Founder of Suffolk Feminist Society Helen Taylor reflects on successful launch and looks to the future
The founder of Suffolk’s first feminist society has spoken about why she created the group and what she wants it to provide for women in the county.
More than 100 people turned out for the official launch of Suffolk Feminist Society – held on International Women’s Day – at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich.
The event gave a platform to female leaders, educators and performers and offered organisations and charities working to support women in Suffolk the chance to share information about what they do.
Helen Taylor first had the idea to start the society in spring last year when she realised there was nothing arranged in Ipswich to mark One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end rape and sexual violence against women.
“When I looked into it I found there was no organised group likely to arrange anything and that surprised me because Ipswich is a sizable town and after thinking somebody should do something about that I thought, ‘why not me?’,” she said.
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“I have been a feminist for a long time, and it can be quite daunting to come out and say with confidence and assertiveness ‘I’m a feminist’.
“Feminists get a lot of criticism, opposition and challenges from people who are either antifeminism or don’t understand feminism. It can be quite lonely and disheartening being a solo feminist, especially if you’re on social media.”
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Working for charity Suffolk Rape Crisis, Ms Taylor said she no longer faced sexism during her work life, but she had done in previous jobs – from unconscious bias to sexual harassment.
“In my work I get to take part in feminist activities where big groups of feminists get together and talk about the work we do and the progress we are making and the fights we have in order to progress women’s rights,” she added.
“I personally find those events really inspiring, energising and affirming – they restore your faith in feminism and what it’s for and you get a sense of solidarity.
“We need feminism because although we have equal pay legally, in reality we don’t, but no employer has ever been prosecuted for breaching that legislation.
“There’s still an unprecedented level of gender violence against women and, yes, men also experience domestic violence but nowhere near the same level as women do.”
After searching the internet for advice and guidance, Ms Taylor decided the best way to make people aware of the group and to recruit members was to create an online presence through Twitter and Facebook.
From women in their 20s, to retired women who had been involved in the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, a group of eight turned up to the first Suffolk Feminist Society meeting.
By the second meeting, although the same number of women attended some were different women – the group was slowly growing.
It was then that a member suggested the group should hold a launch event to announce to Suffolk the group was here and to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Society launched on International Women’s Day
Suffolk Feminist Society’s launch sparked a surge of interest from like-minded women in the county.
The event – held on March 8 – included an introduction speech from the chief executive of Suffolk County Council Deborah Cadman; a performance of feminist poetry by spoken word promoter Amy Wragg; and a lecture on the history of feminism from Dr Louise Carter, of University Campus Suffolk. The evening culminated in a performance of soulful classics by Suffolk singer Amy Whitwood.
Almost £300 was raised for the Suffolk Feminist Society through a tombola, raffle and donations made for refreshments.
Ms Taylor gave special thanks to Suffolk county councillor Mandy Gaylard, who committed some of her locality budget to fund a sign language interpreter, who had to pull out of the event last minute.
Since the International Women’s Day celebration, group membership has soared to more than 80 women.
Looking towards the future, Ms Taylor said she wanted the group to actively campaign on issues that impact women in Suffolk.
“One of the members suggested that we might like to revive the Reclaim The Night march in Ipswich,” she said. “The last one took place in 2006 just after the murders.
“That would be something that would really energise the members, something that we could get involved in and be seen to be doing something positive for women.”
Ms Taylor also hopes to set up other branches of Suffolk Feminist Society across the county, with talks already under way with members in Bury St Edmunds about starting a west Suffolk group.
Joining Suffolk Feminist Society is free and anyone interested can email email@example.com
Role earns national recognition
Helen Taylor has been put forward for a National Diversity Award in recognition of the work she has done for women’s rights in Suffolk.
She has been nominated for the Positive Role Model Award for Gender, and people have until June 20 to vote.The awards celebrate the hard work and achievements of grassroot communities in tackling issues in today’s society.