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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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war