On 19th May 2012, the Irish Feminist Network held its first ever conference. The rationale behind the conference consisted of the need to document the current resurgence in feminist activism in Ireland, while also situating this resurgence within the wider context of the history and potential future of Irish feminist movements. The conference was themed “Feminist Activism in Ireland: Past, Present and Future.” In order to do this broad topic justice, we structured the conference in terms of successive feminist ‘waves’ in Ireland, and were fortunate to have an amazing line-up of speakers. There were panels on the first, second and third waves of feminist activism, and keynote addresses by prominent politician, Mary Lou McDonald, and women’s migrant rights activist, Salome Mbugua from AkiDwA.
A lot of thought went into organising the logistics of the conference. With a non-existent budget for an event of this size (140 attendants), the IFN nonetheless sought to make the day as pleasant (from a logistical point of view) an experience as possible. The co-ordinators were aware of the need for childcare to allow single parents to attend, and wanted to be maximally inclusive. We further wished to avoid huge corporate entities that quite often exploit women’s labour, hence our choice of the Sean O’Casey Community Centre as the ideal venue for the conference. The centre has a crèche, and they were happy to open it for us on the day. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough up-take for this facility in the end.
In order to promote the conference, the IFN undertook its most intensive media campaign to date. Articles were written, endless invitations sent out via email and Facebook, press releases formulated, radio interviews recorded, and supportive journalists broached to include us in their work. All of these efforts paid off, as tickets sold out the night before the big day. At 15Euro a head (including lunch, coffee in the morning, and childcare), we wanted the cost of a ticket to be affordable. Even at that, though, the IFN followed the suggestion of a wise supporter and introduced a sponsorship scheme to allow those who could not afford a ticket to still attend owing to the generosity of anonymous sponsors.
The conference was opened with a poetry reading by acclaimed poet, Catherine Phil MacCarthy, who really set the tone and atmosphere for the rest of the day. We then heard inspiring stories and first-hand experiences of feminist activists of the first, second and third waves. The final session on the future of feminist activism in Ireland allowed for smaller group discussion, with thematic groups on topics such as feminism and gendered economic inequality, feminism and reproductive rights, and feminism and the university. Each of these thematic groups was asked to discuss ‘what lessons can be learnt from previous feminist activism?’, ‘how do these impact the current situation?’, and ‘what practical measures can we adopt/pursue for the future?’. The concrete proposals for action emerging from these groups can be read in full below, and include actions such as increased education around abortion (feminism and reproductive rights group), gender auditing of university staff (feminism and the university group), protesting on the streets against economic inequality (feminism and gendered economic inequality group), creating space for dialogue between different voices (feminism and migrant women’s rights), and the challenging of heteronormativity and gender roles in schools (feminism and young people).
While registering, conference attendants were given coloured cards on which to write what a feminist future meant to them. We then put these cards up on a pin board for people to read during the lunch break. The answers have been really creative and inspiring, and for the following two months we uploaded an image of one card per day for people to view on Facebook or Twitter. This has been a great way to promote supporters’ views on their feminist futures, and to continue the dialogue on what kind of feminist futures we hope to achieve.
All in all, we had a fantastic experience putting together this conference, and have thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that have developed therefrom. We know that there is always room for improvement, and taking your feed-back under consideration, we hope to bring you an even bigger and better conference in the future. For those of you who missed it, we will be uploading videos of the day on this site, so stay tuned! For those of you who were there, many thanks for making it a really fun and intellectually stimulating day!
We welcome submissions to the blog, subject to editorial review, please contact us if you're interested. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the IFN.