls and women, and through their work with Imkaan, Ikamara and Lia started the Rewind&Reframe Campaign, which challenges the racist and sexist stereotypes in music videos. Ikamara, in particular, provided a compelling discussion about the representation of women from ethnic backgrounds in the media. She argued that when violence against a woman from an ethnic background is reported, it is usually seen as more violent and more ‘barbaric’ compared to if had happened to a white woman. When Ikamara highlighted this, I realised I’d unintentionally been guilty of this myself. A while ago, I wrote an article about Plan UK’s advertising campaign to stop African girls being forced in to marriage. I wrote the article from a point of female empathy, as a reminder to everyone to help any girl or woman in a state of crisis. However, with hindsight, I realise that I may have subconsciously sensationalised the violence because of the girl’s ethnic background. Ikamara is right; violence against women is horrific regardless of the woman’s ethnicity; it is a universal problem that requires everyone’s input to solve it.
A brief Q&A session followed the first panel, before the second panel was introduced. Caroline Criado-Perez was the first to speak. Journalist, and co-founder of The Women’s room, Caroline also started the campaign to get Jane Austen’s face on to English banknotes. For this initiative, she received a torrent of online abuse. Caroline showed the attendees the tweets that were too graphic and violent for the media to actually report. This censorship meant her representation in the national media was limited to a woman who was ‘a bit upset by some online insults’. These ‘insults’ were actually death and rape threats that Caroline freely admitted had destroyed her life. The reassuring aspect of her speech was that she would never ‘shut her whore mouth’ like the twitter trolls wanted, and her bravery was praised by panellists and attendees alike.
Next to speak was Paolo Buonadonna, journalist, broadcaster, and Media Director at British Influence. Paola was the most politically motivated of all the speakers, urging everyone in the room to engage in politics if they wish to see the changes they had spent the evening describing. She discussed her role at British Influence, an independent organisation that believes it is in everyone’s interest to keep Britain in a reformed EU, and explained why as young women, we should not vote for UKIP, something we were all in favour of, especially after Ex-MEP, Godfrey Bloom ‘joked’ that women are ‘sluts’ earlier in the year.
Professor Rosalind Gill followed Paolo, and dicussed women’s current representation in the media. Her work includes over a decade’s worth of contribution to debates about the ‘sexualisation of culture’. She recommended reading the study ‘The symbolic annihilation of Women by the mass media’ and urged all attendees to persevere with their feminist campaigns; as collectively they were making a real difference.
Due to time restrictions, there were rushed speeches from members of ’50:50 Parliament’ and the #EmilyMatters campaign, urging attendees to be active in politics and push for better representation of women in Parliament. To close the evening, NAWO chairwoman, Annette Lawson, thanked all the panellists for their time and all the women and girls in the room who had given up their evening to attend.
Overall, the event was a resounding success. I left the building feeling empowered, excited and grateful for these women who refuse to stand down even in the face of intimidating adversity. I voted in the EU parliamentary elections on the 22nd of May (NOT for UKIP, obviously), and intend to have a much louder political voice from now on.
You can read NAWO’s official spring bulletin about the event here.