Nottingham Women’s Conference was an amazing event. A very diverse group of over 160 women listened, shared experiences and asked questions about a wide range of feminist issues from objectification to male violence against women. The lightening panel that featured a wide range of local feminist campaigns was particularly inspiring, and many women signed up to getting involved in a range of campaigns. And let’s not forget the 41 fringe events that have all been planned to take place in the weeks before and after the conference. Feminism has certainly returned to Nottingham!
The conference was organised by a collective of women from the Nottingham Feminist Action Network. These women set the direction of the conference and were responsible for the decisions taken. NFAN are grateful to Nottingham Women’s Centre for supporting the conference (financially and by providing meeting space for the Organising Group) and to The Co-operative Membership for providing the main sponsorship for the event, without which it would have been very difficult to put on an event of this size. The Co-operative Membership also provided a speaker for the event, which was arranged separately and prior to sponsorship being agreed.
We are still in the process of collating the feedback forms handed in during the conference and the fringe events and will post a report on this as soon as we are able to. Initially however, it appears that most feedback is very positive and indicates that we have, at least in part, achieved the things that we set out to do, for example:
“I am going to call myself a feminist for the first time!”
“First feminist event I’ve experienced where race/class were not divisive issues on the day. Big achievement!”
“Inspired to start a new project off the back of the event”
We are however aware that some concern has been expressed about women in the sex industry and how the conference addressed these issues. We are aware that feminism is political, and thus we will never all agree on feminist issues. But there are a range of allegations circulating that are simply untrue, that we want to respond to.
1. Q – Why did we not invite an organisation to debate an opposing view to Nordic Model Advocates?
A – The Organising Committee invited a range of organisations to talk about their campaigns and projects. Our focus was on inspiring women to get involved in feminist campaigns and projects. Therefore we did not set up any subject to be openly debated with opposing views. Of course we know that not all women attending will agree with the aims or tactics of every project or campaign featured. Indeed members of the Organising Committee do not agree with the aims or tactics of all the projects or campaigns featured. However by featuring them, we provided women with an opportunity to hear about feminist work and decide if they were interested in supporting any of them for themselves.
2. Q – Why did we not let SWOU members into the conference?
A – We were surprised when the tickets for the conference sold out well in advance. We created a waiting list for any returned tickets and actually closed the waiting list when 40 women were on it. On the day some women turned up without tickets, including 4 women from SWOU. Before the conference started, two women handed us back tickets on the door, for women who were not able to attend after all. We resold these tickets before the conference started. We could not admit any of the other women who turned up without tickets and there were no spare tickets to sell. We had hired the venue on the basis of a set number of women who would be attending. By admitting extra woman we would have broken the conditions of hire leaving the volunteer members of the Organising Committee individually legally liable if any issues had occurred. Moreover, it would have been deeply unfair to those women who had been on a waiting list for sometime, many of whom were desperate to attend.
Also at least one member of SWOU did attend the conference. She had purchased a ticket in advance.
3. Q – Why did we not let Feminist Fightback exchange their tickets with members of SWOU?
A – It would have been unfair and untransparent to make an exception and allow this to happen. We had already turned away local Nottingham women on the day and so to make an exception would have been very unfair. In addition Feminist Fightback were delivering two workshops. We needed the women from Feminist Fightback to stay in the conference and deliver the workshops women had already signed up to participate in.
4. Q – Why did you not feature the voices of women in the sex industry at your conference?
A – Two women from Space International spoke about their personal experiences in prostitution. In addition the Merseyside Model was run by women who have been in the sex industry. We also gave 5 free tickets to POW a local peer-led support organisation for women in prostitution. And two members of the Organising Committee were themselves previously in the sex industry. We also know that women attended and participated in the conference who are or have been in the sex industry.
Some have asked on Twitter for the names of these women. Obviously it would be totally inappropriate for us to release that information. It should always be the decision of individual women whether they share that information in the public arena – and the internet is a very public arena.
5. Q – Why were other women in the sex industry not invited to give an alternative view?
A – Our aim has always been to feature feminist projects and campaigns. Not to feature particular views. However when whorephobia expressed concern about the fact we were only featuring Nordic Model Advocates, we decided to invite some women to talk about the Merseyside Model. Whorephobia was asked if she wanted to co run this. She declined.
Feminist Fightback also suggested a possible workshop leader but, despite two requests from us, were unable to provide us with any contact details to follow this up.
6. Q – Why did you not give out any free tickets?
A – We did. We said on our publicity that there were a number of free tickets available and to contact us for one of these. We gave out 30 free tickets. We also gave 5 free tickets to the Refugee and Asylum Seekers Project and 5 to POW who work with women in the sex industry. We provided a free crèche to support women with children (which was well used on the day). We were determined to make the conference as accessible as we were able to.
7. Q – Why were SWOU not invited to run a workshop?
A – In the initial planning stages, we invited various organisations to run workshops about campaigns they were leading. The Organising Group had never heard of SWOU, and thus at this stage, we do not consider asking them to run a workshop. 11 days before the conference SWOU issued a letter on the internet demanding changes to the conference. This included inviting them to deliver a workshop and disinviting Nordic Model Advocates. At no time did they contact us directly to discuss this. We did not feel this was a productive method of communication, or that the demand to disinvite Nordic Model Advocates was one that we could reasonably consider. We are a group of volunteers who have been very open to working with others, and to make amendments to ensure our conference is as accessible as possible to a wide range of women. We would advise SWOU that in future, contacting the Organising Committee of a conference directly, may be a more productive means of communication.
8. Q – Why did you stop SWOU buying tickets? We have been trying to buy tickets for months.
A – Tickets were available to purchase by anyone via eventbrite. This is an electronic ticketing system. We have no way to prevent anyone buying a ticket. Tickets were also available to buy at Nottingham Women’s Centre at the reception desk. But as far as we know, SWOU did not try to buy tickets from the Women’s Centre. The 4 members of SWOU had travelled from London and Glasgow.
9. Q – Why did you lock the 4 women from SWOU in the car park.
A – We did not. For those who do not live in Nottingham, the Indian Community Centre entrance is accessed by walking through the car park. The gates were unlocked. The 4 women from SWOU stood directly outside the building in the car park, and handing out their leaflets.
Please note we did offer to put on reception the literature SWOU had so that women at the conference could pick it up and read it. However the 4 women said they would prefer to stand outside the building and hand it out to women. We said we had no problem with this.
The SWOU member who did have a ticket, also took food and drink from the conference, to the 4 SWOU members standing outside. We had no problem with this.
There have also been allegations that women who attended the conference heckled and abused the 4 women from SWOU. Two of the Organising Committee were on the door during the whole conference and did not witness any abuse or heckling at any time. We cannot be held accountable for the actions of other women attending the conference but would take a very dim view of any abuse or harassment given to other women either inside or outside of the conference.
We value feedback – we are volunteers, this is the first time that we have organised an event like this and we acknowledge that we won’t have got everything ‘right’ on the day. However we have been deeply saddened by some of the personal attacks and harassment that speakers, members of the Organising Committee and even attendees have received on Twitter.
Despite this, we look forward to organising future events and welcome all women to join us as we continue to build a strong movement for change in Nottingham.