IBAR UCLan » Women’s Spring: Feminism, Nationalism and Civil disobedience conferenc

Angela Davis, painted portrait IMG_6929004, April 10, 2013 | © Courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann.


Review by Lauren Velvick, representing Preston Black History Group


On the 22nd and 23rd of June I was lucky to be able to attend the annual conference organised by the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at the University of Central Lancashire. This year’s conference was titled ‘Women’s Spring: Feminism, Nationalism and Civil Disobedience’ and invited contributions reflecting on struggles for women’s rights around the world, particularly how art, music, fiction and other forms of culture have contributed to these movements. I am not currently a student or academic and I don’t attend conferences of this kind very often, so it was a real treat to be able to hear about the current research that’s going on in universities from Delhi to Washington.


The first talks that I attended dealt with how the concept of the family relates to how nationality and borders are enforced, with Dr Umut Erel giving a keynote speech titled ‘Black and Migrant Women Challenging Nationalist and Racist Politics of Reproduction’. This talk clearly laid out how a web of changing boundaries meaning that it is often impossible for migrant families to exist and thrive in Britain, with integration ‘always constructed as just out of reach’. Materially, this is exacerbated by the way that adult migrants are left with no recourse to public funds, and are thus forced into destitution, creating a feedback loop of poverty. This can be observed in the recent evictions of Syrian refugees in Glasgow by a private housing company; it seems obvious that people who speak little english, with no contacts and no money, will become homeless or worse if they are evicted, but legally nobody has to do anything if somebodies refugee status is not granted on first hearing.


Dr Erel laid out how this state of affairs arises from the concept of a nation being built on the right to exclude, arguing that the first way to fight back against these injustices that dehumanise people in need is to challenge the current policy of ‘no recourse to public funds’ for migrants.


Next I sat in on the ‘Women’s movements in India’ panel which gave a fascinating and vital insight into political and feminist struggles there, but speakers were careful to point out how the lived realities of women differ greatly between the affluent and the poverty-stricken, and should not be homogenised in an attempt to understand the country as a whole.


Particularly interesting to me was Dr Namrata Ravichandra Ganneri’s talk on the women who organised as part of the right wing All India Hindu Mahila Mahasabha party, raising the question of how we can responsibly biographise right wing women as part of feminism. This is something that we must grapple with in Britian as well, given that our only two female Prime Ministers were and are on the right, but experienced the same structural sexism as everyone else, if in different ways as members of the political elite.


The final Keynote that I was able to attend that day was from Prof. Cathy Cohen who advocated for naming the problems that we face, and naming them repeatedly. This emphasis on the power of naming brings to mind Lubaina Himid’s ‘Naming the Money’ series which have been displayed in various museums around the UK this year.


Cohen paid particular attention to ‘the margins of blackness’, criticising the erasure of queer black radicality from narratives of resistance in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. She also draw attention to our tendency to politically scapegoat, rather than address issues, which can lead to white people only addressing their own marginalisation through right wing figureheads. Cohen ended by affirming the importance of working with what the people in our communities can bring, rather than expecting people to be perfect political subjects, and to build resilience by rolling with the changes and shocks that arise within resistance movements.

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