Intersectional Feminism in Action: Sisters Uncut Leeds
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
― Angela Y. Davis
As many of us witness the biggest civil rights movement in history from our living room (1), it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless, particularly if you are shielding from COVID (2). Yet, activist groups, such as Sisters Uncut, are demonstrating the multiple ways that you can protest from your own home.
Made up of women and gender variant people, Sisters Uncut is an intersectional, feminist (3) direct action group with multiple branches around the UK, including London, Manchester and Leeds. Guided by their Feministo and Safer Spaces policy, Sisters Uncut campaign against austerity and highlight the negative impact it has on the lives of women and gender variant people.
(Sisters Uncut Leeds put a call out on Instagram for people to protest at home. Image description: image shows 14 individual pictures of people holding letters that have been put together to say ‘THEY CUT WE BLEED’.(4))
On May 12th 2020, Sisters Uncut Leeds launched a campaign highlighting the impact austerity has had on multiple public services. Compared to the NHS, there has been relative silence from the media and government about how austerity has left other public services without the resources to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Connecting the impact on multiple services, Sisters Uncut Leeds used the hashtag #notjustNHS and called for people to protest at home. Asking people to make their own signs and demands (to share on social media), they state:
Join us as we protest the government’s failings. We do this to respond to the government’s failures; both in their slow and inadequate response to COVID-19 and their failures to protect our most vulnerable communities during the past ten years of austerity.
THEY CUT, WE BLEED!
For 10 years the Tories have cut our essential and life saving services; they have pushed the NHS past a safe capacity, decimated refuges and services for domestic violence survivors/victims, and made people increasingly vulnerable with no affordable housing, secure jobs or access to state benefits. Under the pandemic and lockdown, these conditions are all exacerbated. Domestic Violence has spiked worldwide. Survivors/victims have nowhere to turn to.
Sisters Uncut demands that the government takes urgent action to support other LIFE SAVING SERVICES. Join our campaign and highlight that it is not only the NHS that saves lives…
We CANNOT return to ‘business as usual’. We NEED to come together as a community and demand better from those in positions of power. (4)
By highlighting the impact of austerity on public services, it becomes clear that some lives are valued over others. Our society systematically benefits particular individuals and disadvantages others, depending on how closely they align with the ideal ‘normal’ human (5). This ideal, at least in the West, is white, cisgender, male/masculine and has particular physical, emotional and intellectual abilities (among other qualities). (6)
As a feminist researching the mistreatment of disabled adults in care, I joined this campaign to raise awareness about the impact austerity has had on social care (you can read my post here). However, Sisters Uncut’s key message – that we cannot return to ‘business as usual’ – still felt impossible to realise. That is, until the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began picking up momentum…
(Sisters Uncut Leeds called on their followers to create signs supporting the BLM movement and to contact their MPs. Stating: “We have seen time and time again that the police do not care about black people, this is not a USA issue, it’s worldwide. It is systemic. The UK is not innocent…” (7). Image description: photo shows the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a sign made out of cloth hanging out of a window.)
Already, we have seen real changes occurring thanks to the BLM movement. For example, in the United States, Minneapolis city council has committed to disbanding their police department (8). In the UK, some racist monuments are being removed (9) and the Free Black University has gained mass support (10). On top of this, there also seems to be a much bigger shift occurring, as the ways we think and talk about privilege (particularly white privilege) and discrimination appear to be evolving. More and more people are realising that the problem is not just individual racists, rather, it is the whole system.
The society we live in is anti-black and racist, and therefore all non-black people need to actively work at being anti-racist. This lifelong learning (and unlearning) for non-black people is being increasingly acknowledged. And we are running out of excuses to not engage, as millions of people are sharing resources via social media, including multiple reading lists and ebooks (11).
This fight for human rights, however, is only just beginning. And, the importance of intersectional feminism (3) could not be clearer, as in the midst of the BLM movement, the UK government mandates state sponsored violence against trans people. As Travis Alabanza points out:
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the midst of a literal uprising of collective Black struggle, an anti trans rhetoric that is rooted in white women’s ability to weaponise against other marginalised communities sees a surge. Clever recentring. This is also white supremacy. (12)
This is a call to action. We need to keep up this fight against white supremacy and, to do this, we must also challenge the problematic notions of gender that are rooted into our society. Of course – in fighting against the discrimination in our society – we must also take care that we don’t burn out. This learning and unlearning process is a marathon not a sprint.
That being said, please use your voice to ensure that all black lives matter and demand the human rights of trans people are protected. Support the Black Lives Matter movement (13) and fund black businesses and organisations. Support the #TrusstMe campaign and contact your MP, as well as the Prime Minister, to call on them to reject the transphobic proposals by Liz Truss (14).
Author Information: Josephine Sirotkin is an ESRC-funded doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds and is a proud member of the Centre for Disability Studies and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. Twitter: @JLSirotkin
About Sisters Uncut: Sisters Uncut is an intersectional feminist, direct action group for women and gender variant people, which originated as a response to austerity cuts to domestic violence services. Now, their campaigns span wider as they aim to highlight and protest against the many ways that austerity impacts women and gender variant people. Although Sisters Uncut originated in London, there are now multiple active groups around the country. Read their statement on COVID here: http://www.sistersuncut.org/2020/04/27/sisters-uncut-statement-on-covid-19/
Twitter: @UncutLeeds @SistersUncut
2. “Shielding measures are for adults and children at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19).” Read more, here: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-shielding
3. In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw used the term intersectionality, “to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems, like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice” (Crenshaw, 2017). Watch this short video where she expands on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWP92i7JLlQ (this is part of a TED talk from 2017 – which is unfortunately still very relevant today – the full video can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akOe5-UsQ2o – please watch this version, if you can).
So, feminism is intersectional when it recognises that some people experience multiple forms of oppression, such as racism and transmisogyny, that cannot be understood separately. Meaning, for example, black trans woman face discrimination that is unique to them.
If you’re interested in further reading on intersectionality. As well as looking at Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work, read Patricia Hill Collins, for example:
Collins, P.H. 1990. Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. London: Harper Collins.
Collins, P.H. 2012. Social inequality, power, and politics: intersectionality and American pragmatism in dialogue. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. 26(2), pp.442-457.
5. Goodley, D. 2014. Dis/ability studies: theorising disablism and ableism. Oxon: Routledge.
Wolbring, G. 2008. The politics of ableism. Development. 51(2), pp.252-258.
6. Goodley, D. 2011. Disability studies: an interdisciplinary introduction. London: SAGE.
11. Feminist Press, Black Lives Matter reading list : https://www.feministpress.org/news/black-lives-matter-reading-list?fbclid=IwAR0m44EwAhzRERzBSH2JuZuEZveDLwjOqR49VAhyQN5fviJIpVKLai1uFYY
Resources, including films and books for children: https://libwww.freelibrary.org/explore/topic/black-lives-matter
UK Anti-Racist/Eucational Resources: Compiled by @msadetoro : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MJC_dO1Lb16T8e1UiHWNtGhTVprMChX4QiEuFWscQ1Q/edit
Anti-racism resources for white people: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR1N6CcMnaMU4-MgYpJa3draFYd1_G9nrYXn3wUExwVUYhScvcP7nrJGLTc
List of resources by White nonsense roundup (a group created by white people for white people to challenge racism): https://whitenonsenseroundup.com/resources/?fbclid=IwAR0P1yB-GWvm4sxvdbYya9Kl_NIeSgS0sUv_p8xnxSvvUgVrSFKgqPOIX2s
13. https://blacklivesmatter.com/ , https://www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatterLeeds/