picture above NAW member Pam Flynn holding the placard moving the motion opposing violence against women
by Megan Wright
MY earliest experience of the National Assembly of Women was of seeing the heavy door of the NAW Lounge at Wortley Hall (the country house of the Labour movement) in Sheffield close with a thud, and a rise of impassioned but inaudible voices discussing matters beyond my understanding.
This would have been 20 years ago, when my main priority would have been securing a steady supply of chocolate snacks and fizzy drinks from the bar and being free to play in the grounds with the other children of my parents’ comrades.
Returning to Wortley and to the refurbished NAW Garden Room, now dedicated to NAW member Celia Pomerey, (a courageous former guerilla fighter of the Huk movement in the Philippines) in May this year for the 51st AGM and my first as a new member, I had somewhat different priorities.
Whilst I was raised as a child in a politicised environment, with both parents involved heavily in the Communist Party, the trade union movement, as well as numerous campaign activities, I have never felt politically engaged myself. I was prompted to join the NAW by my mother and felt that it would be a tentative step to engaging more fully with the issues that affect us all but particularly those that hit women the hardest.
As a new member I dutifully read the papers I had received in advance and poured over the motions that were to be discussed. These were wide ranging and international in their impact and felt burning with relevance for someone of my or any generation.
However, I was still unclear how this would translate to the experience on the day and felt slightly apprehensive that I would be out of my depth.
On arrival, any nervousness evaporated quickly with the warm welcome from the President and all members present. Members introduced themselves, highlighting the wealth of experience and knowledge held in the membership of the NAW. I was humbled by the breadth and diversity of their backgrounds and encouraged to hear that I was not the only first-time attendee. It would have been easy to feel intimidated by a group of such accomplished women but instead I felt inspired and eager to listen (and perhaps contribute) to the discussions ahead. I would later find that contributions were welcome, encouraged, and added to the lively and at times lengthy debate.
The highlight of the day for me was the opportunity to hear from the guest speaker Rafeef Ziadah, Palestinian spoken word artist and senior campaigns officer from War on Want.
She explained that her initial intent was to bring the many facts and figures relating to war to this meeting but instead decided to bring the effect that war has on women in particular. As a refugee from Palestine, she described her first hand experience of conflict and its impact on the last four generations of women in her family, none living beyond 30 years of age. The impact of war on women stretches beyond the violence of combat itself.
Rafeef talked of the rise of poverty, loss of healthcare and education affecting women and children most as well as sexual violence, the use of rape as a weapon and the rise of trafficking and prostitution that all too often spring from conflict.
Rafeef also sopke of the wider implications of war. Whilst the role of large corporations in the running of our countries is often discussed, War on Want’s current campaign to Stop the Business of War is more timely than ever. Whilst I was keenly aware of the increasing privatisation of public services, highlighted in the current fight to save the NHS against this government’s attacks, I was not fully aware of the increasing privatisation of war.
War On Want’s campaign makes clear our current government’s disturbing embrace of private military and security companies to perform operations that had previously been carried out by national military forces. These companies are left to regulate themselves, preventing communities and governments to fully hold them to account.
Rafeef’s impassioned and inspiring words drove home the need to raise the awareness of the impact of war on women and highlight those who seek to continue conflict for profit.
Throughout the course of the rest of the day, three motions were also brought for discussion. These included ‘The Government Attack on Women’, moved by Anita Wright. A motion reiterating the NAW’s commitment to peace, moved by Lydia Merrill which built on the Rafeef Ziadah’s earlier words regarding the impact that war has on women, and restating the NAW’s commitment to peace. The third motion moved by Pam Flynn discussed violence against women and also updated members on Manchester based human rights organisation, RAPAR and their ongoing support of Mary Adenugba and her campaign to stay in the UK after becoming a victim of trafficking.
After a day of intense and active debate, many members stayed on to enjoy an evening meal held in the beautifully decorated FBU Dining Room. It gave all of us a chance to relax and of course continue the discussions, many of which went well on into the night with the help of the bar! The following morning, with a head swimming with new information and enthusiasm I decided to extend my trip to stay for the Executive Committee meeting. Any interested members could attend and this further experience gave me a better understanding of the way that the NAW operates.
Further to the previous day’s motion regarding austerity it was decided that the NAW would have a presence at the People’s Assembly at Central Hall Westminster on 22 June. With a new perspective on Wortley Hall and the NAW, I left looking forward to standing with my new sisters as part of the NAW at this event
pictures Lee Shearman
Megan Wright above was writing in Sisters the magazine of the National Assembly of Women