The changing fight for women’s rights

Sunday 3 November, 14:0015:30, Auditorium 1In conversation with dissidents...

For many, the #MeToo movement was a watershed moment – a chance for women to speak out about injustices they have suffered. But while the focus may have been on relationships between men and women, the aftermath of #MeToo has revealed a different divide: between an older generation of feminists and a more youthful contemporary feminism.

Many #MeToo campaigners claimed that the online movement had enabled women to finally ‘find their voice’. But this was criticised by some women who had been vocal years before the hashtag. When older women like Anne Robinson, Catherine Deneuve and Margaret Atwood questioned the movement’s challenge to ‘believe the victim’ in all cases of alleged misconduct, some campaigners wrote them off as out of touch with the reality of young women’s feminism. Some even blamed second-wave feminists for embracing and protecting abusers of the past who were now getting their comeuppance.

However, some have argued that young women today can take for granted the fact that their rights were won by feminist predecessors, and an older generation might remember a time when feminist activism was rather more risky than Twitter campaigns. From smuggling condoms on trains across the border in Ireland to braving street stalls with hostile confrontations on the issue of abortion rights or equal pay, the fight for women’s rights has a long and complicated history.

Are we living in the fourth wave of feminism – and are these generational divides real and something to be concerned about? While life for many Western women has become fairer, freer and more fun, there is still a need to fight for women’s rights. The stereotypical view of 1980s feminism is bra-burning and extremist ideas, but was the fight for women’s rights more serious when there was more at stake?

Dilys Cossey and Ann Furedi are longstanding abortion-rights activists, and continue to be engaged in campaigning. As the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Furedi has overseen campaigns to decriminalise abortion, to regulate the price of contraception and to provide better information and access to reproductive services for women. As a key member of the Abortion Law Reform Association in the mid 1960s, Cossey was involved in the campaign that led to the historic 1967 Abortion Act and has since held key positions at the IPPF, FPA, Brook and IPAS, campaigning for things like free access to contraception.

Has feminism changed? Does the Twitter activism of today compare with the marches of the 1970s? Or has technology simply helped the fight for women’s rights – with abortion activists in Northern Ireland using drones to fly pills across the border? And, when women’s bodily autonomy is still restricted, what should the fight for women’s rights look like in 2019?