NOWSA: From Vegan Cupcakes to Activism

During the winter break, I had the privilege of attending the NOWSA (Network of Women Students Australia) conference here at ANU. It consisted of seven days packed with workshops, panel discussions and autonomous caucuses. NOWSA is an opportunity for women and TISGD identifying students from universities across Australia to fight the patriarchy, but also to come together and engage with personal, political, social and cultural issues that affect women. The conference is an opportunity to learn about yourself, the feminist movement and the experiences of women across the country.

Day One

Women and TISGD people are thoughtful. Vegan peanut butter cupcake icing is delicious. Buildings lock after 6pm.

In your life, you will meet people who are thoughtful and kind. You will meet people who will make you feel like you can talk to them about anything without ever having known them. You will feel validated, supported and empowered. You will learn that homemade vegan cupcakes taste EXACTLY how you expect them to (amazing). You will also learn that the Science Teaching Building will lock you in after 6pm if you don’t have your student ID.

Day Two

Let Them Eat Cake.

First thing’s first: I am interested in the marble cake analogy of intersectional feminism. I am not, I have never been, and I will not ever be, interested in any brand of white feminism. Intersectionality is integral to ensuring that the feminist movement remains strong. It is integral that the voices of all women and non-binary people – whether they be Queer*, a POC, a person with a disability, or TISGD – are heard loud and clear. Stand together and support each other, but recognise when it’s time to step back.

LGBTQIA+ people are 110 per cent deserving of your support and nothing less.

Pronouns are important. The way a person identifies is important. Respecting people’s preferences and identities is really, really important. Support that, respect that, and stand in solidarity.

Self-preservation is an act of political warfare. But also super essential.

You will want to do so much. You CAN DO so much. But remember to take the time out to look after yourself. Vicarious trauma is harmful and widespread, and the only way to deal with this is to watch out for changes in your own behaviour and to respond to these changes with self-care and counselling as soon as possible.

Day Three

The 26th of January is a sh*t day. Support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people.

This. Should. Not. Be. New. News. This I will say: not only is it time we started supporting women, it’s time we started supporting ATSI people, and ATSI women in particular. Recognise that this land was stolen and never ceded, and start respecting the rights of all ATSI people.

Knitting is not something you can learn in an hour. Neither is crochet.

That is all.

It’s okay to cry at work.

Hard work is the only way to get where you want to go and often people who are perceived as women have to work really, really hard to get where they want to go. Crack that glass ceiling and stab the patriarchy with those glass shards. Perpetuate the notion that it’s alright to cry at work, because crying is good for your skin and because sometimes it’s really f*cking difficult out there.

Supporting other people is good for everyone.

If someone does a thing you like, let them know. Tell them, clap your hands, wave your arms, stand up, cheer. Let that person know that they are sensational, that they are powerful and that you appreciate their voice and message.

Day Four

Women of colour are powerful. We are important, we are strong and we will not be pushed in front of.

Australia is not white, and we are no longer English. You do not get to comment about how you are marginalised and feel like your voice is not heard when your voice so often rises above others because of your race, class or sexuality. If you remember one thing about the strength and power of people of colour, remember this: it is not our responsibility to educate you on intersectional feminism and the empowerment of WOC. You can ask questions, but remember you are not owed an answer. If you support us, you stand behind us, not in front of us.

Day Five

Respect. Now. Always. What?

There are really powerful women out there. There are really powerful women who are survivors of sexual assault. They are strong, they are inspiring and they are spectacular people who are not defined by their assaults.

For decades, activists and survivors have been fighting for universities to finally listen to us. For decades, universities have not listened. So now we campaign. We campaign in response to the impending release of the results of the HRC survey on sexual assault on university campuses. We campaign against the ridiculous campaign that is ‘Respect. Now. Always’ and the false sense of hope – the false sense of:  “Oh my university is actually doing something about this issue” – that it brings.

It’s high time universities started supporting survivors and stopped sweeping the problem of sexual assault under the rug. To all activists and to all survivors: keep fighting the good fight and stay strong.

Day Six

Bed sheets are always larger than you think. Your hands will not snap off (even though they feel frozen).

The lawns of Parliament House are large. The voices of survivors and activists are larger. Winter mornings are foggy, but the way universities handle sexual assault is even more vague. If you ever think that your voice does not matter, you are wrong. If you ever think that a picture is not worth a thousand words, you are wrong. Stand up for what you believe in no matter how scared you are of what that might mean for your future – you deserve the opportunity. We are strong, we are many and we will continue to fight for change. If you have the chance to use your voice, use it. And to those of you who have the privilege of listening, listen.

You (yes you) can have sexy sex fun times. It’s okay to talk about that.

If you feel comfortable talking about sex, talk about sex. Be realistic – sex is not like the movies – and please support ethical porn. Remember that ANYONE can enjoy sex, the same way anyone can choose not to have sex, and that contraception is important.

Make sure the extraordinary dystopia does not become the ordinary.

Remember to stand up for your rights. Don’t ever go down without a fight. The battle ahead is long and hard. You will be baffled by the amount of people who will argue over your rights to safety and to choice. But keep going and don’t let anyone break you. Believe in yourself and believe in the women and TISGD people around you because we can achieve a lot alone, but we can achieve a great deal more together.

Polish dumplings are delicious.

Polish dumplings are really good, and you will always have room for them in your stomach. Female DJ’s are fantastic and if you just step side to side on the spot and move your arms every now and then, that counts as dancing.

Day Seven

Read the program again. And again. Write an article. Remember that women and TISGD people are f*cking AMAZING.

Remember to check the program when you get to the venue, or you will walk up three flights of stairs four times and you will be winded and surprised at your poor cardiovascular endurance. Always remember that women and TISGD people are really, really f*cking AMAZING. It doesn’t matter how physically far apart you are because, at the end of the day, you know that you stand in solidarity against the patriarchy. That is all.

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Author’s note: Most of these lessons I had already learnt a long time ago in some way shape or form, but NOWSA has served to reaffirm and reinforce them. These views represent my own experiences and I cannot comment on the experiences and views of other NOWSA attendees. 

I would also like to thank the organisers of NOWSA: Makayla, Tanika, Emma, and Gillian. You have done a truly sensational job in coordinating and putting together the conference. You are all people I whole-heartedly aspire to be like.