Kiri Tunks is a teacher and trade union activist. She is a co-founder of Woman’s Place UK.
This is the speech she gave on the closing plenary of the Women’s Liberation 2020 conference held at UCL on Saturday 1st February 2020.
It falls to me to make some closing remarks on behalf of WPUK. First of all, there are a lot of thank yous:
- UCL for hosting this wonderful event and demonstrating a commitment to free speech, academic debate and women’s rights
- UCL Women’s Liberation Special Interest Group – an incredible bunch of women and the best hosts you could wish for
- UCL staff – the conference office & the security team, the bar, catering and cleaning staff, the tech team
- The stenographers
- Our volunteer helpers and the stall holders
- Our speakers, facilitators and contributors – all 85 of you
- All of you who have attended
But I want to say something else about this movement and a little about the place of Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) within it.
WPUK came into this fight quite recently and we know there are many people and many groups who have been campaigning for longer than us.
We want to thank you for what you have done – and what you continue to do.
WPUK was formed in September 2017, initially to ensure women’s voices were heard in the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. It was during that campaign that we became fully aware of the fragile state of women’s rights in the UK and were determined to do something to try and put that right.
We are organisers.
We know there are a multitude of individuals, campaigns, groups, organisations out there with huge expertise and experience in the full range of women’s lives.
We also know that those who are working closest with women in their daily lives do not receive the funding or the support that other organisations do.
We know that many of these groups have felt seriously constrained by threats to funding streams and unable to enter fully into public debate.
WPUK feels no such constraints.
We are funded by our supporters through ticket sales and donations. (Our average donation is £22). We are accountable only to our stated aims and to all those who support us.
We have used the money we have raised to do what so many other women’s organisations feel they can’t (and some who simply don’t) to ensure the voices of those women are heard.
This funding has enabled us to organise and amplify. It has helped fund this conference today. Thank you.
WPUK has organised 26 public meetings since 2017.
We have responded to consultations.
We have lobbied.
We have worked hard to get women’s voices heard in the media.
We have produced a manifesto based on what women told us they needed (the structure of this conference has been based in the demands of the manifesto).
But we are not doing this alone. There are many of us working in different ways, on different patches, with different perspectives and focus.
And it’s a beautiful thing.
This is the women’s liberation movement.
- It belongs to all of us
- And to all the women who can’t be here
- And all the women who haven’t yet joined
We are only here because of the work women have done before us
And our work is to lay the ground for the women who will come after.
So, the idea for this conference is not that it is the first word, or the last word, or the only word, in women’s liberation. We are here to mark the 50 years since the first Women’s Liberation Movement conference in Oxford; to reflect on what has been won and to build for what is needed now.
These things are now not just under threat; many have already been rolled back.
We are alert to these threats and we are ready to step up; to defend what has been won and to fight for more.
We wanted to be part of organising this conference so that women could come together and meet; to take stock; to network; to plan; to get informed; to discuss and debate; to laugh; to leave with a 100 ideas of what we can do next in our communities to change the lives of women and girls for the better, and to build a society that works for all.
This conference has been put together by women on top of jobs and other responsibilities in our spare time. It has come about in the face of substantial and serious obstacles. And it is a testimony to the grit and determination of the women involved in organising that we are here at all today.
I want to thank those women in particular. You have shown a steel that does this movement proud.
It has come together because all of you have made it possible – by offering your expertise, by offering to help, by being here.
Think of this conference as a patchwork quilt – made up of different pieces, sewn by different people, all brought together in one rich, eclectic, whole. It may have the odd loose thread but it has been pulled together with love and determination.
So, we hope you have enjoyed the day. We hope you have found it useful. We hope it has fired you up and made you feel strong.
Because we are going to need all your strength and fire in the days to come.
We need everyone here to go back to their communities and organise. If you are a member of a trade union or political party, look for like-minded people with whom you can influence policy. Work with others in your workplace, your social networks, your sports clubs and book clubs. We need to build this movement in every village, town and city to ensure that women’s voices are heard and their rights upheld.
It cannot be left to those who have failed to speak, or who are too constrained by funding streams to speak for women.
It is down to us.
All of us.
This is a movement.
We are the movement.