3rd Jun 2019
Backstage at the temporarily branded St Davina’s hall in Cardiff city centre (more commonly known as St David’s Hall), comedian Suzi Ruffell describes what it is like being on stage in front of a Guilty Feminist audience: “You won’t find a lovelier crowd”, she assures us, “they want to hear about the great work that you do and they want you to do well.”
She is speaking to local spoken word poet Sarah McCreadie, Operational Director of Women Connect First Maria Constanza Mesa and me, Hilary Watson from WEN Wales, in the small green room packed out with feminist comedians – Kemah Bob, Jessica Fostekew and protest singer Grace Petrie – relaxing during the interval of the Guilty Feminist Live Show. Sarah, Maria and I have been selected as local women’s group representatives and individuals to raise the profile of our work and to give the Guilty Feminist audience a way of getting involved in the fight for gender equality in Cardiff and across Wales.
Unsurprisingly, in a nation where ‘everyone knows everyone’ I already have the good fortune of working closely with Maria at Women Connect First, and Sarah McCreadie is no stranger either. Even before we took the stage together, we were connected and able to share in the moment – acknowledging that we were about to do something relatively terrifying – to step out in front of 1,400 people and raise our voices, something that society so frequently seems to want to silence.
All of the performers backstage were incredibly welcoming and went out of their way to make us feel heard, understood and to ensure that we felt like we belonged. That we were ready to deliver our message, knowing that we were exactly where we should be. In an age where imposter syndrome lurks seemingly round every corner, this kindness was not insignificant.
Debora Francis-White, fresh from the stage, ensured that we knew what was about to happen and reiterated that the Guilty Feminist crowds were always keen to get involved so we must think about what we wanted the crowd to do.
For me it was simple: WEN Wales is as strong as our network. We are the hub that brings together the voices of over 1,000 individual members and 200 organisations either working directly in the welsh women’s sector or working on gender equality more generally in Welsh equalities organisations. We are always seeking out new members as together we are stronger.
My main message was simple: Please join WEN!
Maria Constanza Mesa discussed all of the brilliant work that Women Connect First are doing with Black and Minority Ethnic women in Cardiff and further afield, and how they work with women of all ages, with specific empowerment projects and that the waiting lists for help is huge and ever growing – but lack of funding and stable resources is a constant barrier. She explained that the cost of running the crèche alone meant that their waiting list for parents wanting to access childcare provisions was already in the hundreds.
There are many ways to help organisations such as Women Connect First, from volunteering or monetary donations. On the night, the audience donated over £760 which will go a long way in a small but vital organisation. More regular donations are even better, so if you can, please support Maria and her team to continue building a strong future for even more women of colour in and around Cardiff.
Finally, Sarah McCreadie – a local spoken word poet – convinced certainly some audience members who later took to Twitter, that poetry is more than dusty books on school library shelves and can really articulate a wise and relatable feminist message.
One of Sarah’s poems, in her typical bold and brave style, describes how falling in love with her girlfriend was also a process of her fall in love with the welsh language, where words like ‘cariad’, ‘sws‘ and ‘caru ti’ enriched her sense of place in Wales and within her relationship: ‘I already knew ‘cwtch’ but now I get them.’
We all got our 15 minutes of fame but not for ourselves – to speak on behalf of others and to speak of broader, urgent things. Through the Guilty Feminist podcast, Deborah Frances-White has enabled thousands of women to feel included, to feel like they can make a difference and to take up space.
In Cardiff, she did this by using her profile to come together with local women and to stand in solidarity. To echo the facetious chants of Jessica Fostekew: “What do we want? Gender equality. WEN do we want it? Now!