International Women’s Day 2019

photographs by Mireya Gonzalez

BWV’s International Women’s Day 2019 was not to be missed – over 30 various events, hundreds of fabulous women and a myriad of topics. If you didn’t make it to the City Hall, however, fear not – BWV will be bringing you up to speed with our impressions and learnings.

As a reporter joining the celebrations on Saturday 2 March I met some of the most inspiring women, learnt a few surprising lessons and even discovered something about myself.

Women and power

The grand hall where the session took place was bursting at the seams with women and men alike. I couldn’t help but smile at the perfect choice of room for the session – in the central place on the wall hangs a portrait of the most powerful woman in the UK – the Queen.

The panel brought together women doing fantastic things for Bristol: MP Thangam Debbonaire, Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens, Youth Mayor Hannah Heir, Acorn Organiser Anny Cullum and Somali women’s group Tallo’s Founder Hibo Mahamoud. All fighting for equality and better Bristol.

Recognising the opportunities they have, they discussed what power means to them, how they share it and how important influence can be. While the panel agreed the position of women in power is strengthening, there’s still a long way to go and they explored the flip side of the coin. 

Being a woman in power brings unique challenges, not least social media abuse or prejudices. It’s not easy being a super woman.While the panel represented various ages, issues and focus, they unanimously agreed – to make a difference we need to stick together and share our power: strength in numbers!

Menopause: medicine, society, work and self

From the power of influence to being in control of our bodies, I eagerly attended a session on menopause. And it’s shocking how little I, as a woman, knew about it.
And that’s just the issue – despite the fact half the population goes through it, menopause isn’t a fashionable conversation topic. Lauren Chiren, Beccy Golding, Isabel de Salis, Daisy Rajput and Caroline Overton decided it was time to make it one.

Sharing their personal stories on how menopause has affected them, they shed light on the kind of impact it can have on a woman. And it’s tremendous. Making hot flushes sound like a ride across the park on a sunny day, the panel discussed the mental health issues caused by the hormones and the hurtful perceptions menopause invites.

And while talking about menopause is half the battle, there’s more to be done. The panel highlighted the huge lack of access to the support women in menopause need. Sure, they can fight the beast alone. But it’s not just about surviving this truly challenging time in life – women should be able to go through it with as little disruption and discomfort as possible, avoiding the personal crisis so many go through.

War wounds

The presenter of the session, Rissa Mohabit, also focused on the physical affecting the psychological. And again, she touched on a topic that affects many women, but is rarely talked about.

In the session we heard the untold stories. Starting with a song by a group of fantastic Somali women, Rissa then played a couple of short films on refugee women hurt in the war. The project is part of her trauma awareness work, as she believes story telling can act as part of therapy.

We’re used to seeing war through a camera lens. We see war movies all the time. But “Under the shade of a tree” and “Nobody ever asks” are unlike anything you’d see in the cinema. Overcoming the restrictions attached to respecting the Islamic culture, the films consist of images and voiceover recorded separately to tell the stories of women wounded in war. And without any special effects, without loud bangs or the current most wanted Hollywood celebrity, they achieved something great. They conveyed an emotional message without exaggeration. Simple, modest, impactful.It was a powerful session on those untold stories nobody asks about. And about those brave women – survivors, not victims.

Spoken word open mic

I always thought I didn’t have a poetic bone in my body. I love books but poetry and spoken word – that seemed like a whole new world. I promised myself I’d only have a quick look at the spoken word open mic so I can mention it in my write-up from the event, but something weird happened. I got really into it.
I gingerly walked in when the session was already in full swing, the room full of women; the youngest probably just shy of two years old. You could immediately feel the incredibly positive, candid energy as women shared their thoughts.

They touched on all sorts of issues and in all sorts of styles. There was a poem on the Windrush generation written by a woman who was part of it. A group of energetic ladies sang about what bothered them the most with the world today – and the entire room joined it for the chorus. The event encouraged a pensioner who hasn’t performed in years to dust off her notebooks and share her thoughts on celebrating an ageing body which may not be perky but has given life to human beings. There even was a wonderful poem comparing women to chocolates and concluded – rightly so – we’re all delicious.

Women – and even one man – talked about love, politics, equality and menopause. There was anger, amusement, pain. And even I, a spoken word newbie, felt energised by the raw emotions and the beautiful ways of self expression filling the room.

Who knew I’d truly enjoy poetry?

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