As those of you who click on my Twitter or Facebook updates will be aware, I’ve spent the last 5 days in Southport at UNISON’s annual National Women’s Conference. That’s why the blog’s been so quiet, well, that and the fact that despite having free WiFi in my hotel room I was too knackered by the time I finally got back there of a night-time to bother even logging on to t’Internet.

As always it was a great conference, and one that I’m once again really proud to have been a part of. I met some amazing and inspiring women,  listened to some of the most moving and thought-provoking speeches I’m ever likely to hear, and made some new friends along the way. I’ve managed to come away not only with a huge pile of work to do with both the Regional Women’s Committee which I chair, and with the National Women’s Committee which I sit on, but also with a long list of ideas for new posts for both here and for CiF.

I have to admit I had no idea UNISON Women’s Conference was the biggest women’s trade union conference in the world, so I was quite taken aback when Dave Prentis mentioned it in his speech (and yes, it is a women only conference, but UNISON’s general secretary is invited every year, as is the union’s president, a post which is currently held by a woman, Sue Highton, but which could well be held by a bloke next time round).

It was particularly gratifying to hear the word feminist being used unashamedly by so many women there, especially as I can remember using it in a speech only a few years ago, and someone coming up to me afterwards and congratulating me for being brave enough to use that word at a UNISON conference! Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.

For any woman who doubts either the relevance or benefit of having women only conferences, all I can say is please just go along to one: the atmosphere is so completely different from and so much more supportive than anything you’d experience at a mixed conference, that you’ll totally understand then just why they’re so vital and necessary.

I know for a fact that some of the speeches you’ll hear at these events would never be made in front a mixed audience, and that’s not because the women making them are man-hating femnazi’s and only want to do men down when they’re not around to listen or any of that crap, but because they’re often so personal to the speakers that a safe, women-only space is absolutely essential in enabling those women to speak out.

I can’t even begin to describe the debate we had on domestic violence for example, so I won’t. I’ll just say that after listening to women’s stories of the horrors they’d managed to escape, and after talking to one woman after the conference and hearing about the abuse she and her siblings suffered at the hands of their father, I was struck once again by how fcuking awesome women are.

Anyway, a big thank you to the readers of this blog who came and chatted to me, it’s great to know I’m not wasting my time just mumbling away to myself here, and huge thanks to all those who voted for me to be the women’s rep at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference in June. I heard today that I was successful, so hopefully I’ll see you all in Brighton.

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