Afreen Begum, Ishrat Khan, Olaoluwa Abagun and Priyadarshini Mukherjee went to Bristol to represent the University of Sussex Students’ Union at the NUS Women’s Conference, which was held from 22nd-23rd May 2019. Ishrat and Ola share their experience.
“The NUS Women’s Conference this year was really stimulating and definitely a new addition to my career profile. As a doctoral researcher at Sussex, I found this conference significant - covering diverse aspects of gender justice while creating ample avenues of networking. Compared to the NUS conference I attended last year, the 2019 NUS Women's Conference was really worthwhile. The journey there allowed us all to learn about each other’s interests and shared passion for ensuring equality and justice.
I enjoyed the cultural exchange and thought-provoking discussions with fellow feminists across the UK. Discussing women’s economic empowerment and sexual agency was very useful to complement my own research. Also, engaging with such a diverse mix of students (particularly International students, students of colour and those with caring responsibilities) helped me to learn more about my rights and entitlements and to also brainstorm all my options at Sussex.”
“I found the NUS Women’s Conference to be refreshing in many ways: a true ‘Feminist Christmas’. The Solidarity Address delivered by Selma James (Founder of the Wages for Housework campaign, writer and feminist activist) was particularly inspiring. In a world with several discriminatory policies and laws, she reminded us to ‘think about what to do with the education we are receiving’.
Another great session was the authentic conversation between NUS Women’s Officer, Sarah Lasoye and NEC Member, Lola Olufemi on Lola’s soon-to-be-published book. What stood out for me was Lola’s clear articulation of ‘Abolition Feminism’ and the view that the answer to sexual violence is not prison sentences, as prison or punitive approaches often sell an illusion of safety that has not achieved much for women.
The motions presented for debate were highly relevant and well thought through. For me, the most interesting debate was on Motion 207, ‘Setting a New Direction for Reclaim the Night (RTN)’. The motion in itself was great, as it called for more inclusion and intersectionality in RTN. However, a part of the motion asked the NUS Women’s Conference to resolve to issue guidance to RTN organisers, which would include an ‘anti-police/police-critical frame of reference’.
Attempts by a few delegates to remove ‘anti-police’ from the motion failed, and the motion was passed unamended. I personally did not vote in favour of having an ‘anti-police’ frame of reference included in the motion. Even though feminist organisations and movements need to apply a critical lens in working with the police and other state institutions, I also believe that there is a lot for movements to gain by working strategically with established institutions. Hence, I worry that adopting an anti-police frame of reference can prove problematic for engagement.
Overall, the conference was a great platform to refine my feminist politics and meet other young feminists across the United Kingdom who generally had their hearts in the same place as mine. It was a great honour to represent women students at the University of Sussex and I am thankful for the experience.”
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