Balsall Heath, Birmingham – Sunday 28th January
On Sunday, 28th January the Women’s Strike Assembly held a Feminist Free School in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, an all-day event providing education and dialogue about feminism outside of the academy. The aim was to build a broader feminist movement in the city by providing discussions around practical issues that women and trans people face every day. The day drew together over 50 people (mostly women) from different groups and communities, and was a great success!
The Free School took place at The GAP, a venue and project space for arts and young people. The consisted of three workshops. We were originally holding these workshops in succession, but on the day had to run parallel sessions due to the high demand for the event.
Camille Barbagallo (University of Keele) facilitated a workshop on ‘Why is Housework work’, – which was also the catchphrase of the event and on the posters we made – where participants were invited to write down three things about housework they do or think to stimulate discussion whilst Camille gave a brief history of Marxist feminist thought and how housework and care work matter so much to capitalism as a system of social reproduction.Pam Lowe’s (Birmingham City University) workshop was on ‘The Abortion Rights Movement of the UK’, and stimulated discussion on the current abortion rights debate and emerging backlash.
Finally, a workshop on ‘Patients not Passports’ was led by Irial Eno, a junior doctor working for the NHS and part of the #DocsNotCops campaign, which helped participants gain a clearer understanding of the ways that refugees and asylum seekers are blocked from accessing vital healthcare despite it being a universal right.
Overall, the day went very well, and the space was absolutely packed. The children made kick-ass women strike badges that people could bring home with them, and The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham – a local project which aims to reduce food waste by using intercepted food from supermarkets – generously provided lunch.
Lots of people helped out preparing and clearing in the kitchen, with feedback from one participant pointing out that they liked how visibilised this reproductive work was and that it showed us putting into action rather than just talking about valorisation of work like washing up. The success of the event was likely down to having it in a well-known and popular venue, and perhaps also that it was a more accessible form of interaction where people could learn passively by attending workshops on themes, rather than the pressure associated with actively organising.
It also shows the interest in feminism and the need and desire for educational opportunities around topics like these, and we hope to draw on this in the future. However, we also hope that more men will feel able to attend, as these issues have been delegated to women for decades and educating our male friends, partners, and family is key if we want to think critically about gender relations and power. Next time, we might try harder to find workshop leaders who are more representative of us as women to ensure it is more inclusive.
Two themes presented in these workshops, abortion rights and refugees’ access to services, are related to two of three demands that have arisen out of the Women’s Strike Assembly as demands for International Women’s Day on March 8, with the third around preventing the closure of children centres in the city.. The Feminist Free School was one event in the run-up to March 8 in order to make education about feminism accessible and open to those who it relates to most.
The Women’s Strike Assembly have been organising towards mobilising on March 8, when a Women’s Strike has been called across the world in order to refuse the work that we, as women, do – whether paid work in offices, companies or factories, or unpaid and unrecognised domestic and care work at home or in the community. We are joining alliances with similar movements around the world, in order to come together and unite against a system of oppression. Keep posted for a programme of events in Birmingham city on the day, and join us at the rally at midday from 12pm in Victoria Square. Open to all genders, food will be provided and children are welcome.
‘Trans Right = No Debate’ – Feb 28th, 7pm, Birmingham LGBT centre.
‘Art Build’ for the Women’s Strike rally – March 4th, 12-4pm, venue tbc.
Keep your eyes on this space to find out further events in the build up to Women’s Strike, and sign the pledge now to go on strike if you haven’t already: https://womenstrike.org.uk/2018/01/09/pledge-to-strike/.