By Natasha Porter
Picture credit: LSESU
The 8th of March marked International Women’s Day, with celebrations taking place around the world to highlight the achievements of women. Here at LSE, it signified the peak of LSE’s first Women’s Rights Week, a series of events aimed at celebrating and empowering women at LSE.
The idea for this initiative came from SU Women’s Officer Sibylle Xatart, who wanted to take the opportunity to engage LSE students on the topic of gender equality. “There are too often assumptions that women’s rights are acquired or are respected in the societies we live in but there is still so much work to be done,” she said. The events included film screenings, quizzes, panels, and discussions across a variety of relevant topics. Sibylle described Women’s Rights Week as a “step in the right direction” for the LSE community. The Beaver sat down with some of the organisers of Women’s Rights Week to reflect on the week, discuss the challenges facing feminist activism on campus, and discuss how the initiative can be expanded in the future.
One of the events, a screening of the South Korean film “Kim Ji-young: Born 1982,” aimed to create discussion around the mental health struggles faced by women in the workplace. Nicha Surawattananon, who helped organise the screening, stated the film was chosen to start a conversation about the increased burden placed on mothers in the workplace and how this can impact their mental health. “The awareness of mental health is really important for us to understand before we go into the labour market,” she said, describing the issues of discrimination against a mother with post-natal depression depicted in the film. Nicha hoped that the discussion created by the film screening “could be a pathway to reduce the stigma against women who have kids and mental health issues in the workplace.”
The power of discussion was a key theme during the week, in addition to trying to engage students with different ideas in conversation. The Intersectional Feminist Society organised a speed debating event for discussing controversial feminist issues. Ugne Litvinaite, President of the Intersectional Feminist Society, stated that the goals of the speed debating event were to “create a communal space for everybody” to participate in good-faith discussions. “Even at the LSE which is a social sciences university … we still we see quite a lot of [people] equating feminism with some kind of monolithic movement, implying that when you say feminist everybody knows what it is,” she noted. Therefore, the speed debating event, which was repeated the following week due to the success of the first one, highlighted the diverse perspectives among feminists. “We wanted to complicate this in a dynamic format by discussing issues that are actually highly controversial within feminism, meaning that people can occupy very different positions.”
The celebratory and informative events of Women’s Rights Week were largely seen as a success by the many organisers and participants. However, there are still questions about how the week could be expanded upon in the future and how to create sustainable activism on campus. “First of all, I think we should think about women’s rights and oppression, and empowerment everyday and every week!” Ugne said.
More specifically, there are concerns about reaching out to more people in order to engage more students in necessary conversations. “The majority of the people who are participating are women so I think it will be really important if we can engage more men,” Nicha added. She emphasised the importance of LSE students, as future leaders, being aware of inequality and therefore needing to be more equipped to challenge it. “If men understood what is really happening with inequality, they will help lessen the burden. They will acknowledge that women are taking on more unpaid jobs or taking more of the childcare roles.”
In addition, there is also a desire to change the culture of LSE, not just for women, but for the benefit of all students. The organisers explained how sustainable and effective activism on campus can be challenging and expressed a desire to keep the momentum from Women’s Rights Week moving. LSE can be a “financialised and capitalism eroded” place according to Ugne, referring to the competitive and individualised culture some experience. She continued that some students “constantly feel that [they] are in exchange” and are “always searching for networking opportunities.” This culture can result in a difficult environment for activists and those seeking to create social change.
The solution for this, in Ugne’s opinion, is looking outwards towards the wider community and using that knowledge to improve the experiences of women at LSE, and more broadly. Referring to the business defence workshops that took place during Women’s Rights Week that aimed to effectively prepare women for the challenges they may face in the corporate world, she said “You have to always think about people who cannot be in the room…it’s important [for students] to have business defence workshops but it’s also important to think about people who are not here.”
When looking towards the future, SU Women’s Officer Sibylle Xatart hopes that Women’s Rights Week at LSE could create a larger impact towards more permanent change. “In a world where we often feel irrelevant compared to the size of the issues we face, even the smallest initiative might ripple on to grander things, and I do hope this project will provide a platform for reflection and engagement.”. Women’s Rights Week was clearly successful in creating conversations on gender equality among students. However, the organisers believe that the momentum can and should continue and the campus community should evolve to allow for more conducive community for activists, feminists, and those invested in social change. “What issues are women facing beyond the walls of LSE?” asks Ugne, challenging the LSE community to look outwards when improving the initiative for generations of students. LSE students aren’t satisfied with change only on campus: they’re looking outwards to create sustainable change in the wider world.