“Development isn’t just a feminist issue; it’s the frontline of feminism”. So said Melanie Ward, Head of Advocacy at Action Aid, just one of the inspiring speakers at LCID and the Fabian Women Network’s event ‘Why Development is a Feminist Issue’ held in Parliament on Wednesday night. Joining Melanie on the panel were Ivan Lewis MP and Rushanara MP from the Shadow DfID team; Lee Webster of Womankind Worldwide; Ida Horner; Dr Jay levy of AMREF; and the night was chaired by LCID’s co-Chair, Claire Leigh.
The event’s purpose was to bring together a diverse range of feminists, development practitioners and Labour supporters to discuss the crucial overlapping issues of feminism and development. The speakers covered well-trodden ground with renewed verve and new insights. Ivan Lewis kicked off the debate with an overview of Labour’s position on the necessity to place women’s rights issues front and centre of development work, especially in fragile and conflict states. He talked about the support and solidarity those in the West can give to the women who are the victims of sexual violence in conflict in the Global South, and Labour’s goals for the post-2015 agenda for women. He reminded us that in so many instances – from Northern Ireland to Liberia – women are central to peace-building and peace-making activities.
Rushanara Ali spoke next, and reminded the audience of the inspiration we can take from the Match Girls strikes of East London in the 1880s – and what can be learned from this movement to apply to the plight of the (largely female) workforce that were injured or killed in the recent Bangladeshi factory disaster. She urged us to consider, as feminists, the way that we hold to account national and international companies for failing to uphold labour standards and safe working conditions.
The pandemic of violence against women was a significant theme of the evening, and speakers expressed collective outrage at the lack of global funding dedicated to challenging this pandemic in the same way that the world has responded to other crises, such as HIV. We were reminded of countless recent episodes of horrific violence against women – from acid attacks to honour killings, FGC to the Delhi bus rape and murder, sex trafficking to sex tourism. The need to engage progressive and supportive men in the movement was agreed, as they are the critical enablers who can lead progress towards the end to violence against women.
Despite discussion of the atrocities committed against women daily, the debate had an air of positivity. From all speakers, the message was one of action, solidarity and finding ways to tackle development issues from a feminist’s starting point. All speakers acknowledged that women are not passive victims but are fighting back across the world at violence; as feminists, it is our duty to lend them our support to help all women create positive changes in their own community.
Sarah Kennedy is Secretary of LCID and Development Director of the Kenyan charity S.A.F.E. (www.safekenya.org)