In recent months a new space has opened up for radical women in Christchurch to hold discussions and organise around social issues.
The Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group first met several months ago when Occupy Christchurch remained active, but general assemblies had become tense and the safer spaces policy overlooked.
Over the course of the movement, Occupy became a difficult space for many activists to work in with its increasing inward focus, disorganised and poorly attended meetings and individuals dominating the discussion with their own agendas, often unsupported by the group.
For women in the movement, the atmosphere of Occupy Christchurch was discouraging and, at times, openly confrontational.
Though these dynamics were not limited to the movement in Christchurch and were noted by womyn around the country (see Why Have Women Left the Occupy Movement in the April 2012 issue of The Spark or online at http://bit.ly/HZoOCy), Christchurch activists have worked to create a welcoming space alongside the wider Occupy group to discuss issues specifically impacting on womyn in our communities.
Since beginning meeting, the group of about twenty have discussed the development of feminist theory, and our need for it today as a way of understanding the disproportionate oppression women face.
Issues the group have discussed and been active around include the Government’s plans to introduce drug testing for beneficiaries, housing issues - particularly the lack of emergency social housing for womyn, compensation for survivors of psychiatric abuse and funding cuts to crucial support services such as Rape Crisis Wellington.
There has been a great sense of collaboration, with people involved in the group also being active in anti-asset sales action, building the Mana Otautahi branch, workers’ rights, mental health and disability activism.
What has been noticeable within the group is the way in which it functions as a safe space for women, but also other marginalised groups. The shared belief in the importance of working towards safer spaces has meant that the group has been an understanding place for people with a variety of experiences.
It has also been a space where people have found their voice. A highlight of the group has been seeing articulate and bright women gain the confidence to voice their ideas and opinions, where the culture of Occupy Christchurch and other social movements had amplified a few strong and dominating voices while silencing many others.
The Occupy Christchurch Womyns’ group has outlived the general assemblies, and served as a valuable space for theory, action and encouragement. Though the group is still becoming established, the space for feminist activism in Christchurch is expanding, and at a time when critical analysis of gender issues, policy decisions and discrimination is much needed.
The group currently meets fortnightly on a Thursday evening. To become involved, find our group - Occupy Christchurch Womyns Group on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/RxTqsE , or contact Kelly; email@example.com