Project launched in Sheffield ‘to give women a voice’

A feminist group in Sheffield is hoping to ‘show solidarity’ and ‘give women a voice’ with the launch of a new project seeking to document women’s experiences throughout lockdown.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 1:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 1:55 pm

Sheffield Feminist Archive, established in 2015, works with Sheffield City Archives to ensure the city's feminist past and present is documented, preserved and accessible to all.

With research indicating that women have been more disproportionately affected by the pandemic than men, the volunteer-led group set up Women in Lockdown - a project which aims to provide an uncensored outlet for narratives of female empowerment in relation to how the pandemic has uniquely affected women of all walks of life in Sheffield.

Lucy Brownson, one of the project organisers, said: “We wanted to bring together women's voices, to show solidarity, to show that we are all united by shared experiences - to give women a voice.”

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Sheffield Feminist Archive was established in 2015 and works with Sheffield City Archives to ensure that Sheffield’s feminist past and present is documented, preserved and made accessible to all. Picture: Chris Etchells

Many women’s roles have changed in lockdown, for example, having more caring responsibilities or putting their professional ambitions on hold. These are just some of the experiences that Women in Lockdown - which launched on March 22 - is keen on documenting.

Women are completely free in the discussions they wish to share, but suggestions of topics include those surrounding mental health and wellbeing; politics; communication with relatives and friends; how feminist engagement and activism might have changed; and the experience of work and labour in all of its forms.

Lucy added: “I hope it brings out the beauty of Sheffield and its communities in less obvious ways.”

Voice recordings and written accounts can be submitted for the project, which is open to all.

Sheffield Feminist Archive volunteers pictures at Weston Park. Picture: Chris Etchells

Many Sheffield women have already got involved and the group is keen to reach out to various community groups in the city, with the hope of attracting those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and individuals from the LGBTQ+ community.

The women’s experiences that are documented as part of the project will be used to build a Women in Lockdown digital archive, an online image gallery and sound archive to be published later this year.

Submissions can be anonymised or pseudonymised depending on participants’ wishes.

Women who are interested, but unsure about getting involved, are advised to visit the website to find out more about what Sheffield Feminist Archive does. Information packs will be sent out to participants detailing what they are required to do.

The group is keen to hear about women's experiences throughout lockdown for a new project, Women in Lockdown. Picture: Chris Etchells

Working alongside Lucy to deliver the Women in Lockdown project are her fellow volunteers: Jenny Kirton, Laura Gibbs, and Sophie Whittle.

The women are just a few of the many volunteers at Sheffield Feminist Archive, who are of different ages and from various backgrounds.

Their approach to feminism is intersectional and it does this by collecting feminist material, which encompasses all self-defining women, including trans+ women.

Their aim is to document Sheffield's women in all their diversity and believe that oral history is an important exercise in counterweighting history’s predominantly masculinised record.

Feminist Book Fair, organised by Sheffield City Libraries, at the Crucible Theatre, Arundel Gate - June 1986.

They believe that empowerment is gained as a collective, when mutual experience and understanding in collective feminist testimony is found.

Oral history interviews would normally have been conducted in the community with feminists and women whose activism - however big or small - has had an impact on gender equality in the city. However, due to the pandemic, alternative projects have been created.

Throughout Women's History Month, Sheffield Feminist Archive has been running a Twitter campaign called #WomenMakeSheffield, highlighting the women and feminists who have made history in Sheffield.

One of the many iconic Sheffield women to be featured was Barbara Wasiak, a photographer who documented Sheffield's underground music scene in the 80s to 90s.

Award-winning novelists and sisters, A. S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble, have also been featured.

They were born and raised in Sheffield - Byatt’s 1990 novel 'Possession' won the Booker Prize, and Drabble won the 2011 Golden PEN Award for a lifetime of service to literature.

Volunteers from Sheffield Feminist Archive. Picture: Chris Etchells

It is hoped that the #WomenMakeSheffield project will be turned into something more permanent in future.

Lucy believes more people are embracing feminism today as many are realising that any person of any gender can be a feminist.

She told how in a recent discussion with some young people at a school, aged 12 and 13, she was surprised to learn what they had to say about the subject.

Lucy said: “Some of them said they were proud to be called feminists. It's nice to see - broadening out and widening the conversation.”

She suggested that the idea of being a feminist may have changed in recent years and perhaps now it does not have as much of a ‘killjoy’ label.

However, Lucy believes there is still work to be done in tackling the negative side, for example, transphobia. She said: “It’s now more important than ever that we stand by and fight for everybody's rights.”

Women interested in contributing to the project should email [email protected] The deadline for the first round of submissions is June 23. For more information, visit www.sheffieldfeministarchive.wordpress.com.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

Pavement art at the Feminist Book Fair, organised by Sheffield City Libraries, at the Crucible Theatre, Arundel Gate - June 1986.