Rebel Women

Tuesday 23rd May 
Written by Jennifer Graham
Before I even knew who the speakers were, I absolutely knew I wanted to go to Rebel Women. The title of the WoWFest event on 23rd May resonated with something in me. Then I read up on the speakers: Dashni Morad, an Iraqi Kurdish-Dutch singer, television presenter and human rights activist; Sabrina Mahfouz, a London-based poet, playwright and writer; Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and has spent more than 26 years fighting for the justice of the 96 victims. Only Margaret’s name was recognisable to me. Being from Liverpool I knew that her name and face were synonymous with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. I also knew that she was strong, fierce, and relentless in her pursuit for justice and truth. The Women’s Organisation was once again the fitting venue for the evening, with Dashni, Sabrina, and Margaret in conversation with Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Org.

The panel began by introducing themselves explaining the work they do and how this makes them rebel women. Singer and TV presenter, Dashni sees herself as an activist, and often has to fight back against negativity towards her work. Her stance is resolute: ‘I won’t be silenced.’ Sabrina began her working life with the Ministry of Defence where she was unable to change anything. However, as a playwright and writer, Sabrina ‘can make change through art.’ Surprisingly, Margaret admitted that before the tragedy of Hillsborough and losing her son, she was a very shy person: ‘but I knew something had to be done.’

As well as being empowering, it can’t be denied that the word rebel also has negative connotations. Margaret brought it home by reminding us what this title actually meant: ‘You’re not rebels. You just want justice. You just want the truth.’

It was clear that Dashni has had extremely frustrating experiences putting her work out there, to the extent of even receiving death threats. Yet, her positive outlook, determination, and wisdom shined through: ‘Taking risks is how we make progress. How we react to challenges is what defines us.’ She knows that this fight isn’t her own: ‘We need to react collectively to stand tall.’

Inspired through her work raising awareness of the growing sex industry in the UK, Sabrina performed a few of her poems with the voice of Sylvia. Her poetry touched on the subtle ironies, inequalities, and injustices of day-to-day life. When later asked about her opinion of wider injustice within the UK, her response was reminiscent of that of Vicky Pryce a couple of weeks before who sat in the same place discussing her opinion of the justice system: ‘In the UK, the most injustice I’ve seen institutionally is in women’s prisons.’

Recalling her conversation with Margaret Thatcher, Margaret explained why she had refused to shake Thatcher’s hand while the truth of why her son was buried in Anfield was not being told: ‘But if you give me the truth, the whole truth of what happened that day, I will shake your hand.’ Margaret continued, recollecting Thatcher’s response: ‘Oh my dear, you are so angry.’ A wave of audible shock moved across the room. ‘I will never forget it,’ Margaret said.

The woman I expected Margaret Aspinall to be was nothing compared to the tenacious and persevering woman I had been listening to. One of her final words of the night will not be forgotten: ‘I will never give up, with breath in my body. We will prosecute and they will pay the price. We will get justice.’

To conclude the evening, Dashni performed her single Love Wins. And really it does. If we are going to live in a society where people are treated with dignity and respect, where lives are valued, then we will live in societies where love truly wins.

I’m still a rebel woman, if not more so now. If being a rebel means fighting for justice and truth, bringing positive change through creativity, not accepting the narrative of those in power when it is used to manipulate and control, then count me in.