Today is International Day of the Girl, an observance day declared by the United Nations, which aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. 

In recent years there seems to be an overload of national awareness days and we’re definitely guilty of jumping on almost every single one, (did you see our blog post for #NationalCupcakeWeek BTW?). While some make fun posts for social media, they can be also be great tool in getting conversations started. We used this opportunity to sit down with Feminist Society President, Fleur, to chat about the importance of International Day of the Girl, their focus for the year and the big misconceptions about feminists.

“I think it’s really important to remember that across the world, women still suffer a huge amount of oppression” says Fleur. Fleur is the President of the Southampton University Feminist Society (FemSoc), a political society which holds regular meetings to discuss issues surrounding feminism and the “fight for gender and sexual equality”. For Fleur, this fight is really important as she feels the world still has a fair way to go, “even in the UK, women still experience a huge amount of oppression,” she says “and In certain parts of Nepal, for example, women who get their periods are exiled from their homes until they have finished, it’s the same for childbirth. They are forbidden to touch men, consuming certain food products, and even from taking a bath, let alone going to school. This was outlawed recently, but it still happens every day, and it’s something we need to be talking about.”

Talk the talk

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 Talking about it is exactly what this day is for, this years theme has been declared as “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force”. The UN reports that this year alone, 12 million girls under 18 will be married, and 21 million girls aged 15 to 19 years will become pregnant in developing regions  and that young women are more likely to be unemployed in large parts of the world. “International Day of the Girl, and International Women’s Day do an excellent job at uplifting women and ensuring people are made aware of the issues faced.” Says Fleur. “By the way…” She adds, “if anyone ever asks you, ‘when’s International Men’s Day?’ Because trust me, they will, it’s the 19th November.”

“even in the UK, women still experience a huge amount of oppression”

But the Feminist Society don’t just talk, they undeniably have had a successful year. Their #catwalk4consent was, as far as we know, the first of its kind. “We collected data from people who had been sexually assaulted, including what they wore during the assault, then sustainably acquired clothing items that matched the description of the clothes worn during the assault. At the show, we had 20 models walk wearing these clothes, down a runway with the victim’s testimony projected on a huge screen behind them. It was extremely powerful to watch. I cried” admits Fleur, “even though I’d gone through the responses numerous times. So did several people in the audience.”

 

As well as the awareness raised by this event, Feminist Society also raised funds for Yellow Door, an organisation who provide support for victims or domestic and sexual assault. “We were really proud of this event and we’re planning to put in on again next year, bigger and better of course.”

A bigger and better #catwalk4consent isn’t the only thing FemSoc are working on this year, “we’ve got an excellent committee who are passionate and strong, and fantastic members who are consistently giving us advice and feedback so that we can make our meetings even better. This year, we’re introducing FemSoc socials” Fleur says. “We understand not everyone can make our Thursday sessions, so in a couple of weeks we’re going to be rolling out socials so that everyone has the chance to chat about all things feminist. These will be more informal than our regular meetings, like grabbing coffee at The Bridge or something, but still providing that safe, inclusive space that we strive for here at FemSoc.”

“You get used to it, but it is frustrating when all we’re doing is trying to help people”

According to IPSOS, nine in ten people around the world say they believe in equal opportunities for men and women, but Fleur says there’s still a lot of misconceptions regarding feminism: “oh yeah” she says, “every year we get jokes about feminists hating men, feminists being ‘crazy’, feminism being obsolete. You get used to it, but it is frustrating when all we’re doing is trying to help people. As intersectional feminists, we support all groups, including men.” Fleur goes on to say, “I really do hope that the work that we do on campus helps de-stigmatise what it means to be a feminist.”

 

So what can we expect from FemSoc?

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“Bigger and better” Fleur says. “I am truly so enthused to be in FemSoc this year, and I get so giddy each meeting because it’s such a wonderful feeling to connect with so many people who are as passionate and excited about feminism as we are.”

As with any joining any club or society, being a part of FemSoc can be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and this is something Fleur definitely agrees with, “I know I’m biased” she says, “but it really is a wonderful community to be around, I’m still friends with people who have long graduated and I know that when I graduate I’m going to have friends for life.”

Still wondering if you should join FemSoc? “Do it!” says Fleur. “Seriously though, I can’t recommend this society enough. There can be a pressure to be the ‘perfect activist’ or the ‘perfect feminist’ and that’s really not what we’re about here at FemSoc. As much or as little as you contribute,” she goes on, “we will appreciate it, because we know how important your time is and appreciate you dedicating even the tiniest of it to us.”

Because we always like to end on a high, we asked Fleur what the best thing about being involved in FemSoc is, “feeling like you make a difference” she says, “It doesn’t matter how big or small, it really helps my mental health.” She adds, “every week when we we meet, I know I’ve helped people and made a difference in their lives. It’s a really uplifting thing to be a part of.”

You can find more info on FemSoc here, alternatively, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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