“Welsh women have been written out of their history,” says Angharad Lewis at #FeministPeripheries
In June 2017, Coppieters, together with European Free Alliance Youth, presented its book “Feminism on the Peripheries of Europe“, a collection of essays by young authors from around Europe on why feminism is important to them and their communities. The book launch aimed to engage young people on intersectional feminist issues and inspire solidarity.
If you missed the book launch, here is our interview with Angharad Lewis, our Welsh author.
In your essay you wrote about political heroes in Wales. You argue that demanding a place for women in Wales’ history poses a direct and uncomfortable challenge to the cult of male heroism. Could you explain why you think this?
AL: For a small nation tucked right at the edge of Europe, Wales has a strong and proud political history. We are raised with the stories of heroism: of chartists and rioters, of Prime Ministers and martyrs. Our national identity is built on the veneration of political heroes.
Women have always been the backbone of Welsh political movements, but they have not been allowed to take on leadership roles within these movements. Women have been written out of that history. Whenever Wales is on the news, you get footage of men, which sends out a strong message about our political history and culture. By posing a challenge to that history, you illuminate a flaw in the mythology upon which we have built our current political identity.
The message is: we are a nation and these are our forebearers; the men who have come before us. But if you say, “what about the women?” you are posing a challenge to these men that have become our heroes, our inspiration, who we look up to. I do think people find this incredibly uncomfortable.
Do you think this is more difficult for stateless nations or regions, because our histories have not been taught to us or were simply erased?
AL: I think these issues intersect. Welsh history has been erased. It has not been written. It has been seen more as a side-note to the history of the United Kingdom in general, which I think is the case with many stateless, unrecognized or peripheral minority nations. So, the little that is written about us is highly mythologized and rarely includes women, even though they had been there all along, active in our union movements, for example.
This is why it is important to re-write that history to include women. By that I mean all women, including women of colour, working class women, and women that suffer from other intersecting forms of discrimination.
In your article you also address some recent political developments like Brexit and the election of Trump in the US on gender equality. How do you think these are related?
AL: Both raise the real issue and danger of complacency. Unless we pay attention and continue to struggle against people who do not treat women well, we may lose our hard-won rights. You can see this with the current US President Trump, whose tapes of him boasting about sexually assaulting women did not change the result of the election. Women can never be complacent about the fact that our rights can be rolled back.
With Brexit, it is difficult to draw an immediate and obvious link between gender and our departure from the EU, but this movement towards a more closed and isolationist United Kingdom has a huge impact on women. For example, there has been a rise in hate crime that disproportionately impacts women. You are much more likely to throw racial abuse at a woman than a man who might punch you. With the closing of borders, we already see a number of refugee children, including girls, in precarious situations.
You work as a political researcher at the National Assembly of Wales. What are your observations on representation within the public sector in Wales?
AL: We have something to be very proud of as a nation: we achieved gender parity in our government cabinet and national parliament. But there are still real day-to-day challenges as a female politician. You get side-lined and pigeon-holed to work on certain types of issues. Women face challenges that men simply don’t.
Plaid Cymru, the party I am a member of, has not done well on this. At the most recent elections, Plaid Cymru got one of the lowest proportions of women standing as candidates in the elections. We cannot say that we are progressive and that we will do good things for women, and then not include women at the center of that movement.