The Action Aid activist talks passion, society and the urge to change stuff
Interview by Sofie Jenkinson, photo by Nico Avelardi
If something strikes a nerve and makes me question myself, society or the human race in general then I have to get involved. I am very passionate about women’s rights and poverty so those are causes that are always high on my agenda. I think that regardless of race, gender or location everyone in the world should have access to food, clean water, hygiene supplies and education.
I would like to see more young people involved in activism and I would like to see a shift in attitudes. Too many people think that just because something isn’t happening to them, or because it’s not right in front of their eyes that it isn’t really happening or it’s not relevant to their lives.
I was 16 when I first got really involved in campaigning when I joined the Devon Youth Association as a young volunteer. When I moved to London I missed the sense of community and having a purpose that this gave me, so when I discovered Action Aid’s youth arm – Bollocks to Poverty, I jumped right in and have been campaigning with them ever since.
I began volunteering on a small level from a young age as part of the Brownies and continued to do so throughout school. I have always strived to do my bit and encouraged my parents to get into recycling and make their house ‘greener’ after reading some early promotional material for greener energy in the mid 90s.
London can be a difficult place to make friends as a young person new to the city. I felt like I needed to meet people with similar interests and ideas to me and university wasn’t providing me with that. I have always had a love of crafts and the W.I. have always had a keen interest in charity projects and activism so when I heard about a trendy young group who were re-branding the Women’s Institute in London (the Shoreditch Sisters) I had to check it out. It gives me a more fulfilling social life than just going out drinking all the time, and through it I have met some truly inspirational women and got involved with some great campaigns. I really would recommend it.
I think it is important to show these women how feminism is relevant to them today. When young women laugh at feminism it is usually because they don’t know much about everything that feminism has achieved and everything that still needs to be done. They just don’t realise how different their lives would be today if the feminist movement hadn’t started working for women’s rights. I actually heard a woman in her twenties saying feminists were all elderly men-hating lesbians with hairy legs..! It made me angry.
Personal experience can make a cause close to your heart, which makes coming up with ideas for campaigning easy. My mother is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer so I will be running the Plymouth half marathon in support of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and having been trying to raise awareness of how important it is for women to check their breasts – it really can save lives.
I trained as a dancer and would love to open my own dance school one day. I think that having hobbies and interests in childhood is so important for a rounded education. I think that for a child to be passionate about something is so important – be it music, dance, sport or anything really. For me it was always dance. Performing gave me confidence to speak out about things I didn’t agree with and a skill to use in my campaigning. I would love to be able to inspire more young people in this way.
I couldn’t campaign for something I didn’t 100% agree with. I just have to believe in the cause.
My parents are my heroes. They have always encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy and have supported me in everything that I’ve done. My mum is so strong and brave and the way she has dealt with her illness is truly inspirational.
With unlimited time and money I would set up a youth centre and put on dance and drama lessons, craft lessons, a book club, organise outings and picnics and have campaign workshops.
I met some of my closest friends when I put on a play to raise awareness of domestic violence. It really brought us all together and what started as a drama project became a campaign that we all got very involved with and I think that transferred to the audience and really got the message across.
Life is short and you should grasp every opportunity with both hands and sometimes you feel like giving up or wonder if it is really worth the effort to make such a small difference-but if everybody always gave up where would that leave us? You have to put a lot in to get a little back but it is worth it in the end.
I have just been involved in the EQUALS debate for International Women’s Day. EQUALS is a coalition of over 30 different charities. You can check out the video where I give my own personal views on FGM here. Next I am planning to get more involved with Days for Girls UK, which has been set up by one of my friends from the W.I. and is an excellent cause.
If you want to get involved with big equality debate now you can try the ActionAid Bollocks to Poverty app that gives your Facebook profile a 1950s makeover (because inequality isn’t just a thing of the past!). Or have even more fun on Facebook and pester your EQUAL and merge your faces together here or treat yourself to a ticket to EQUALS Live at the Southbank on Friday 9th March. The one and only Annie Lennox is hosting a night of live music with performances from Katy B, Jess Mills and Emeli Sandé.