The NEFG group formed in spring 2012 to organise a ‘feminist weekend’ for women from across the North East who wish to resist and change the sexist culture we live in. We aimed to unite the feminist, pro-feminist and femi-curious women of the region, to explore its fizzing, creative underbelly in a weekend of workshops, discussions, learning, skills-sharing and creativity. The Gathering in 2012 was an outstanding success; over 100 women attended and spoke movingly about how important it was for them. They called for a 2nd Gathering in 2013, so the NEFG group has re-formed to build on our success and run a Gathering in October 2013.
The group is comprised of an unusually diverse range of women: voluntary and public sector workers, students, unemployed women, academics, community activists and small-business owners; young, middle-aged and older women; disabled and non-disabled women; lesbian, bisexual and straight women; women of different ethnicities. We are brought together by a frustration with the sexist nature of society. While some members have been feminist activists for years, others are newer to these politics and have been reassured, amidst the claims of “I’m not a feminist but…” to find other women who wish to change the ‘everyday sexism’ of our society.
Our main purpose is to run the NE Feminist Gathering in October 2014. This will combine opportunities for discussion, learning and planning with creative and artistic elements. We will offer a broad choice of sessions over the weekend across 3 strands: activism, creativity and skills-sharing. We already have a number of offers of sessions: challenging everyday prejudice; organising demonstrations; public speaking; inter-generational feminism; subversive crafts; the politics of ‘women-only’ spaces; running women’s organisations; sexual exploitation; drumming; exploring difference to build diverse communities. The evening social will build on the success of last year’s Open Marys (the women-only version of ‘Open Mike’ sessions) which revealed the extraordinary talent amongst the participants; women spontaneously performed poetry, music, comedy and dance inspired by the confidence that the Gathering provided a safe, supportive environment to try out new ideas.
The Gathering is designed to raise awareness of discrimination and injustice and of alternative ways to organise society. It is a space for and a network of feminists in the NE, a region where politics, cultures and structures have been male-dominated for generations and where the austerity measures are cutting particularly viciously (the NE Women’s Network report shows how women in the NE are particularly badly affected). The Gathering, and the network it has inspired, provides opportunities for women to learn about and engage in activism, resistance, and building more positive, equal communities. Women have kept in touch through the NEFG Facebook page, twitter (@NorthEastFG), the website, social events and personal relationships created at NEFG2012. They have provided support, encouragement, advice and shared learning to enable each other to challenge the ubiquitous sexism in British society and to dare to imagine a better world. The NEFG2012 truly reinvigorated the feminist movement in the NE.
An important feature of NEFG is our cooperative, non-hierarchical, sisterly approach; we work hard to create an environment where we can disagree and dispute, but maintain a shared, cooperative approach despite our differences. We are all too aware of how easily activist groups can be split by differences in approaches to politics, tactics and strategies and we work hard to avoid divisive differences.
As a result of the success of last year’s Gathering, we are working to expand and strengthen our network. We will run a series of engagement activities to reach out to groups that were less well-represented at NEFG2012. For example, we are developing our current relationships with BME women’s groups, sex worker groups, young people and groups around the region (not just in Newcastle) to run workshops, hold discussions and host ‘Open Marys’. These engagement activities will help make sure that NEFG 2014 appeals to as wide a range of women as possible.