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A view of the national members' meeting from some members of the women’s caucus

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This report is additional to the minutes of the national members' meeting which can be downloaded here

The meeting of the women’s caucus was very positive, with approximately ten of us in attendance. The main proposal which was agreed by the caucus was to hold a national women’s caucus meeting, inviting all members of the Network who identify as women, to be held between now and Christmas. We all agreed that caucus meetings of 20 minutes at National Meetings did not give adequate time and space to develop a meaningful discussion about the many manifestations of sexism that we face and are resisting– such as our experiences of sexism at work, at home, in our communities, in our campaigning and in our own organisation. More than this, one of the main areas we felt that we wanted to develop much more systematically in the Network was our theorisation about women’s oppression and about socialist feminism. We felt that it was no longer adequate to just talk about organisational methods to combat any sexism in the Network, important as these are, but that we needed to more thoroughly develop and discuss theories about women’s liberation, and how these theories intersect not only with racism, homophobia and transphobia but also how they fit (or perhaps don’t fit) with other feminist theories, and with a Marxist analysis and class politics. One of us reported that the day-long trans-liberation meeting had afforded the space to develop a meaningful discussion of trans issues in a safe environment. We felt a day-long event could both help to increase women’s participation in the Network, and also provide the time and space to discuss theoretical issues, and to develop ideas and discussions which could eventually be turned into articles for the website or into pamphlets.  We reported this back to the whole meeting, and there was a general agreement that a day’s women’s meeting was a good idea, and it was agreed to set a date for this later in the meeting. Unfortunately, this never happened – and we think that it should be seen as a priority for the date to be agreed as soon as possible and for the Network as a whole to support the organisation of the meeting.  It was very positive, however, that the meeting of those who do not identify as women discussed the question of socialist-feminism which was put to them by the women’s caucus and showed a willingness to support as far as possible, the further development of the Women’s magazine, which the meeting agreed needed to be developed and supported further.

We were pleased that there were more women present at this national members' meeting than there had been at the two previous meetings, and pleased that women contributed to the important discussions about the future structures, organisation and politics of the Network. However, we also had some criticisms of the way the meeting was conducted, and some of us felt that there seemed to be less effort made to make the meeting inclusive and to encourage women to participate on a truly equal basis. We don’t think that this was deliberate, and we are not blaming any individuals – but rather we think it shows the need to be constantly vigilant about how are meetings are conducted, and that we must be very aware of how easy it is to fall back into bad habits. We were disappointed, for example, that there were no women chairing any of the sessions. There also seemed to be no prioritisation of female speakers and there was no encouragement for women to contribute to the discussions. This was especially the case in the afternoon sessions of the meeting – particularly in the sessions on Left Unity, Scotland and the EU. Discussion was often slow to start with, so speakers – usually men – were allowed to speak for long periods, with the time allowed for contributions only curtailed towards the end of discussions. We realise this happens because people often need time to decide what to say or for the debate to take-off. But this particularly disadvantages female speakers, who are often more likely to speak later in the debates, especially if they are feeling unconfident. This meant the meeting heard long speeches from men in the Network, and many of the women’s contributions were time limited. We suggest that in the future more attention is given to time limiting all contributions from the beginning, and especially to a more pro-active encouragement of women, and other less confident, speakers. We should consider doing our meetings a bit differently – for example, holding a “snake” discussion that goes around the room, allowing for everyone to speak for two minutes (with the right to not take your turn if you don’t want to contribute). We feel this would create a less male dominated meeting and a more inclusive atmosphere. We feel it would make the report backs from the caucuses feel less tokenistic by putting our liberation politics into practice.

We were also disappointed that the 50% quota of women on the Steering Committee was not met. Of course, we realise that this is itself a consequence of women’s oppression, where many women members of the Network do not have the time, energy or confidence to commit to being on the Committee. But we would urge that the new SC makes a call out to women members to be co-opted on to the Committee, and to take part in the Working Groups. We think this would signal our intentions to make women’s involvement in the Network a priority. We know that Network members are committed to furthering women’s liberation and women’s involvement, and we hope that this report and our suggestions here will help to make this commitment more visible in both the organisation and the politics and theorisation of Network members.