Barbara Maddison writes:  NCYW’s annual Intergenerational Nottingham Seminar, held on 17th November, asked the question, “Has Feminism Gone Too Far?”. 

This programme, planned and delivered by senior NCYW students from Nottingham Girls’ High School, attracted nearly a hundred delegates from local schools and the National Council of Women.  A special welcome was given to Elisabeth Newman, Vice President of the International Council of Women.

The pace was set by Julia Maskell and Clare Searle, of Nottingham University Debating Society, who gave differing responses to the question. First, delegates were urged to vote “Yes.”  Feminism UK has become a movement of “vocal, middle class English women” and increasingly it reflects and represents their issues.  The urgency to address the needs of women globally seems to be lessening.  Possibly the answer is not simply that feminism has gone too far, but that it is moving in the wrong direction.  The fight for women worldwide, in terms of discrimination, disadvantage and degradation needs re-invigorating.

The contrary view (vote “No”), was that feminism needs to go much further.  Equality of opportunity to reach the top in business and pay parity are still elusive.  Women also continue to be underrepresented in UK Parliament and in other countries.

Both viewpoints prompted wise comments from delegates in a question and answer debate with the two speakers.  A majority voted “No.”

Each of the ten mixed groups, were then given a big challenge. Delegates around the tables were asked to choose an issue that still needs addressing, and then outline a campaign to raise awareness of what should be done.  A logo had to be designed, an explanation as to why the topic was chosen, aims set down and the method of highlighting the concern, presented and explained clearly too fellow delegates.  Amazingly, each group did the presentation within the allocated time of 5 minutes.  Everything that was said was very thought provoking; the members of the audience could not fail to be challenged. A winning group was presented with chocolates after the two main speakers had heard all the different topics.

The organisers from the NGHS 6th form, provided a stimulating experience and proved again, that, through young people like them, feminism will certainly progress in the right direction.

Elizabeth Newman, Vice President of the International Council of Women reported on her return to Australia:    It was with pleasure that I accepted the invitation to attend the seminar NCYW Seminar on 17th November, during my recent visit to England. Over the past two years or so I have seen the NCYW develop and grow in size with senior school students now organising their own seminars with the support of their respective schools. Some 40 schools have now joined NCYW with many students, as they transition from school to higher education or to the workforce, joining in their own right and a few preferring to join NCW GB. Students in participating schools have been encouraged to set up groups to look at issues facing young women such as violence against women, early marriage, female genital mutilation, gender equality and empowerment of women as well a learning of their rights through CEDAW. It is pleasing to learn that a number of boys have joined the groups realising they are an important part of the equation if women and girls are to be treated fairly. The NCW GB is to be commended for setting up NCYW and for its continuing support that involves a lot of work. ICW-CIF was pleased to support expansion of the programme through a grant from the Small Development Fund. NCYW is a standing committee of NCW GB thus is very much part of the Council.

The seminar marked the 9th anniversary of the first seminar organised by NCYW which was also held at Nottingham Girls’ High School. It was attended by almost 100 people – students from Nottingham Girls’ High School as well as some local schools whose students included a few boys and by members of NCW GB.

Following introductions, the day’s seminar commenced with two students from Nottingham University Debating Society who debated the topic of the day putting up interesting arguments both for and against. In supporting feminism has gone too far, reasons included that it had become the voice of middle class white women and tended to addressed their issues; it could be said feminism is heading in the wrong direction; it ought to be more focused on issues of equality e.g. in education and with the treatment of girls. In supporting feminism it was felt it still had a long way to go when one looks at the gender pay gap, few women in top decision making jobs/ positions of influence and many women still not having control over their bodies e.g. with reproductive rights. The session concluded with some thoughtful questions. The general consensus was that Feminism has not gone too far.

Delegates then split into groups and were asked to identify an issue they felt still needed to be addressed giving the reasons for their choice. They then had to outline a campaign in support of the issue that included designing a logo. The students took the task seriously with the older members of NCW GB drawing in their experience to give advice as required. All 10 groups came up with great campaigns which focused on various issues relating to equality. The group with the most innovative campaign was given a small prize of chocolates – it was a hard choice.

I was called upon to say a few words so gave encouragement to the students saying they were the future of the National Council of Women and International Council of Women

The senior students from Nottingham Girls’ High School organised the seminar themselves under the watchful eye of the teacher assigned to the programme. Giving students self-confidence in organisational/management skills is part of the programme. It was an excellent day.

Thanks go to Barbara Maddison, Monica Tolman and to the late Grace Wedekind, also the NCW GB in general for their belief and support in letting young women have their say and for their dedication to the programme – National Council of Young Women of Great Britain.

Learn more about the International Council of Women:  www.icw-cif.com