The Vaginalogue – sparking a dialogue around that which is often deemed ‘icky’

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Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Met

Calling women everywhere, let me ask you:

  • Have you ever been confused about the mechanics of your downstairs?
  • Ever stumped a qualified doctor with your very existence?
  • Having trouble remembering that one biology lesson on bodily anatomy?

If the answer to any of the above is yes (and I’m almost certain it is), I have one more question for you:

Did you struggle to find help, support or information?

So did I.

Off the top of my head I can think of dozens of times when I, a friend, a relative or even an acquaintance had some sort of issue ‘down there’ and felt alone, alienated or even ashamed because of it. After my own experiences I wanted to open up a dialogue, or perhaps better put, a vaginalogue…

What is The Vaginalogue?

The Vaginalogue is a blog for any woman who’s ever been mystified by their beautiful flesh palace…

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ActionAid’s #Fearless tour comes to Manchester!

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ActionAid’s Fearless campaign gathers pace as their speaker tour comes to a town near YOU (if you live near to any of the towns they’re going to that is…)

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After speaking at ActionAid’s Liverpool event in the Quaker Meeting House in September I’ve been asked to come along and talk about violence against women and girls in the UK again at another North West part of the tour, this time we’re in Manchester!

The tour, coming to Manchester this Sunday 18th October, is part of the charity’s Fearless campaign which aims to end violence against women and girls worldwide.

Globally, one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. ActionAid UK is calling on the public to stand with women and girls to end violence and urging people in Manchester, and across the UK, to join the campaign.

Last month, women’s rights activists from Kenya and Egypt visited the UK as part of the Fearless campaign. They spoke publicly about their experiences in challenging violence against women. The Fearless Women Tour will bring women’s rights activists from overseas to the UK once again – this time to meet with local communities across the UK.

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Sunday’s event will be an opportunity for the public to find out the next steps on the Fearless campaign and hear directly from women’s rights activists from overseas.

At ActionAid’s Liverpool event I was lucky enough to meet the team behind the Fearless campaign who have been working tirelessly to promote news of the UN summit which took place on 30th September in New York. Before the summit, the campaign hosted a petition to get our Prime Minister David Cameron to push for a target on ending violence; to put proper resources behind it, and to make sure women’s organisations are involved from the start. The aim is to end violence against women and girls by the year 2030.

Caroline Jones, Women’s Rights Campaigner at ActionAid UK and present at Liverpool event said that, “sadly, violence against women and girls remains a daily reality everywhere in the world. Women and girls face the possibility of violence in the home, on the street, at school and at work every day – this cannot continue.” And it is this unflinching view of violence against women and girls as unacceptable, untenable and unable to continue that is why ActionAid’s campaign is gathering such speed and strength as it travels around the UK.

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Caroline continued to say that, “across the world women are fearlessly standing up and speaking out and we must join with them. But we cannot achieve global change without local action. That’s why we are urging the public to come along to our event in Manchester and show their support.”

And that’s why you, my followers both old and new, should come to our event this Sunday, in support of ActionAid UK and of fearless women and girls all over the world.

The Manchester event will take place on Sunday 18th October 2015 at Madlab, 36-40 Edge St, Mcr M4 1HN. Starting from 6pm and finishing promptly by 8.15pm as we have trains to catch! The meeting is free and refreshments will be served at the start of the discussion. You can reserve FREE tickets on Eventbrite here or alternatively go to the Fearless webpage to find out more.

Do My Feminist Politics Annoy You? Twitter, Trolls and Tidying Up Your Timeline

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When I write film reviews, lovely geeky nerds discuss my ideas, adding their own opinions to the thread and we have a lovely old time. When I post articles about food, or recipes and even veganism, the internet respectfully disagrees with my personal hatred of tofu and we all have a lovely old time.

But for some reason, whenever I write about feminism, or tweet to a hashtag related to feminism or gender issues, the trolls stir. They come out from under their bridges and we don’t have the same-old lovely time. When I talk about feminism, the Internet wants to shut me up. This negativity increased when I started blogging for the Huffington Post where my work is visible to many more readers.

Here’s an example. Last week I wrote about the LinkedIn ‘compliment’ debacle and was promptly told I didn’t understand sexism, labelled a ‘feminazi’ along with pretty much any other woman who commented Charlotte Proudman’s defence as well as receiving ironic jibes like this:

On Wednesday I tweeted to the trending hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile which points out; ways in which masculinity restricts men, encourages damaging attitudes and behaviour, how easily men can feel their masculinity is threatened and how media reinforces these stereotypes which constrain men. But, obviously, the finer details of this hashtag were lost on some:

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(I never claimed to know what it’s like to be a man, only to know what it’s like to be a woman, harassed often by men who appear to be struggling under the crippling weight of their unstable and socially constructed masculinity…but that was well over 140 characters).

2015-09-24-1443110025-6252304-12028925_10208027362701308_207690180_n.jpg (That last one is just bizarre…)

These are only recent examples of the irritation that feminism (the old ‘equal rights for men and women’ bandwagon *yawns sarcastically*) causes some people. Many feminists (most notably, women) have received much more graphic abuse. Last year, journalist Caroline CriadoPerez wrote about the torrents of violent, graphic abuse she received from ‘trolls’ online, that Twitter actually enables.

And, after taking a stand against Sheffield United’s potential re-signing of convicted rapist Ched Evans last year, Olympic heptathlete Champion Jessica Ennis-Hillreceived rape threats online whilst she was pregnant.

Even when Twitter users the world over discussed toxicity of constructed masculinity, through the afore-mentioned #MasulinitySoFragile, the responses from anti-feminists were misogynistic and violent as pictured below:

(Missing AND proving the point of the hashtag simultaneously – well done!)

(Ooh, ouch. Now maybe they STILL won’t go out with you).

(The hashtag is trying to ADVOCATE for those men too…come on).

A lot of the women being abused were advocating for men; exposing the external social pressures put on men to behave in a stereotypically ‘masculine’ way, or specifically challenging the actions of people who behave misogynistically. When I wrote about Charlotte Proudman’s response to unprofessional sexism, many people exclaimed rhetorically, ‘what world are we living in when you can’t even compliment a woman?’ – before promptly insulting many women who were speaking up about sexism in the workplace… And when a pregnant Jessica Ennis-Hill used her status as a sporting star to advocate for the respect of survivors of sexual abuse, she was threatened with that same abuse.

So, far from sexism not existing or feminism being ‘crazy’, it would appear that from these limited examples of oppressive responses to feminism, the Internet doesn’t want people to even talk about gender inequality. Especially not women.

Personally, I block most of the users who abuse, threaten or harass me and other feminists. As an activist and writer, I produce work that (I hope) opens people’s minds to considering another way of being – a way of acceptance, not hate. I’ll spend a few hours or days crafting a piece of work that I’m proud of, submit it to my blog or the Huffington Post, where fellow feminists and others can read it and respond kindly, often challenging me, in a respectful and productive way.

But then some cartoon AVI’d self-defining ‘meninist’ can roll in with an unironic ‘#FeministsAreUgly’ emblazoned bio. “Following: 14,000, followers: 47” – you’ve seen them. I imagine they’re the kind of people who love page 3 but would scold a publicly breast-feeding mother, or perhaps they’d describe Nigel Farage as ‘alright’. They’ll call me ‘sexist’ or ‘ugly’ or some other derogatory, uninformed or irrelevant insult, possibly before they’ve finished reading the headline of my article. They’ll lay in wait, cruising the #everydaysexism thread for users (mostly with ‘feminist’ in their bio) to bother or harass. They don’t care enough about your argument, or their own, to actually do anything about it, but in one poxy comment a ‘troll’ can (try to) poke a hole through your politics and, in turn your confidence. To put it simply: don’t let them.

(And if you’re poised, typing, “just don’t go on Twitter, idiot”, I must ask, why? Why should I opt out of an outlet where I can discuss issues of gender inequality, mine and others’ experiences of sexism and harassment just because some idiot with an iPhone and more free-time than sense decides that my feminist politics annoys them?)

Internet trolls are afforded a level of anonymity that other users are not – I am held accountable to my opinions because I base them in fact, and reasonable opinion. But when you base your opinion on little more than biased ignorance, you are accountable to nothing – because there’s nothing of substance to account for.

So, forgive me Internet ‘Trolls’, but I really don’t want to talk to you or allow you to abuse me.

It’s not that you’re not entitled to your opinion. We all are. The great thing about our modern age is that everybody is afforded an online platform for their views. Nowadays, anyone can stand atop a virtual soapbox and pontificate digitally. Sadly, this does mean that a lot of people who don’t put much thought or care into their armchair-views and opinions can also sit there; phone in one hand, probably a pipe of Pringles stuck on the other, spewing ill-thought-out and often plain-old mean rubbish into the timelines of others.

Trolls, you are allowed your opinions and nothing is stopping you from voicing them. Hell, you’re allowed to comment on my opinions in this post, for I have put them out there to be engaged with. But here’s the important bit: just having an opinion doesn’t make it valid. What makes it valid is whether it’s based in fact or ignorance and, if it’s the latter, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably an idiot and you’re probably going to get blocked.

But of course, that’s just my opinion, and you’re free to acknowledge or discount it accordingly.

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This article was originally published on by The Huffington Post UK on 24th September 2015 and is view-able here.

A Beginner’s Guide to Going Vegan: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Turned to the Dark Side

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This blog was originally published on the Huffington Post UK site here.

As a former meat-eater from a family of omnivores (meat and plant eaters) when I first went vegan I was clueless. I’ve written about the early stages of my switch in this post, ‘I could never go vegan: a trial separation’. But in this piece I volunteer myself as your plant-based sensei. If you’re thinking about going vegan or have done so recently, here are 10 helpful insights I wish I knew before I turned to the dark side…

1. You WILL mess up at first

Food labels are confusing. I spent my first month vegan using a lactose-free cheese and boasting about how similar my cheesey pizzas were to the real thing before realising that it had milk products in it… I told myself that it was a genuine mistake, it couldn’t be helped now, and I resolved to not beat myself up over it. ‘Whey’ or ‘whey powder’ is cow’s milk, so before you start jumping with excitement in Tesco clutching a box of would-be vegan biscuits – just double check that there’s no whey hiding in there.

2. Vegan digestion is cray cray…

Without going into any details a plant-based diet does wonders for your insides, especially your digestive system. The fibre in your new diet keeps food moving smoothly through your system, avoiding constipation almost entirely. You’ll notice a huge difference within the first couple of days.

3. Veganism can be alienating

Friends who were supportive of your lifestyle change at first, who may even have said, “if you stick to that vegan thing, I might have a go” are now wary of you because you don’t eat things that they do and that makes them feel uncomfortable. Non-vegans, presumably defensive of their own diet, will become obsessed with the validity of yours and, most notably, where you get your protein from. Over time I learnt that in order to disarm a self-justifying meat-eater, the best way to respond is to keep it simple: You just don’t want to eat animal products anymore. And if they still do, that’s okay too.

4. You WILL get angry and upset

Maybe you’ve watched some documentaries about the food industry, (Vegucated(2010) and Food Inc (2008) being two of my favourites), or maybe you woke up one day and could no longer bear the thought of enslaving animals for your satisfaction or diet. You find yourself getting angry when non-vegans talk about their love of animals, whilst shovelling a bacon sandwich into their mouths… This is because as a new vegan, you feel like you ‘woke up’ – and you can’t understand other people didn’t. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and a few months down the line, when you’ve settled into your new lifestyle, you’ll regret the arguments you had with family members who didn’t want to switch to soya milk and the friends who ‘couldn’t live without meat’ *rolls eyes*.

5. You can still eat out!

Many people labour under the misapprehension that the food-life of a vegan is bland, boring and solitary. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Since I’ve been vegan I’ve eaten more colourful, flavoursome food than before and I didn’t stop eating out with friends and family. While many UK chain restaurants cater to vegans, I suggest letting restaurants know about your dietary requirements when booking to avoid disappointment. Plus, there’s nothing like watching a sad vegan chewing dry brown bread in a restaurant to put other people off plant-based living.

6. Meat-eaters will feel sorry for you

If you were previously vegetarian then the change to veganism won’t’ve been that drastic a transformation for you or the people around you to get used to. But if, like me, you went from full carnivore to vegan overnight then your friends simply won’t believe you when you say you don’t miss any of the foods you stopped consuming, even if the thought of them makes you nauseous now.

7. No two vegans are ever the same

On a vegan diet but not all of your beauty products are vegan? You could practically be lynched online by some vegans for admitting this. ‘May contain traces of milk’ is acceptable to some vegans and sacrilegious to others. But it’s hard to agree 100% with anyone on anything and telling someone they’re ‘not doing veganism right’ could put them off it altogether. Plus, vegan hair products and organic produce can be pricey. So just do what works for YOU.

8. Forums can be great and AWFUL

Online vegan forums can be great when you’re just starting out with your new diet. Personally, I’ve found Liverpool’s ‘Scouseveg’ Facebook group invaluable in terms of support and local restaurant tips. But some forums are a breeding ground for online trolls (vegan and otherwise!) that can be tiresome and annoying: so use them at your own peril.

9. You’re not perfect and that’s okay!

New vegans can feel pressured to conform to an eco-warrior stereotype that, along with not eating animal products, doesn’t take baths, use central heating, drive a car or do anything else that could harm the environment. But why should you hold yourself tirelessly to these stringent standards when your nay-sayers don’t bother? If you’ve made the decision to go vegan, even just diet-wise, you’ve made a really big and positive step to having less of a negative impact on the world and your own body!

10. Tofu scramble is a lie.

I could be letting myself in for a barrage of hate with this one but here goes.

Vegans: Stop trying to make tofu scramble happen, it’s not going to happen.

(If any vegans reading this can honestly make a non-gag-inducing tofu scramble then please, please get in touch and prove me wrong).

For more vegan updates follow me on Twitter @KateMenear and check out my Huff Post Profile.

Header image from Getty Images

Lesions in the Landscape @ FACT Liverpool

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In the final year of my BA I took a module on domestic space and atmosphere. It centred around the idea of how the lives of those who dwell in a space affected its ‘atmosphere’. In The Poetics of Space (1958), the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says that, “the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind…Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms.”[1] Bachelard is offering that the atmosphere of a domestic space is moulded by the experiences, memories and imagination of its inhabitants.

The ‘past, present and future’ form an intangible ‘atmosphere’, rather than the inanimate space possessing this ability. So, what happens when these memories fade, or are erased entirely? Does the house cease to be a home? Does the past still matter or even exist? When I visited Lesions in the Landscape I couldn’t get this thought out of my head.

This week I visited my favourite local art gallery of sorts, FACT Liverpool (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) for a blogger preview of their new exhibition Lesions in the Landscape by fine artist Shona Illingworth. Lesions examines the complex individual and social impact of amnesia, a condition in which the capacity to retrieve and form memory is lost. The past, present and future becomes unsteady. Time, unstable.

The exhibit uses 12048544_10207992314745131_1864853022_nvarious mediums to reflect on the experiences
of Claire, a woman living with amnesia, placing her psychological experiences alongside that of
the depopulated island of St Kilda, a remote island 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. The overwhelming feeling of the exhibition is that of isolation. When Claire’s memories were lost and the people of St Kilda deserted their homes, what was left? What was real?

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‘The past existing as a space you can’t enter or feel – the future a space you can’t imagine.’ – Claire

A thirteen minute film plays across three large screens in FACT’s darkened exhibit space. With speakers mounted around and above you, the experience is captivating as stunningly eerie moving images of rocks falling and crashing silen tly, irrevocably, immersing the viewer in the moment. On St Kilda we see the remnants of buildings, dwellings, homes-become-ruins where children once played and families once lived and loved, as Claire discusses her amnesia and her disconnection from the world. What stuck out to me most was how difficult the film is to understand; Claire’s vocal is difficult to make out at times, choral singing and loud music are discordant which also distorts the narrative. It struck me, as Claire describes herself as living in, “a world I’ve lost all the information about”, that perhaps this distortion is intentional. The exhibition pushes you away, making you want to understand more, to better show the viewer how difficult it feels to lose your memories, your past and your connection to the world.

 ‘I came home to a house that I was told was home, but that I didn’t know anything about.’ – Claire

12016562_10207992314865134_740728086_nAccording to FACT’s literature on Lesions Claire was 44 years old when a severe case of viral encephalitis left her with a large lesion on the right side of her brain. She woke from a coma to find that she could no longer remember much of her past, including her children. Claire could no longer distinguish or recognise faces, a condition called prosopagnosia and, in addition to losing her memories, she also had anterograde amnesia which is the inability to form new long-term memories. Most of what happens to her on a given day is likely to be forgotten.

What does this feel like? Alienating? Scary? Or perfectly normal to the amnesiac?

Along with the film, the exhibition also hosts an Amnesia Museum which comprises; film, photographs, drawings, objects, 12047414_10207992314985137_1863122499_n
artefacts and documents maps the landscape of amnesia. These
include super 8 images of St Kilda, 3D casts of St Kilda and of brain lesions that cause amnesia (pictured above and inset).

A powerful analogy for the isolating neurological experience of amnesia, Lesions in the Landscape draws together the amnesiac and the ‘island with inaccessible cultural memory’, which embodies this phenomenon of lost connection. Lesions in the Landscape is another in a long line of installations at FACT which discusses mental health and wellbeing in an open and educational way.

12025523_10207992315065139_1368447782_nIt’s an incredibly interesting experience, if a little disconcerting, and the Amnesia Museum will continue to expand as the exhibition tours. Lesions in the Landscape is a project supported by a Large Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences, and public engagement. The Wellcome Trust has enabled new scientific study taking forward research into memory retrieval.

You can see Lesions in the Landscape for FREE at FACT from 18 September 2015 – 22 November 2015. 

For more information on FACT’s own site click here.

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[1] Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space (1958). Trans. Maria Jolas. (Boston: Boston UP, 1994) p.6.

Is it a compliment or is it sexist? Flowchart for dummies.

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COMPLIMENT-GATE!

At least that’s what the Daily Mailers are already calling it. (By the way when exactly did the suffix ‘gate’ become a way to belittle an argument from the status of ‘meaningful debate’ to ‘silly feminists over-reacting’?)

Of course I’m referring to this week’s events in the land of commonplace sexism that is the internet, (society, the world, need I go on?) When Charlotte Proudman, a female barrister in human rights law at the Chambers of Michael Mansfield QC, objected to being complimented on her profile picture on the professional CV hosting website LinkedIn, the anti-feminist brigade had offensively branded her a ‘feminazi’ probably before they’d even found her on Twitter.

You can read up on the story in this Guardian article but basically the jist is that Charlotte Proudman received a message from Alexander Carter-Silk, a fellow lawyer via LinkedIn, who told her:

“I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture…You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.”

Proudman, who specialises in violence against women and girls and is currently undertaking academic research into female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, responded by telling Carter-Silk she found his message offensive, misogynistic and that she was on LinkedIn for professional purposes rather than “to be objectified by sexist men”. She then posted a screenshot of the exchange onto her Twitter account with the caption:

“How many women @LinkedIn are contacted re physical appearance rather than prof skills?”

Here’s the original tweet:

Since calling out this sexist remark Proudman has been vilified on a multitude of media outlets for outing this man as a sexist. The Daily Mail went for the ‘Look! She’s a hypocrite’ tact:

Notably Proudman’s ‘ogling’ of men took place on Facebook which, and I will split hairs, is notably a social network for friends, and not on a professional network such as LinkedIn. But, sure, let’s glaze right over that very important different.

While others went with these imaginative, scathing and typically selective headlines:

Oh no! She’s murdering chivalry! She’s massacring the medieval practice of men being courteous to women by chastising a man for objectifying her! Yes, that’s the same thing!

On Radio 1’s Newsbeat yesterday I heard one person interviewed comment that, ‘If she’s taken the time to choose the best picture of herself to go on the site then she can’t moan about it being commented on’ – Ahh, it would appear that the ‘she was asking for it’ defense is alive and strong. Alive, strong and idiotic as per usual. Of course she has uploaded a reasonably good profile picture to LinkedIn! Do you have any idea how pointless it is to set up a LinkedIn page with no picture? You may as well not bother. She is advertising herself to potential employers, not potential harassers.

Here’s another popular opinion on the matter:

Yes, perhaps if a woman had complimented Proudman’s LinkedIn picture she might have responded differently. Perhaps she wouldn’t have felt so belittled if a female peer had been more impressed by her looks than her PhD in her male-dominated profession. Perhaps. We don’t know that though as, in the real world, where real things happen, really, she received this ‘compliment’ from a cis-gendered, white, presumably middle-to-upper class male. So, unfortunately, due to his high up place on the privilege scale it’s quite belittling rather than innocently complimenting. This isn’t to say that members from the same social group as you are given a free pass to objectify or ‘compliment’ in an inappropriate manner: inappropriate is inappropriate and we should know that without having to be sat on the social media naughty step.

Very quickly as ‘Compliment gate’ unfolded yesterday I started to see many people jumping to Carter-Silk’s defense rather then Proudman’s and barracking her for the abuse that he was receiving for ‘innocently complimenting’ her. Yes, poor Al’s been publicly named and shamed, and probably received some online abuse, but that’s his fault, not Proudman’s. She was merely cataloging yet another instance of the everyday accepted sexism that many women receive on a weekly if not daily basis, globally, regardless of their race, class, or whether or not they’re packing a PhD in Law. To assert that she should ‘put up with it’ is to say that any of us should be allowed to make somebody feel socially uncomfortable and objectified with no consequence. In fact Carter-Silk is actually ‘allowed’ to make Proudman feel that way, nobody’s stopping him, his rights haven’t been revoked. But if he is allowed to ‘compliment’ her then Proudman is equally allowed to rebuff this if it offends her. She is allowed to stand up to it, just as any other woman would or should be. And yet, she has been shamed equally to Carter-Silk, if not more-so, by many media outlets and individuals for refusing to be passive or silent in the face of objectification – as many media outlets and individuals would prefer women to behave.

But of course, women don’t just receive these ‘compliments’ from strangers on LinkedIn, they can be gifted in the workplace, on the bus, repeatedly on various social media sites or they can even be bellowed unexpectedly down your ear, in the street, at night. No, that’s not inappropriate or intimidating at all is it…

So, I just thought I’d throw my two pennies in with my easy-to-understand flowchart about how and when to give compliments appropriately as, apparently, a lot of us still need some coaching on this one.

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Hopefully that clears things up if there’s anyone reading who’s ever seriously used the phrase, ‘it’s political correctness gone mad.’ But, if you’re still not sure, here’s my advice: Use your common sense. If you feel like you have to pre-cursor a ‘compliment’ with “this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but…” as Alexander Carter-Silk did, then you’re probably right and you probably shouldn’t say it.

#Fearless: For those who missed it, watch my ActionAid talk here!

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(^Me, ever perturbed by patriarchy, speaking at ActionAid UK)

Through the magic of digital technology (and my Dad’s expert filming…) here’s me at international charity ‘s  event in Liverpool talking; victim-blaming, so-called ‘first world feminism’ and .

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Poster from RTN Liverpool’s 2015 event this year

The event took place in Liverpool’s Quaker Meeting House, on the 3rd September 2015, as part of their ‘Fearless’ campaign which aims to end violence against women and girls all over the world.

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ActionAid is an international non-profit organisation that works to end poverty and violence all over the world.

I was invited by ActionAid to talk about my own experiences as well as the local issues that women and girls face in the UK. I touch on violence, victim-blaming, so-called ‘first world feminism’ and anti-feminist backlash in the UK.

Please excuse the post-match-Steven-Gerrard ‘errrms’, I’m working on it!

TW: Some mention of sexual assault and rape.

You can find more information about the Fearless campaign and how to end violence against women on my last blog post (link to petition is at the end of the post!) here.

Or go directly to ActionAid’s site.

You can find out more about RTN Liverpool and how to get involved next year by checking out our Facebook and Twitter pages.