Activists at UK Feminista's lobby of Parliament in October 2012. Photo: Getty
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How to make yourself feel happier about feminism

If you're fed up with Twitter storms, there are a few more practical things you can do to further the feminist cause.

Tired of Twitter storms? Uninspired by infighting? If the recent comment pieces surrounding feminism are to be believed, then the movement has become one hell of a navel-gazing drag. It's struck us that, among all this hand-wringing about hand-wringing, too many people have started to feel a bit depressed about something we hold very dear to our hearts. So, with that in mind, we've compiled a list of things you can do that should make you feel a bit happier about 21st century feminism.

Get involved with the Josephine Project

The Josephine Project, based in Newcastle and founded by an indomitable community arts organisation of women who call themselves Them Wifies, came out of a drama workshop. Josephine is a "life size, three dimensional anatomically correct cloth puppet" who is used to explore issues of sexuality with disabled women, who are statistically at much higher risk of sexual abuse. Using Josephine to help those with learning disabilities to understand sex and relationships, a dedicated team of workers address issues that may have never been addressed in the women's lives before: one recent New York Times profile detailed how the idea that they were allowed to say "no" to sexual advances was alien to a majority of participants before discussion. You can get involved with the Josephine Project and other equally worthy campaigns by Them Wifies (such as the domestic violence course Mams For A Change) here, and donate to them here.

Host a Chalk Walk with Hollaback!

The anti-street harassment group Hollaback! have been strangling catcalls across the world for a while now, but there's still time to host your own Chalk Walk. All you need is a load of chalk, maybe some stickers, a couple of women, and loads of creative catcalling puns. Hollaback! has been challenging street harassment across 71 cities and 24 countries, holding local nonviolent demonstrations that challenge everything from people's public reactions to the hijab to people who think of lesbian couples as "free entertainment" (yes, really). Let everyone know that the only people who catcall are pussies. Find out about hosting your own Hollaback! Chalk Walk, or setting up your own local branch, here.

Help end female genital mutilation (FGM)

Britain has been paying of FGM the long-overdue attention that it deserves this year: this week saw Michael Gove agree to write to all schools about its devastating effects before the summer holidays, following a campaign and petition by 17-year-old schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed. However, there is still a lot of work to be done, including the provision of mental health services to those who underwent FGM in their childhood. Leyla Hussein and Nimko Ali have been doing tireless work to end FGM and support its victims with their nonprofit organisation Daughters of Eve, and their holistic approach means that they're always in need of more supporters with varied skills. Get involved here.

Join your local Fawcett Society

Fawcett has been going since 1866, so what have you been waiting for? Local groups abound across the UK, and you're certain to be in sensible proximity to at least one. They count on the participation of each group's members to spread their wide-ranging campaigns, write and produce newsletters, and vote for the actions they should undertake in the next year. Head to their AGM, share their message on social media, and help the Fawcett Society become even more diverse. You can join here - and you can even buy one of those 'This is what a feminist looks like' T-shirts that looked so fetching on Bill Bailey.

Man the phones at the National Domestic Violence Helpline

They're open 24 hours a day, run in partnership by the charities Refuge and Women's Aid, and they're completely free. But they're always looking for more people to answer phones for periods when the people calling outstrip the number of people able to pick up. Making a phone call about domestic violence often involves short snatched opportunities, so it's imperative that the helpline has enough volunteers available. If you think you might have the time, you could do worse than looking into becoming a helpline operator here.

Become a trustee at Women For Refugee Women

Women For Refugee Women is a charity run by Natasha Walter - her of Living Dolls fame. It aims to bolster and safeguard the rights of women and children seeking asylum in the UK, and supports a number of grassroots groups (such as Women Asylum Seekers Together London) helping refugee women to have their voices heard on issues affecting them. They hold a number of forums with refugee women in the UK, and run groups including English classes, practical financial advice for recently arrived asylum seekers, and safe spaces for victims of human trafficking to discuss their experiences. Fundraisers and volunteers are always needed, which you can find out about more here, and the charity is presently looking for three new trustees with past experience in charity law or communications.

Request a Generation F workshop at your school

UK Feminista offers some inspiring workshops that challenge gender perceptions, and offer resources for both students and teachers for setting up a day with them. Workshops can be tailored to age group, and start combating prejudice and media bias young. It's well worth looking into what they offer, or getting hold of their guide for setting up school-based feminist organisations.

Visit the Herstories Archive

The Herstories project began in July 2012, when founder Radhika Hettiarachchi returned to Sri Lanka after working in crisis areas for the UN. After years of conflict, she decided to encourage empathy between previously warring communities by collecting family histories from the mouths of mothers across the country. The resulting archive is fascinating, and has done so much social good in such a short time that Radhika is now training groups in Afghanistan to do the same. Pictures and stories from the Herstories archive will go on display in London in March, and further details about the project can be found here.

Donate to Rape Crisis every time you see an angry tweet

Our final recommendation comes straight from our own experience: we've both begun to do this every time we see a Twitter storm erupting. Stepping away from the keyboard and onto a donation page in these cases has the potential to do serious damage to your wallet, but serious good in the world - and trust us, it's therapeutic. Happy feministing, everyone!

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.