Trend-setting feminists, Liberal Democrat activists - who knew?

In yesterday’s Independent Jane Merrick suggested that you can tell a lot about a political party’s state of being by the makeup of its conference attendees and activists: younger and trendier activists hint at growing power, she says. At the Liberal Democrat spring conference she saw activists wearing Marc by Marc Jacobs and, apparently, this could signal that “change is afoot”. 

Well, I’m here in Glasgow at the Liberal Democrat Party autumn conference, but unfortunately I probably wouldn’t be able to recognise a party activist wearing designer clobber if they came up and hit me in the face with a Burberry bag. Luckily, I’m not here for the fashion (and I imagine I might be slightly disappointed if I was), but what I can tell you - and what is much more important - is that Liberal Democrat activists care about women’s rights.

I know this because our fringe event on women’s rights and foreign policy, which we held yesterday with Liberal Democrat Women, was full to the rafters. And not just with women! It is an unfortunate reality that discussions on women’s rights often only take place between women. Of course it isn’t surprising or undesirable that women lead the movement, but shouldn’t issues that affect 50% of the population interest everyone?

Amnesty certainly thinks so, which is why we go out of our way to engage male politicians on women’s rights issues. Female parliamentarians who advocate strongly for women’s rights are incredibly effective and important, but they should not be alone. As our Women’s Rights Programme Director said yesterday, “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights” - these issues are for everyone.

Lynne Featherstone MP, International Development Minister and International Champion on Violence Against Women, who is in an excellent position to champion women’s rights, started off our panel discussion yesterday by saying “women’s rights are one of the most important issues in the whole world”, which set the tone for the rest of the event.

But there are also many male champions for women’s rights within Parliament (of course there could always be more) and one of them spoke brilliantly at our event yesterday. Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat Party President, started his speech by saying “There are some things that are red lines...and women’s rights is one of them”. 

Speaking powerfully about the importance of making women’s rights central to foreign policy, rather than an “after thought”, it was obvious that Tim was speaking from a place of absolute sincerity. 

As a women’s rights activist it was a pleasure to hear a man speak so eloquently about these issues. Not because women activists aren’t strong enough or powerful enough to make the argument themselves, but because true equality will never be achieved without engaging and re-educating men. As Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian recently “men are the problem, which is why feminists need them”.

This is particularly important in Afghanistan, for example, a country in which gender inequality is widespread and violence against women is endemic. Samira Hamidi, an Afghan woman human rights defender who is a perfect example of one of those strong women who present powerful arguments, gave an inspiring and passionate speech in our event yesterday.

Samira emphasised the importance of the UK government consulting with Afghan women before developing projects which will affect their lives. We couldn’t agree more. Afghan women’s organisations already run extensive projects working on issues such as tackling violence against women, including efforts to engage Afghan men, which they know how to do best. 

So it was incredibly positive to look around the audience at our event yesterday and see so many male faces. I can’t say how trendy they are, but if Liberal Democrat activists support women’s rights, that’s good enough for me.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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