Friday, 30 October 2015

Did you miss Feminism in London 2015? Don't worry, we think we've got most of it here (put the kettle on)

When thinking about attending this year's Feminism in London conference, it sparked an almost immediate feeling of anxiety. How could this seemingly harmless event cause such a ripple of discomfort within? I was worried, quite simply, because I didn’t think it would begin to top the sheer brilliance of last year (did you miss my review, read it here). The fact that this year's conference had doubled in size (from one day to two) and had a dizzyingly vast array of speakers and workshops certainly boded well, although not for writing this blog post as, yet again, there is just too much to do it justice, so here goes.

Kate Smurthwaite opening Fil 2015

The conference was officially opened by unofficial Head of Feminism (not her own words), the hilariously articulate Kate Smurthwaite, who dedicated the weekend to the late Denise Marshall, a leading feminist and Chief Executive of charity Eaves For Women, who tragically passed away earlier this year. The floor was then handed over to, according to the Sun newspaper, the most Dangerous Woman in Britain, Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti. Shami pointed out that whilst MPs might think the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta is an event this year worth celebrating, this glorified, archaic document actually did nothing for the protection of women. Shami went on to discuss her work at Liberty, including successfully changing the law in Britain to prevent people from being held as slaves - a victory that is just 5 years old! Not to mention a vast array of rousing quotes and my favourite of all: ‘be angry, get organised’

From here I moved onto Human Rights in Childbirth, a subject close to my heart and close to home, as one of the panelists was none other than Hackney Doula and co-founder of charity BirthRights, Rebecca Schiller. Also in attendance was the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, Millie Hill, who in 3 years has grown this organisation to in excess of 200 groups across the UK and a further 100 internationally. Millie described how there had been suggestions made that pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to meet in groups to talk about pregnancy and birth, without somebody medically trained being in attendance. Millie also showed the photos of babies being born that were banned from her Facebook page and how, because of posting these photos, she herself was also temporarily banned. Interestingly one photo showing a mother’s derriere was removed by Facebook the same weekend that photos of Kim Kardashian’s own bottom were going viral, without any concerns from those in charge at the social media control panels. Also discussed was how pregnancy and birth are portrayed in the media, specifically One Born Every Minute, where some births that are filmed are then deemed ‘not exciting enough’ to be included in the programme. There is hardly any attention given to breastfeeding and when it is, the mother’s nipple is pixilated out. Also, the general lack of understanding about birth is exacerbated by the fact that in the current National Curriculum there is only one hour of education around the subject of childbirth.

Frances Scott, placard in hand.
Moving onto another cause that I may have already have talked about a few times here, here, oh wait and here: the amazing 50:50 Parliament, who had lined up an incredible panel of experts including: leader of the Women’s Equality Party Sophie Walker; Dr Helen Pankhurst; expert in Women’s rights and representation Lesley Abdela; leading Swedish feminist Gudrun Schyman, with the discussion chaired by the incredible 50:50 founder, Frances Scott. Lesley Abdela kicked things off, talking about her experience of co-founding and leading the 1980s campaign to increase women in politics in the UK, The 300 Group (Something which is very hard to find any record of online, although I did find something here). They succeeded in instigating a rise in the percentage of women in politics from 3% to 20%. Lesley then discussed her success in assisting other nations with achieving gender parity in government around the world, specifically Sierra Leone. Lesley also pointed out that every country in the world that built a gender balanced government achieved this by using quotas, something that is frequently highlighted as a controversial method - however everyone was elected and not appointed. Gudrun then took to the floor to talk about how in Sweden, whilst they achieved gender parity in the Swedish government back in the 1990s, this did not resolve their patriarchal society and that, to this day, they still have issues with the pay gap, domestic violence and unequal roles in parenting. Iceland, a country considered to be a leader in terms of women in politics still also has these problems. This highlighted how shortsighted it would be to think that the solution to achieving societal equality is found purely by topping up the female members of parliament.  Sophie Walker picked up beautifully from here, discussing exactly what the Women’s Equality Party would do support equality and women’s rights in the UK: how they would offer free childcare for babies from the age of 9 months, become a leading force to end human trafficking and put an end to women being criminalized for selling sex. 

Sophie went on to describe exactly how a gender balanced parliament could be achieved in just 2 elections. This involved quotas however, Sophie made a valid point that we use unofficial quotas by always appointing ‘the best man for the job’, thereby never allowing women an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Sophie finished by saying ‘of 30M women in the UK, surely we can find 350 to become MPs’ (you can sign the 50:50 petition here)

Keeping with the subject of gender I then moved onto a workshop about gender marketing of toys, chaired by the founders of the brilliant ‘Let Toys be Toys’, a campaign inspired by a talk thread on Mumsnet. The almost militant organisation of toy shops and manufacturers, defining which toys are for girls and which for boys (with their very own designated colours), is something that has puzzled me for years. The talk began with looking at how toys were marketed back in the 70s, where many adverts featured both girls and boys. Over the years they have become more and more developed in their separate boxes of ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’. However, more worryingly weren’t just the allocation of colours, but the fact that girls toys are centered around cooking, cleaning, caring and beauty whereas boys are focused around action, adventure, science and weapons. 

After all, what exactly does Barbie do for a living and what’s the male opposite of a tom boy? Of course, toy manufacturers and retailers motivation for this great divide is not just visceral misogyny, but of course capitalism: by separating the toys less are likely to be shared, therefore doubling their sales. However, the Let Toys Be Toys campaign has already successfully inspired 14 major toy retailers to remove all their signs pointing to ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ and replacing them with signs that tell whoever is interested where you can find Lego or Barbie. The campaign has now also grown to recognise that books can also be just as biased, with titles such as ‘Stories for girls’ for example, and so have now launched the #Letbooksbebooks campaign. You can sign the petition to stop gender specific books here

Bianca Jagger speaking on Day 2 of Fil2015

The next day, bleary-eyed from managing my children who, confounded by the clocks going back, decided the day would start at 5am, I eagerly returned for Day 2. The day began with an opening speech by Bianca Jagger, Founder of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, who delivered some sobering statistics: 60M women a year are denied the right to an education, an estimated 200M women are ‘missing’ as a result of being aborted because of their gender and there are up to 10,000 women raped every year in the Republic of Congo alone. To sign the BJHRF’s petition campaigning for a legally binding climate treaty please email Max Dashu, founder of the Suppressed Histories Archive, then took over to walk us through some incredible women that the history writers forgot including Essie Parrish, Hatsheput Mattkarea and Edith Garrud, who taught Jiu Jitsu to her fellow suffragettes.

A visual explanation of Neoliberal Feminism

From here I then high-tailed to the first of a few workshops focusing on something that I have long thought a fundamental to achieving equality: male feminists. The first of these workshops was run by David Brockway from charity Great Men who visit schools to run workshops for boys from the age of 12, their aim to create a space for boys to discuss gender equality and masculinity. As cases of bigorexia among young men continue to rise and suicide remains the main cause of death of men under the age of 35, it had never once dawned on me that a patriarchal society damages boys and men as well as girls and women. Of course the view that gender is a social construct is unavoidable here. However, David pointed out that whilst the nature vs nurture argument is a valid one and whilst the nature element will remain out of our hands, an immediate solution is tackling the nurture aspect. David then expanded on how they bring the focus of the boys they work with to thinking about the women close to them: mothers, sisters etc and how they could either wait for them to be harmed and then go and beat up the person responsible, or they could change society so no harm came about in the first place.  My favourite point was that the opposite of feminism is not masculine, it is sexism.   

The final speeches included announcing the winners to the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize which this year, was awarded to joint winners: Cath Elliott and Gabriella Gillespie, with the group prize going to Million Women Rise. There is so much more I learned about: for instance, did you know that AIMS are the organisation we can thank for ending NHS’s practice of routine episiotomies and that respectful care in hospitals is proven to save lives? Half the UK female population has experienced abuse or assault and the world’s largest arms fair took place in London last month. If it goes on general release then do track down the film of the reading of ‘Count’, by spoken word poet Leah Thorn. Finally, my favourite story of the day, which I heard on conversation in a workshop, was about what the women of Iceland did to convince their Government to create a gender balanced parliament - they all got together and agreed to take a day off.    

Monday, 12 October 2015

Carey Mulligan Campaigns for her daughter on the Red Carpet at the Suffragette Premier! #5050Parliament

Carey Mulligan pauses to pose for a photo with a 50:50 placard.

Atlast it's here! Today finally sees the general release of the much anticipated film charting the true story of the foot soldiers of feminism: Suffragette. 

To celebrate we caught up with our very own modern day Suffragette, Frances Scott, Founder and Director of the 50:50 Parliament Campaign who shared this incredible photo of the amazing Carey Mulligan, 50:50 placard in hand, on the red carpet at the Film's Premier, last week.

She apparently not only enthusiastically posed to be photographed with a 50:50 sign but went one step further, signing a 50:50 T-shirt. More incredibly she was attending the premier just three weeks after the birth of her first child, a baby girl. 

Frances, also a mother of four and an antenatal teacher of 20 years standing happily told us "It was wonderful to see her showing support for her daughter, other mothers, parents and all women, by responding in this powerful, positive and elegant way, to 50:50 Parliament, a movement for better gender balance in Parliament. Becoming  a parent, a mother or a father, is an awesome transition. It was very kind and poignant of Carey Mulligan to support 50:50 Parliament at this point in her life. She gave the most amazing performance in this moving film. Her character, Maud, was a mother and the film shows the terrible sacrifices that women, many being mothers, made in their fight to gain the vote. Parliament is still not only short of women but has proportionally fewer parents. We would like Party Leaders to ensure that Parliament draws upon the widest possible pool of talent and experience and that includes the 32 million women in the UK. The mother of Parliaments needs modernising." 

Like the Suffragettes 50:50 Parliament is an inclusive, non-partisan, cross-party campaign of ordinary women and men from across the UK fighting for the principle of equality for women in Westminster. 50:50 Parliament dream of a Parliament where men and women legislate the laws of our country in roughly equal numbers. They are asking Party Leaders and Parliament for solutions because they have the power to sort this out. 50:50 ask that everyone who believes in equality for women sign their online Petition at

50:50 Parliament are also setting up an Ambassador Programme to inspire interest and political participation on a cross-party basis.

Meryl Streep, stars in the Suffragette film as Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Suffragettes. She explained on the Radio Four Today programme on Thursday:

 "I feel it [sexism] when I look at the statistics." 

Of the 650 seats in the Commons only 191 are held by women and 459 by men so there are 268 (140%) more male MPs. There are still more men in the Commons than there have ever been women MPs. In the Lords, of the total 790 peers only 193 are women, that is 309% more men. At the current rate of change it could take half a century to achieve parity. That is too long to wait, the consequences are too appalling. Parliament needs to draw upon a wider range of talent, skills and experience.

Petitions have always had an important place in the political process. They are a way of showing people power. The Suffrage movement started with the 1866 Suffrage petition. The 50:50 Parliament Petition calls upon Party Leaders and Parliament to finish the job the brave Suffragettes started. Support 50:50 Parliament and, like Carey Mulligan, demonstrate that you care about equality by signing, sharing and adding your own comments to Help make history happen.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

An evening in conversation with Judith Kerr

It was on a balmy September evening that I traversed the rippling crowds of the City to a leafy corner of Camden, to visit the Jewish Museum, where they were expecting a very special guest. I joined the seated crowd, gathered around a microphoned stage in a windowless room, and patiently waited. It could have just been the unseasonal warmth, but the air felt electric with anticipation. We weren’t kept waiting long as amid a sudden eruption of frantic applause a gentle, elderly lady was welcomed onto the stage. At 92 years old, Judith Kerr radiates an astonishing energy, as she sat down in front of her microphone, beaming back at her captivated audience. I’m not sure there is any other writer that has had such over-reaching influence on me as that of Judith Kerr. I have early, yet vivid memories of sitting cross legged on the carpet at Primary School, drinking in every moment of our teacher reading aloud the tales of Mog, along with that hot summer at secondary school, where my world was filled by Anna’s adventures in ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. Now I read ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ to my own children, repeatedly at their insistence. 

The Guardian’s Claire Armitstead joined Judith on stage to conduct the interview, a role I thought an enviable one, until I realised that actually this was no easy task. After all, where on earth do you start with asking Judith Kerr about her life and work? Fortunately today was a very special day, as it was the release date of ‘Mister Cleghorn’s Seal’, Judith’s latest book. 

This new book tells the tale of an elderly gentleman who acquires a baby seal, and Judith dedicated the story to her father ‘who once kept a seal on his balcony’. I couldn’t believe it when Claire reminded Judith that she had said once before that she didn’t write fiction, so was the story true? Judith explained that her father used to tell her the story of how, long before she was born and therefore over 100 years ago, he had gone on a fishing trip. Whilst out on the boat they were surrounded by lots of seals, which the fisherman declared were eating all the fish and produced a gun. He proceeded to shoot some of the seals, but then realised he had killed the mother of a baby seal pup. Whilst the fisherman’s actions sound callous this fisherman was aware that having now killed the mother, he must now shoot the pup, as it wouldn’t survive on it’s own. So instead Judith’s father offered to take it home, which he did, on the train back to Berlin. Apparently on arrival he realised he needed to get the seal some sustenance, so ordered a taxi to take him to a restaurant, where he ordered the seal a glass of milk. He then took the seal home and kept it in a tin tub on his balcony. Unfortunately because the seal wasn’t weaned, Judith’s father realised that it wouldn’t be able to survive on cows milk and so tried to re-home it at the local zoo. Sadly they were unable to take it and so it had to be put down. He then had the seal stuffed, a practice that was common-place at that time in Germany. Naturally, and without spoiling the story, the lovable Mister Cleghorn in Judith’s book has far happier experience. Judith talked about how, by writing the book, it gave her a reason to do lots of pencil sketches which, in her view, is drawing in it’s purest form. 

Judith being interviewed by Claire Armistead
Claire then moved on to ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, asking how close to the truth was the story. For example, was she really pelted with shoes by the boys in her class in Switzerland? Judith responded that this had actually happened, in a bizarre demonstration of their affections for Judith. This, hysterically, had then inspired her brother, who had developed a crush on a girl, to do the same, but instead of shoes had used unripe pears. Judith then recounted how her father, a revered journalist and critic was open about his dislike for both Hitler and his Nazi supporters. As a result her father realised that as soon as Hitler came to power things would become very difficult and left Germany for Zurich. He then received a tip off that once the Police knew he had evaded them, they would confiscate his family’s passports, so they could be held to ransom to bring him home. So Judith’s mother, a young pianist, had immediately packed up their lives and put them on a milk train to Switzerland, a fortunate move as the day they arrived in Zurich, the authorities arrived at their house in Berlin, to find them gone. ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ was also translated into German and had won an award in the 1970s. However, Judith was quick to point out that this prize did not count as she was convinced no one would have dared vote against it winning at the time, for fear of being dubbed pro-Nazi. 

Judith talked with warm affection about her mother and father, how difficult it must truly have been, to have gone from a country where you were successful and respected to start again somewhere else, where everything was foreign, in every sense. However, with every tale that Judith told, there was always an amusing ending. Even when her Father was invited back to Berlin after the war ‘to cheer up the Germans who were very depressed’, he had received a hero’s welcome. They asked him to review a play and, on entering the theatre, he had received a standing ovation. Apparently the play was terrible and Alfred Kerr returned to his hotel that evening and suffered a massive stroke. He was found the next morning by a friend, unable to move but aware of what had happened to him and immediately had reassured his friend he’d had a stoke and it wasn’t because the play had been so awful. The only time where Judith’s voice tailed off quietly was when she touched on her own Mother’s suicide attempt. 

However, Claire masterfully brought the mood back up by moving on to ’The Tiger Who Came To Tea’, which has never been out of print since it was first published in 1968. Judith recalled that the story had come about from when she was at home with her young daughter Tacy, whilst her husband Tom was away on long filming trips. They often would wish somebody would pay them a visit. Claire asked if it had always been a tiger and Judith quickly pointed out why would it be anything else ‘they are orange and covered in stripes: just fantastic’. Apparently at the time Judith’s publishers had pointed out that there was a part of the story that was unrealistic, where the Tiger drinks all the water in the tap, which Judith thought was quite amusing. Micheal Rosen had also said that the Tiger represented the Gestapo. Judith smiled at this comment and she loved Micheal Rosen very much indeed but that he was wrong. Claire then asked Judith if she considered herself an artist or a writer. Judith smiled again and said she was neither, she was a drawer. 

The audience were then invited to ask questions and someone asked what had become of their beloved housekeeper, Hiempie. Judith’s mother had managed to track her down after the war to Eastern part of Berlin. She had worked as a rubble lady, helping to clear the wreckage of war from Berlin’s ruined streets, and Judith had continued to keep in touch over the years posting her food parcels. 

There were so many questions I wanted to ask: Judith came to England as a refugee - what were her views on the refugee crisis now? In ‘The Long Way Round’ she had said she wouldn’t teach her children German, did she stand by this? Yet my questions felt too intrusive, this wasn’t the time or place to demand the political views of this delightfully gentle lady, with her beautiful BBC English accent, who had warmed the hearts of generations of children. It was far better to hear her talk about her beloved cat, who will happily exit the house via the cat flap, but can only enter in via the back door. Clearly the spirit of Mog lives on. 

Tiger, Mog & Pink Rabbit: A Judith Kerr Retrospective is on at The Jewish Museum Camden until 14th October
Liberty will be releasing the Judith Kerr print in November

Mumsnet Hackney did not receive any incentive, other than her own Judith Kerr fixation, to write this blog.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Have you joined the Great Grub Club?

Sign up to the Great Grub Club free 4-week programme Smart snacking for you and your little ones

The Great Grub Club is launching a programme to help parents of 3-5 year olds stay healthy and happy at snack time. As a mum of two young salad dodgers, I signed up straight away and I’m looking forward to receiving some tips! Here, the Great Grub Club team feature in a guest blog telling us more about their exciting programme:

Smart snacking
We are so pleased to be launching our programme Smart snacking for you and your little ones. It all started when we spoke to parents, including those in Hackney, who told us that encouraging children to snack on healthy food is not always easy, and they could do with a helping hand. That’s why we’ve created a fun programme to help you keep your 3-5 year olds healthy and happy at snack time.

What’s on offer?
You can sign up to a free 4-week ‘Smart Snacking’ programme straight to your inbox and receive:
  • lots of easy snacking tips and ideas – just pick and choose the ones that are right for you
  • quick, affordable and healthy snack recipes
  • plenty of fun activities to try with your children
  • a free pack in the post with a booklet packed with advice and recipes, plus a rewards wall chart and sticker sheet
  • the chance to share your tips, stories and ideas with other parents on social media, where nutritionists will also be available to answer questions. 

Importance of snacking healthily
Children need nutritious snacks between meals to help them grow and develop. They’re great for managing hunger between meals as well as boosting nutrition and energy. By encouraging children to eat healthily from an early age, you will also help them develop healthy habits that could help reduce their future risk of cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Small changes all add up
You don’t have to make big changes – any changes however big or small, can make a big difference to your little ones health. We include lots of simple tips such as swapping white bread for wholemeal bread, so your children have more fibre in their diets. Another suggestion is checking food labels to find options with less salt or sugar. It really can be as simple as that.

Hackney mum of two, Ding Ding Zhunag Wu had a sneak preview of ‘Smart Snacking’.
She said: ‘The Smart Snacking pack is very informative. It gives an insight of healthy tasty snacks and it can be of great use for young families. It would definitely make us want to eat more fruit and vegetables. I also love the tips included and the recipes with funny faces.’

How can I take part?
We’re testing the programme with 500 families. To be one of them simply sign up now before 4 September. We’ll post you your free pack and send further information straight to your inbox throughout the next month.

The Great Grub Club is a free website for children up to 11 years old from the World Cancer Research Fund. It teaches children about healthy eating and being active in a fun way. For more information, visit; or follow them on Twitter.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Round The Corner Not Far Away...Mumsnet Hackney meets Bing Creator Ted Dewan

This isn’t the first time that Mumsnet Hackney has had the pleasure of blogging about the light-hearted, charming CBeebies TV series ‘The Adventures of Bing’. Why the repetition of subject matter? Well this weekend we received a very special invite to attend Toddler Time at Hackney Picture House as they were due to be joined by an important guest, none other than writer and creator of Bing, Ted Dewan. 

We’ve often wondered how exactly Bing bunny came about. Quite honestly we’d always thought there was a crack team of child psychologists behind this gentle story following Bing Bunny's endearing escapades with the occasional profound message thrown in for good measure. So to meet the softly spoken Ted who told us how Bing started as a book series, published in 2003, that he wrote for his daughter, who’s now 16, we felt a little embarrassed we hadn’t done our homework.

We then took our seats to hear Ted read one of the books aloud to entranced audience before tackling some tough and pressing questions: first and foremost, what is Flop? The answer is believe it or not, he’s well, a Flop. Nothing more and bearing no resemblance to any particular animal and the only entity Ted likened him to, was an upside down exclamation mark. However, appearance aside who is Bing’s patient petite guardian who never loses his temper and has sage-like knowledge when it comes to solving preschooler conundrums? Despite his parent-like manner he is never referred to as Daddy. Ted explained that Flop is essentially like Bing’s daemon, a conscience personified if you will, a captivating little detail that makes us even fonder of our favourite little bunny.  

The tail lights of a Valient that inspired Bing's ears
We were then given a quick lesson in how to draw Bing. We were delighted to hear how Bing’s ears are based on the tail lights of a Valient, a vintage car once owned by Ted and once you’ve drawn these the rest of his image falls beautifully into place (we should know as we have been robotically practising these on the insistence of our kids ever since). After then watching 4 back-to-back episodes of Bing, with our youngest screaming ‘another Bing, yaaaaaay’ wildly in between each episode, we took a moment to catch up with Ted afterwards as we still had another pressing question. Having noticed one of the original book’s titles is ‘Something for Daddy’ we wanted to know why no parents appear in the TV show. Ted told us how, actually thinking about it, toddlers rule the world, so having parents would have seemed too big and controlling in comparison. So it was agreed that in the TV show, which Ted worked on with Montessori advisors, parents would not be making an appearance.  

Ted also had an incredible selection of homemade Bing characters and on hearing Mumsnet told us about a heartbreaking talk thread about the disgraceful theft of a homemade Bing bunny (here for your reference and some of the language in response is rather colourful, although perfectly justified in our book). Ted assured us that this tale had a happy ending as they managed to  supply one of the new Bing bunny toys to the little boy who tragically had his stolen. 

However, the most important point that we feel must be shared was one particular message imparted by Ted, how that it’s easy to forget when you’re in the midst of parenting preschoolers, perhaps you’ve failed to negotiate the supermarket or perhaps you day started at 4.37am but these things aside - there is only word to describe these early years with your children - golden.

Toddler Time is a brilliant event that takes place at Hackney Picture House every Tuesday and Saturday and is just £3 per child and adults go free (how refreshing)

Mumsnet Hackney received a complimentary ticket to this event in exchange for an honest review.