Last Friday evening I, along with Katy B and Emeli Sande, performed at EQUALS Live. The show was part of the WOW Festival; a night hosted by EQUALS and Annie Lennox at the Royal Festival Hall. As well as the excitement of performing with these artists and the legendary Annie Lennox, I was also particularly honoured, for a more personal reason, to act as a spokesperson for EQUALS and all the amazing charities that it supports and promotes.
Before I became a full-time singer and songwriter, I worked for a women's charity in Camden Town called 'Women + Health' as a Holistic Massage Therapist. 'Women + Health' is a women's only centre comprised of a team of complementary therapists and counsellors working to support the most vulnerable women in the borough from a state of crisis back to a state of well-being, at prices determined according to the means of each client.
I was also lucky to work as part of their 'Out-reach' projects in Somers Town and Kilburn (to name a couple) to Bengali women who are sole carers of children with a physical or mental disability. These women care for their children often with little or no respite.
Unforgivably, the UK government has recently cut funding for these projects (as it has for many of the other services that sit on the frontline of supporting women in this country), which means that these outreach projects, along with many of the other specifically targeted programmes initiated by 'Women + Health', are no longer available.
Within the centre itself, the spectrum of crisis with the women I treated each week was very broad indeed; experiences ranged from exhaustion, to chronic post-natal depression, to domestic violence to the trauma experienced as a result of bodily disfigurement. The kind of work I did with each client was incredibly varied and always determined by their very specific, emotional and physical needs. One woman I treated for nearly a year had been so chronically depressed after the birth of her baby, that she had been suicidal, a state exacerbated by a series of mis-diagnoses as none of the doctors she had seen would diagnose her with post-natal depression.
Another woman I treated was so deeply traumatised after years of domestic abuse that, at first, although she had come to me for massage, in fact all she wanted was for me to place my hands gently on her arms and hands; any more was just too overwhelming as she was not yet able to disassociate touch with violation. This process was one of physical and emotional rehabilitation; redefining her personal space as something that was her own, something that she was in control of; re-defining touch as something that was safe and reassuring, not something that was only designed to hurt and abuse her.
Though all so different in the details of their experience, one thing bound all these women together: the living fact that they experience their inequality every day. The experiential spectrum of inequality is so broad in this country alone. For many, it may be the way they feel about themselves - the unspoken, internal dialogue they have, that never allows them to reach their full potential; depression, anxiety, or trauma.
For others, the manifestations are of both internal and physical scars: female genital mutilation, maternal mortality and, most commonly, domestic violence where, without intervention, for many of the daughters of the women privy to the violence afflicted on their mother - and invariably to themselves - the wheels of the cycle of abuse are already very much in motion.
When you zone in on the bigger picture of faceless statistics, and focus into the microcosms of individual lives, real-life daily and hourly experiences, inequality is a perpetuating reality for millions of women in this country and, of course, throughout the whole of the world.
In a society where, though imperfect in many ways, we are some of the freest people on the planet, there is a common misconception, especially in the younger generation of girls and young women, that we now live in a 'post-feminist' era and that the job of feminists was done back in the 60s and 70s. Call me an idealist, but I like to believe that this can only be down to poor education. I don't believe any woman, young or older, could not want to live in a world where all women, including herself, could realise her full potential, free from a predefined notion of what she can or should be. As Annie Lennox so rightly pointed out at EQUALS Live on Friday, men can be feminists too!
I feel so very strongly that it is our job, as women and men of the next generation, to continue the work of the women that have worked uncompromisingly before us, until equality is something that is experienced by all women. Although it is so important to celebrate our freedoms, it's also equally as important to continue to strive for equality in its truest form. Equality is not something that is experienced in part measures. You can't be 'a little bit equal'. Either you're equal, or you're not.
Although Progress is about struggle - it's also about reflection, and celebration, and the EQUALS Live concert at the WOW Festival on Friday was such a powerful and brilliant way of doing that. So on that note, I'd just like to say a HUGE thank you to Equals Live and Annie Lennox for asking me to perform, and also the amazing audience that came out to show their support too.
So, while 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women are still paid on average 15% less than men for the same work, while so many women, like some of those I treated at Women + Health, are still living in daily fear from domestic violence, and while, this government is making unforgivable cuts to the services like 'Women + Health' that provide support and refuge for these women, the job of feminists is very far from done. This collective weight of support needs to be applied as much now, as it ever did.