“We want to ensure that anyone can feel heard, included and involved”: Q&A with Huda Jawad, the co-organiser of Women's March London. By Lottie Jackson
Set against a roaring rendition of Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves, hundreds of placards grooved in unison: We are not Ovary-Acting! Let women bloom! Set her free! Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights! We’re just getting started! Such a mix of defiance, fury and celebration could only mean one thing, the annual Women's March had taken to the streets of central London.
On Saturday 19 January, thousands gathered in protest of gender inequality, and more specifically to call out the economic hardship severely afflicting women in the UK. This year’s ‘Bread & Roses’ theme was an allusion to the Bread and Roses March 1912 which revolutionised working women’s rights in the United States. Protesters who congregated in Trafalgar Square witnessed a fantastic line up of speakers from the Fawcett Society, Solace Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality Party.
Following the event, I caught up with the co-organiser of Women's March London, Huda Jawad over email to discuss the ongoing role of this global, female-led movement. “Everything that has taken place in the last 50 years leading up to Trump's election has created the conditions for this movement to come into being,” she says, “The ascendancy of racist and divisive rhetoric at the heart of western democracy was the catalyst for women coming together and saying we will not be silenced and bullied by patriarchal white supremacist power.”
We discuss everything from what makes an effective protest to whether there’s any such thing as “authentic” participation in a world dominated by social media—the interview also covers their response to the recent allegations of anti-Semitism facing the US Women’s March.
How has the Women’s March evolved since its inception?
The Women’s March was founded as a protest against the election of Trump, but we have moved on to be something beyond him and what he stands for. More than ever it’s centred on the experiences of British women and those living in London. Also, we as organisers are now different in terms of life experiences, backgrounds and professions- meaning there are multiple and evolving perspectives informing the organising and coalitions we build as a community and movement.
In your own words, what is the importance of inclusion and representation at the Women’s March?
It’s one of our founding and core values. We are about enabling the space and centring of those marginalised from society and those who are silenced by power. Our intersectional philosophy is at the heart of what we do.
We realise that we all have different experiences in life, that we move through life from different starting points and are impacted by the reaction and responses of others, particularly those who are more powerful and privileged. We are always aware of this when organising social action, campaigns, and in meetings. We can always do better and want to ensure that anyone can feel heard, included and involved.
What are the main catalysts in society that have led to the immense global success of the Women’s March?
Women's March as a movement is very reflective of the time it was founded in- everything that has taken place in the last 50 years leading up to Trump's election has created the conditions for this movement to come into being. I guess the ascendancy of racist and divisive rhetoric at the heart of western democracy was the catalyst for women coming together and saying we will not be silenced and bullied by patriarchal white supremacist power.
Women have always been marching across the globe, but I guess the global media decided to shed a light on it. This was then seen by other women and it created a sense of sisterhood and global community with the presence of social media and satellite media.
What would you say to the misconception that protests and rallies are not an effective means of bringing about change?
Each protest is different and takes place at a particular moment and time. They reflect the popular mood, but in order for them to be successful they have to have impact both at the grassroots level and in the corridors of power. The movement needs to act as a conduit for the voices of its members and affect change—however minor—in the policy and action of those who hold power. When protest fails to hold power to account, then it’s a missed opportunity.
What are the main aims of the Women’s March and do you feel it has already accomplished any of these aims?
The Women's March on London is a women-led movement that brought together people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations and backgrounds on January 21, 2017, to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.
Now, as we look to the immediate future, we are devising launching new initiatives to further demonstrate our shared commitment to this message. Recognising that women have intersecting identities and are therefore impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues.
What is your view on the idea that participating in these marches is part of a wider trend or zeitgeist? Is any awareness important or do you feel one’s participation should have genuine and authentic intentions?
People turning up to marches can be motivated by different things and that’s ok. It’s okay to be in a march if you have never gone before and can't write an essay about the cause. All you need is genuine interest and a wish to be counted. It’s also ok if you want to go to a march because you have been campaigning for something all your adult life or have been impacted by emotional and physical labour of fighting for the cause.
People come to marches to make friends, to nourish their warrior energy, to feel solidarity, because they do not know what else to do or because they want to have fun and be visible at the same time. Whatever the reason, turn up, if you can, and find out more rather than thinking I don't have the right qualifications to turn up.
What is your response to the allegations that some Women’s March organisers have been linked to the anti-Semitic, homophobic, transphobic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan?
Women’s March LONDON is aware of the allegations of anti-Semitism, challenges and difficulties currently facing Women’s March US. We want to state unequivocally that there is no place for anti-Semitism within the women's movement and Women’s March London categorically opposes any form of anti-Semitism.
Women's March London has no relationship with Farrakhan to disavow. We are a women's led grassroots movement in London and our leadership is based in London not the US. We have set our position on anti-semitism and racism in our statement - there is no place for either in the women's movement or elsewhere.
For our full statement on this please read here.