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Here We Stand is a fascinating and unique anthology portraying contemporary women campaigners and how they were changed by the process of changing the world. The book was launched at the Hay Festival on May 28th.
Bunting at Hay
The three panelists were Jasvinder Sanghera, who campaigns against forced marriage and honour killings, the pioneering filmmaker Franny Armstrong, and disability rights artivist Liz Crow. The event was chaired by veteran feminist and journalist Rosie Boycott. Helena Earnshaw summarises the discussion.
'A beautiful and necessary book full of passion, humour, encouragement, information and hope. This is the kind of writing that saves lives.'
A.L. KENNEDY, novelist
I was apprehensive before the Hay event – it was mid week, had been raining for days, and the car parks were mudbound, with people having to be bussed in from miles around. We had sold out weeks ago but would people make it through the mud and the rain? Were we going to be talking in an empty tent, straining to speak over the sound of the wind?
But the room was crowded half an hour before the event was due to start, with more and more people being squeezed in right up to the last minute. I've been at many Hay events and can honestly say that I've never been to one where the audience was as engaged and gripped by what was being said on the stage. One of the best moments was overhearing the door staff saying how much they wanted to hear the event and arguing over which of them would get to go in.
Rosie opened by asking each of the women what was the turning point for them - what changed them from being a bystander to being someone who took action on injustice. Jasvinder told her story of how she came to be a campaigner – at 15 she was told she was going to marry a stranger and have to give up school. When she refused she was locked in her bedroom to force her to agree, but eventually managed to run away from home. Her family disowned her, telling her that she had a choice - to marry this stranger or become 'dead in their eyes'.
The speakers on stage
After being disowned and many struggles she set up a charity to help other girls in the same situation and as a result of her work a law making forced marriage illegal comes into effect this year. 100 Asian girls disappeared from the school roll in Bradford in one year and nobody asked where they were - would people have ignored these disappearances had the girls been white?
She went on to describe the importance of speaking out, and reminded us that the government is accountable to us and that we should never let them forget that.
Liz Crow gave some entertaining and practical advice on how to do a bus blockade in a wheelchair. She also spoke movingly about how important it is to try to define our common values, and how easy it is to put people into pigeonholes e.g. disabled, black, etc. and then to discriminate against them as a group, because their humanity becomes less apparent.
Franny talked about her new project, a drama series called Undercovers which will tell the horrific true stories of the unknowing women who had relationships and even children with undercover police who infiltrated the activist scene in the UK from the 1990s onwards. Over 100 police spies were sent into different groups, including environmentalist groups, the miners, and anti-racist groups. Their aim was to spy on and derail the work of these campaigners. She asked how much social change they managed to disrupt. What kind of society would we be living in now if the police hadn't intervened in such a horrific way?
Franny, Jasvinder and Liz signing copies of Here We Stand
Rosie pointed out that it all comes down to what kind of society we want to live in. Liz argued that it is very important that the means we use to gain our ends are compatible with those ends. Her next project will examine the austerity measures and the deaths associated with them, both direct and indirect. How many deaths are acceptable she asked and argued that one death is too many.
Jasvinder is currently working on a petition calling on the government to hold a memorial day for girls and women who have been killed by their families.
Franny ended by talking about how facing all the problems in the world can be very depressing, but she's noticed that those who take on the challenge of tackling these problems are often happier and more fulfilled and full of life than those who remain passive – taking action, she argued, frees you from the psychological torment of being surrounded by injustice.
Every single copy of the book at Hay sold that day, people had been so captivated and inspired by these courageous and articulate women.
Here We Stand
To read more about these women, and 14 other amazing contributors, Here We Stand is available through the Honno website, and all good retailers, both in print and as an ebook.
Sign the petition
to introduce a day to remember the victims of honour killings.