Lisa-Marie Taylor and Julian Norman are the hard-working and inspiring activists behind one of the key events in the UK Feminist Calendar – The Feminism in London annual conference. The event will take place this weekend in London (24 – 25th October 2015), and brings together activists from all over the world to discuss the inequality facing women today. It’s a fantastic place to network, to hear current thinking around key issues, as well as hear some of the heroines of our movement speak. The atmosphere is heart-warming; it’s a place of sisterhood, a place to make new friends.
This year Pragna Patel, founding member of Southall Black Sisters, Nimco Ali co-founder of Daughters of Eve, Activists Dr. Finn Mackay and Shami Chakrabarti are amongst the 100 plus speakers at the event.
The London Feminist Network ran the event for its first three years, starting in 2008.“The conference stopped and I approached the organisers to ask whether it was going to be started again,” Lisa-Marie explains. “They didn’t have the capacity, but were happy to hand it over to a complete novice. We revived it in 2013.”
Julian immediately offered her services. “I still remember looking at Lisa-Marie’s face as it dawned on us that we had just taken on this huge undertaking with no experience at all. Terror and excitement all at once!”
Their commitment is rooted in their belief that women need space to activate and connect. “I went to my first conference in 2010 and it blew my mind,” explains Lisa-Marie. “Putting into focus all the oppressions that women and girls face. Making sense of my life in one day.
“The voices of feminists are growing in number and volume, and Feminism in London offers those new to the movement – or wanting to find out more about it – the perfect opportunity to hear from incredible women on a huge range of subjects. Those who have been involved for years tell us that this is an amazing event to be a part of.”
This year, the conference was awarded charitable status, recognising its promotion of human rights and the arts. “It’s been amazing watching it grow from a London-focused event to a charity attracting globally renowned speakers,” Lisa-Marie says.
The pair are ambitious about the future of the conference, declaring their keen desires to establish it as an important and effective international event. “My ambition would be for FiL to get as big as Pride,” Julian states. “I want FiL, like Pride, to have companies falling over themselves to sponsor it and proudly declaring themselves feminists or woman-friendly. I also want the organisation to carry out its own research and publish it in line with our charitable aims, and I want the art exhibition to get even bigger and better.”
The future of such an important event rests on the incredible drive of these activists who work so hard throughout the year. Attendees report their feelings of safety and support, overwhelming sensations of pride, sisterhood and sense of self. “My favourite moment is the opening speech – looking at all the people gathered in one place to support women, watching new networks form and ideas exchanged, and being proud that I helped make it happen,” Julian says.
Lisa-Marie adds that afterwards, when she gets time to breathe and remember the atmosphere and the feeling that they are contributing to positive change for women and girls, is her favourite part.
In the 2015 line-up, Julian is particularly excited about the human rights stream. “We have four panels each linked to an Article of the Human Rights Act,” she explains. “Trafficking for Domestic Labour, Justice for Victims of Sexual Violence, Online Misogyny and Forced Marriage. And Shami Chakrabarti is opening the conference. Women’s rights are human rights.”
With the Women’s Equality Party just having come out in support of the Nordic Model, Lisa-Marie says she will be wanting to sit in on the Women in Parliament session, Global Policy as Activism and Non-State Torture. “Really I would like to be able to go to every single one of the sessions! We are going to be filming some of them though, and hopefully we’ll be able to put those online.”
It’s daunting to think of the skills required to manage this kind of event, but both women advocate the importance of learning through volunteering. “Believe in yourself,” says Julian. “Keep a sense of perspective. And always assume that other women are acting in good faith. We’re stronger together.”
I will be forever grateful to the grass-roots activists and feminists who opened my eyes and supported me in my learning. – Lisa-Marie
Without question, one of the most challenging aspects of the event organisation has been funding. The conference is entirely volunteer-run and depends on ticket sales to cover the costs.
“Not being able to price the tickets at a level that would allow more disadvantaged women to come is a source of pain to me,” Lisa-Marie explains. “Now that we have charitable status though, we’ll try to fundraise through the coming months to help with this for 2016.”
The FiL team are definitely on the look out for ways to develop supportive fundraising networks for the future, to ensure this wonderful event may long continue and grow roots which bring about increasing waves of activism.
Enormous respect and gratitude to Lisa-Marie, Julian and the entire FiL team for their contributions to the awesome and ever-evolving women’s liberation movement.
Tickets are still on sale for the event which runs this weekend at The Hilton Metropole in London on 24th and 25th October 2015.