Different Not Divided | March 2016

Today I went to a conference hosted by Women Connect First; a charity working to support women in connecting with their communities and understanding and empathising with each other. The event was seemingly an attempt at connecting women of different origins and cultures, to create and facilitate curiosity and engage women of different backgrounds in conversation. This goal, in my opinion, was not successfully achieved.

AND BEFORE anyone gets offended and attacks this post, all comments are aimed at the specific people I encountered at the event and their own personalities and actions, not their general background, beliefs or culture. And with that said, I will begin my ‘review’, if you will.

Today has been very strange, beginning with not really knowing what was going on, entering an empty room with an open mind and an excited anticipation for the event. As more and more people arrived and filled the room with a diverse array of stalls and food, colours and activities, this excitement rose and rose, however was tainted as soon as the woman running the event began to speak. She began by strutting around loudly herding everyone to the seats in the middle of the room and proceeded to talk at everyone about women’s rights and empowerment. She spoke loudly and impersonally, on multiple occasions instructing the audience to “shut up for 10 minutes”. I would understand if anyone was being blatantly rude and disruptive, however the only real noise was the hum of a room full to the brim with people, and the ocassional overheard conversation between people at stalls and passers by. I didn’t understand how organisations had been invited to the event to put up stalls of information and/or products to sell and then not allowed to speak.

One particular incident that got to me was when, after fitting a large and apparently quite intimidating lens to my camera, a woman caught my attention and told me to ask permission before taking photos, she had a crude way of speaking but I understood her concern, considering the religious beliefs of some of the women. However after noticing multiple other unapproached people weilding cameras slightly smaller than my own, explaining who I was and beginning to ask nicely if I could take photos with the consent of anyone in them, the woman running the event dismissed me with a wave of her hand and told me to ask after the woman on stage had finished giving her presentation. Understandable I thought, so I agreed and watched as the same woman then continued her circuit of the room speaking to every stall, loudly and quite rudely telling them to stop dealing with customers; curious people asking about the organisations and charities that had come to the event in order to create an awareness and to form a communication between them and their audience. Very odd and contradictory, in my opinion.

I think the rudeness and blunt speaking of the people in charge and also the guests might partially be a miscommunication, a different way of being brought up, different social norms and manners, so I brushed it off and vainly attempted to see the best of the day. In Britain we are well known for our excessive politeness and seeing this perceived ignorance in other people turned out to be a bit of an unexpected culture shock.Β It did not help that with us, as part of the PTAWA team, we had a very outspoken and drastically uncensored woman, criticising the guests and people running the event as a result of her frustration. The only thing wrong with these outbursts were the content. While I can sympathise with her frustration at the negative effects of having people of different religions and cultural backgrounds in an inherently Christian society, I do not agree with the way in which she expressed her feelings, and on a few occasions had to duck away from incoming glares from passers by overhearing what was being said.

After optimistically trying to maintain a positive outlook and to understand the apparent ignorance of others, I faced one final hurdle. While walking through the corridor alongside an impatient and far too long line of hungry guests at the buffet, a mother decided it would be appropriate to run over my foot with her pushchair, to which I politely apologised for and went to walk away. Instead of apologising back or at least accepting mine, she angrily slapped her hands together and started rubbish them viciously at me. At this point I gave up all hope, didn’t ask what the meaning of this gesture as maybe I should have, and walked away.

The day consisted of talks given by passionate feminists and strong, empowered women, Bollywood dancing, a loosely ran raffle, oriental fashion show and a gripping performance by Holidays of the Mind. With all negative elements aside, the day was brilliantly diverse and exciting; I tried traditional Indian cuisine (not that any of the women serving could tell me what it was) and enjoyed music and lots of engaging performances.

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Just before we were about to leave, I approached a stall to have a pattern drawn in henna on my hand. (Insert name and details here because she totally deserves the recognition), was absolutely lovely, very humble and brilliant at what she does. She told me about the origin of henna art and that Eastern women have it done because as part of their religion they are not allowed to get tattoos. She explained how she practises it professionally at home but has no advertisement and from this and the lack of advertisement for the event itself I get the impression that a lot of what goes on in the Eastern community in Cardiff is done internally, by word of mouth and building relationships with eachother.

This experience was what I think was meant for the whole event, building bridges between people of different and possibly contrasting beliefs, it was so insightful and pleasant to talk to her and it is just a shame this was only a small part of the day. For a day meant to connect and open people up, there were very little friendly and open vibes, especially towards the Caucasian people in the room. It is horrible to say but the day has only proven my more closed minded judgements of the Eastern community to be at least mildly accurate, and I always hate for them to be demonstrated so shamelessly.

However, taking the best from such a strange day, it was great to see the girls from Material Girls, especially Nicola who I hadn’t seen in months due to her daughter having a baby, it has been a lot more interesting than catching a train down to Port Talbot as usual.

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