Tonight the East London Fawcett Society is holding a debate on the legacy of feminist campaigners from the Second Wave, 50 Years of Feminism. This event, chaired by the Southbank’s Jude Kelly, has been inspired by and is being held in partnership with The British Library’s new feminist oral history project, Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Panelists include Melissa Benn, Beatrix Campbell, Laura Bates and Lesley Abdela.
To coincide with this event, The British Library has selected three of the more than 150 recordings to share with Feminist Times readers. These recordings and their transcripts, as well as the rest of the archive, are available online on the British Library’s ‘Sisterhood & After’ website. Listen to them below.
Sisterhood & After is a unique oral history archive depicting the stories of the women involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, launched on 8 March this year by the British Library, in partnership with the University of Sussex and The Women’s Library.
From Spare Rib to Greenham Common, the Southhall Black Sisters to the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights’ movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s transformed the lives of men and women and shaped the world we live in today. This oral history archive brings together the diverse experiences of the women involved in this movement for the first time, including issues ranging from reproductive rights, equality, independence to marriage and sexual rights. Over 350 hours of unedited recordings from the archive are available in the reading rooms of the British Library, and highlights from the archive, including edited clips, video and contextual information are available online.
The project was developed over the last four years in response to a demand from the activists themselves, who felt their stories had never been recorded in full before. Participants include well-known figures such as Susie Orbach and Jenni Murray as well as lesser known stories, such as Una Kroll, a former doctor, nun and campaigner for women’s right to be priests; Rowena Arshad, a trade union activist who co-organised a pioneering black women’s refuge in Scotland; Betty Cook, a miner’s wife who became politicised during the miner strike forming ‘Women Against Pit Closures’; and women involved in campaigns such as the Miss World protest, the Grunwick Strike, Reclaim the Night, the Equal Pay Act and many more.
Pragna Patel describing her involvement in Southall Black Sisters
Pragna Patel is the founder and Director of Southall Black Sisters Centre (SBS). SBS is, a multi-award-winning women’s organisation founded in 1979 to address the needs of black and minority women experiencing gender violence. It successfully campaigned for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a landmark case in which an Asian woman was convicted of the murder of her violent husband. The case reformed homicide law, creating greater awareness within and outside minority communities. Pragna is also a co-founder of Women Against Fundamentalism.
Pragna Patel interviewed by Rachel Cohen, C1420/18 © The British Library and The University of Sussex
Karen McMinn describing violence against women in the context of the Northern Irish conflict
Karen McMinn (born 1956) joined Belfast Women’s Aid in 1977 and was involved in the Free Noreen Winchester Campaign in 1978. As Director of Northern Ireland Women’s Aid 1981-1996, she played a key role within the women’s movement in raising the issue of violence against women and women’s social and political empowerment during a period of intense political violent conflict in Northern Ireland. Karen now works as an independent consultant focusing on issues of gender inequality and marginalisation within post conflict societies.
Karen McMinn interviewed by Rachel Cohen, C1420/26 © The British Library and The University of Sussex
Ursula Owen talking about setting up Virago and the way it was received
Ursula Owen is a publisher and editor. She was a founder director of Virago Press, which published many remarkable women writers, including Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Rebecca West and Mary Chamberlain, and recovered many out-of-print writers, including Willa Cather, Rosamund Lehmann, and Isabella Bird. She worked at Virago for seventeen years from l974 as editorial director and then joint managing director; she was chief executive of Index on Censorship, the magazine for free expression, from l993 – 2006, and founder of the Free Word Centre for literature, literacy and free expression.