Activists at UK Feminista's lobby of Parliament in October 2012. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.