Women for Indy Edinburgh member and 2017 council candidate Amy McNeese-Mechan reports on Edinburgh Women for Indy's recent celebrations for International Women's Day.
Another fantastic and inspiring day at Edinburgh Women For Independence @Serenity! Our programme in celebration of International Women's Day had a very international theme: solidarity with women everywhere, to meet our aim of Independence For Women. This must of course mean all women in our own communities, as well as women struggling against injustice abroad: women suffering from poverty, health inequality or violence.
Our sisters from the Sikh community, the SanJog musicians, got us off to a rousing start with singing and dancing to get the blood flowing! This is the same inspiring group who run the Punjabi Junction Cafe in Leith Walk, working with women from minority communities to develop training and employment opportunities.
Catriona Grant of WomenZone, who support women in recovery from addiction and domestic violence, spoke about how much the solidarity of the 'Edinburgh WiFies' has meant to them, in practical terms and emotional: knowing someone listens, knows and cares makes a world of difference when someone is struggling.
Alison Johnstone MSP then joined us to talk about health inequality, and specifically what is known as 'period poverty', when girls and women find themselves isolated and marginalised because they simply cannot afford what has been taxed as a 'luxury item': sanitary products. Lack of access doesn't only mean social isolation - girls unable to attend classes, women unable to leave their own homes - but can be life-threatening: toxic shock syndrome is a deadly condition which occurs if a woman isn't able to change sanitary protection frequently enough.
Alison spoke of how women's health issues, particularly any of those involving what men feel uncomfortable discussing - menstruation, incontinence, breast feeding, reproductive health - are marginalised and ignored, and too often neither funding nor legislation is put forward to improve conditions. This reminded me of a shocking statistic that was shared with a lecture audience just last week by Scotland's first female Chief Medical Officer: the majority of all medications produced by the pharmaceutical industry have NEVER BEEN TESTED ON WOMEN PATIENTS prior to release on the market. This is due to the historical fact that it was once difficult to determine quickly and accurately whether a woman might be pregnant and carrying a child, so women were therefore excluded from test studies. That of course hasn't been the case for many years now, but still only about a third of new drugs have included female volunteers, and often because they lack enough research subjects, medical professionals don't disclose findings by gender. This hides the fact that we now know that women's bodies process and respond differently to medications in terms of things like bioavailability from oral intake, duration in the bloodstream, and other responses.
Ashley Thompson of Shakti Women's Aid was there to accept a cheque for £130 raised at our event at the Scottish Parliament last week. She explained that in addition to the work they do with vulnerable women from minority communities, offering advice, shelter and practical support, they also have a special fund for those with no recourse to public funds. These are often women from immigrant backgrounds who can find themselves trapped in an abusive marriage from which they cannot escape, because they are not eligible for emergency homeless shelter. Shakti does its best to step in with assistance in these situations, and Ashley spoke of their appreciation for the solidarity received from EWFI.
Sofiah MacLeod then gave a talk about the work of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, starting with some historical background to Britain's partition of Palestine (as they did in India/Pakistan) to create the state of Israel, whose government not only engages in what the UN has recognised as apartheid policies against Arabs, but also silences Jewish voices for peace. It was noted that women in particular often bear the brunt of the discrimination, and those in occupied territories are denied basic health care for everything from childbirth to cancer treatment. Of grave concern as well is that the Israeli state, well-funded by the American rightwing who see it as a foothold to retain US political power in the oil-rich region, are an important client for Britain as purchasers from our massive military arms industry. Our opposition to Westminster's investment in weapons, nuclear or so-called 'conventional', isn't just a matter of wanting to prioritise Bairns Not Bombs at home - it is literally a life and death matter for women and their families in conflict zones (areas where the British state has what it likes to call 'strategic interests', i.e. oil, gas, natural and mineral resources, deep water ports - does any of this sound familiar, Scotland?).
Unfortunately it seems that being high-paying customers also gives Israeli government officials access to Westminster corridors of power denied to most of us... and right now there is a push to ban any critisism of their government's policies as 'anti-Semitic', even when coming from their own citizens, or American and British Jews. We've seen similar initiatives to try to silence those of us who support self-governance for Scotland as 'anti-English' - even comparing us to xenophobic white nationalists. Well, sisters, I hope this wonderful event not only puts paid to that claim, but teaches us that silence is NOT an option when calling out injustices anywhere. And as feminists, we call out oppression not just to marginalised women and girls, but also to their families - to their sons, their brothers, and all those they love. Because when you hold back a woman, you hold back her children, her community, her nation.
So a big thank you to Selma and Viv and Pat and Irene and Joan and all of the other women who put this event together, to Ann and Alison and Catriona and Ashley and Sofiah and Trishna and the Sikh SanJog women who came and spoke and sang and shared their poetry and their vision for a fairer society. You are inspirational!