Let’s not sugarcoat it. In Western society (the perspective from which I write), we haven’t reached the level of equality we’re claiming – in every aspect. Of course, it’s important to recognise how much progress has been made, but we must continue to contribute to every movement towards improving the lives of everyone on our planet.
I want to encourage others to keep working towards this goal whilst I do the same, so when I found out about an event that shared this ethos, I was ecstatic.
I spent last weekend at what is now one of my favourite spaces in Birmingham – The Impact Hub. Even better, this became what is now one of my favourite weekends
in Birmingham ever. Not only did I meet an absolutely incredible group of inspiring young women, but I learned skills that have changed my life for the better.
A Weekend Masterclass Like No Other
Last week I found myself scrolling through Twitter to find women-oriented events near me with a focus on feminism and/or empowerment, which I feel very passionately about. Luckily, I found a graphic that appeared to be exactly what I’d been looking for.
I hadn’t heard about any of the organisations involved in the event apart from LUSH, and I’d never trained in self defence, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. As a feminist, I have a keen determination to fight for equality across every gender and enforce the fact that every single being deserves to feel safe, wherever they are. Unfortunately, this is a hugely complex and ambitious vision, but I want to contribute to this mission for equality in any way I can.
S.A.S.S., which stands for Self Awareness Safety Sessions was a collaboration between GirlDreamer, ROAR & LUSH. As someone whose struggle with anxiety largely roots in a lack of control and safety in a situation, any opportunity to boost my confidence on that front is always welcomed!
GirlDreamer is a non-profit organisation created by two incredible women – Kiran Kaur and Amna Akhtar – based in Birmingham, which promotes female empowerment using ‘development programmes to educate, digital content to elevate, and community initiatives to empower‘.
ROAR, launched by the wonderful Alison Baskerville, works to remind women of the strength they have by building confidence through (those who identify as non-binary or female) female-only masterclasses. This includes group discussions, self defence training and information for young women today to prevent vulnerability both physically and emotionally, as well as advice for what to do in the worst case scenario.
LUSH, as I’m sure you’re aware, is a cruelty-free British skincare and makeup brand who heard about the work GirlDreamer and ROAR were doing and wanted to get involved. Sticking with the ethos of the weekend, LUSH wanted to gift each of the women at S.A.S.S. a couple of products that would allow us to relax and treat ourselves after a weekend of support and empowerment (more on that later).
What is The Impact Hub?
The Impact Hub is a creative co-working space in the heart of Digbeth, Birmingham’s creative quarter, where entrepreneurs, organisations, go-getters and do-gooders are given space and a platform to build projects that will make a difference in Birmingham (and, most likely, across the world).
When I arrived I couldn’t quite believe that I hadn’t even heard of this place! It is pretty much my dream office space, complete with exposed brick, yellow accents, a help-yourself coffee bar and a secret nap corner. Yes, you read that right.
Saturday at S.A.S.S.
Arriving at S.A.S.S. on Saturday morning was pretty nerve-wracking. Yes, you guessed it, I was in town 40 mins early (as usual) so I went on my routine why-am-I-so-early-to-every-event photowalk and caught Birmingham in the sun.
Finally, I made my way over to The Impact Hub (only 15 mins early – don’t worry, I played it cool). I hit the buzzer and was greeted by Ali who opened the gate and welcomed me to the Impact Hub’s beautifully secluded and peaceful courtyard.
I joined Ali, Kiran and Amra at the coffee bar as the rest of the S.A.S.S. squad arrived. I was definitely nervous about pretty much every element of the weekend, so along came my internal monologue.
Are the other people at the event going to talk to me? Is everyone going to know each other already? Maybe I’ll say something stupid in the discussion. Am I too unfit to learn self defence? When was the last time I went to the gym? Around six months ago, but I can’t say that. I’ll tell them it was a week ago. No, it’ll be too obvious when I start sweating after a star jump. I’ll go with a month. Nati, why would they ask you when the last time you went to the gym was? This is a women’s empowerment weekend. Oh right, yeah.
Thankfully I was welcomed with open arms, open minds and big smiles. I felt comfortable, supported and at home almost instantly, thanks to the girls I was about to spend the weekend with.
We grabbed some coffee and headed through to our discussion space. Instead of the classically cringey ‘My name is Nati and blah blah blah’ introductions, we were simply asked our name, and which superpower we would choose. A common theme was the power of teleportation in order to disappear from unhappy and uncomfortable situations, which pretty much set the perfect foundation for a weekend that would teach us how to handle these scenarios straight on.
We then discussed where and when we feel safe and unsafe – what I took from this was that, sadly, the majority of us felt more safe when with a man than alone, whether that’s during the day or during the night. This broke my heart, even though I’m aware that I feel the same way.
We went on to discuss what we are able to do in order to make ourselves feel more at ease in anxious situations, which was very helpful. Some of the solutions included:
– Calling a friend or family member on the phone when out alone
– Listening to a podcast about female empowerment or songs that boost your confidence with an earphone in just one ear, making sure to remain alert
– Being aware that your safety and comfort is more important than being polite – if someone or something is making you anxious, trust that moving away from it (emotionally or physically) is vital for long term wellbeing – manners aren’t
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch! Time certainly flies when you’re crushing the patriarchy. We were treated to some absolutely delicious samosas and chutney – some of the girls at the event were explaining that this is a stereotypical Sunday lunch for them, and I must say I’d take that over some mundane meat and gravy any day! Our group totally clicked and I felt like we could talk about everything and anything – which we definitely did – over lunch. There’s something so exciting about meeting likeminded people who you don’t have everything in common with, so you can learn from each other whilst you connect on a range of levels.
Following lunch, Ali talked to us about all things travel, from social media posts to practical planning of routes. It was a lot of information to take in, but Ali created an environment where it was easy to process, as well as to ask questions and contribute our own tips.
The final part of Saturday’s session was spent learning self defence moves that are suitable for pretty much any scenario. The key part of this is that it isn’t about hurting the other person, it’s about buying yourself time to get away from them. This has definitely made me more comfortable in my day-to-day life, from walking down the street in the dark to exploring new areas – I feel strong and capable of protecting myself, thanks to S.A.S.S.
Sunday at S.A.S.S.
Sunday kicked off with more mochas, as we excitedly hurried back for the second day of S.A.S.S. This morning was spent discussing the definition of feminism and our individual (and incredibly subjective) thoughts and feelings on the topic.
We also discussed the ironic inequality of the way feminism is portrayed by the media, which more often than not entails middle or upper class straight cis white women and lacks any recognition of the involvement of the hundreds of thousands of incredible and strong women of colour and transgender women.
This progressed to the discussion of the connotations of the word ‘feminist’ today, and the reaction received when calling ourselves feminists. What is viewed as ‘radical feminism’, is somewhat disrespected nowadays not only my those who don’t consider themselves feminists, but some of those who do. As I’m sure you’ve heard, it’s now common for us to hear ‘I’m not that kind of feminist’, as if it’s necessary to justify how we go about promoting equal rights for every gender.
The belief that radical feminists are ‘man-haters’ is pretty sad (although there is always, of course, a minority who genuinely do hate men), because it actually alienates everyone today from the radical feminists of many years ago who actually started the movement itself.
Ali then spoke to us about gaslighting, which has gained popularity this past week thanks to the controversial television series, Love Island (I’m not watching it this year but I have read the articles. Here’s one on The Independent, written by Vix Meldrew, one of my all-time favourite bloggers, that sums it up perfectly in case you’re interested in reading about the situation on Love Island!). The definition of ‘gaslighting’ is pretty much psychological manipulation – usually in a relationship or between family members – whereby one person makes the other question their own morality and sanity. Yeah, pretty awful stuff. It’s executed in a way, however, that we don’t even notice when we’re being gaslit – those manipulating us are either too charming for us to realise or have gained enough of our emotional investment that this situation would never cross our minds.
Lunch time on Sunday was spent out in the sun (shoutout to mother nature, who clearly wanted to contribute her own skills to the weekend for the women in attendance), discussing everything from gaslighting and self defence, to Subway fillings, to the latest series of Queer Eye – each a vital topic of conversation in its own right.
On Sunday afternoon Ali talked to us about sexual harassment and sexual assault – from when to know whether you’re justified in being uncomfortable (fun fact: you’re always justified and need absolutely no one else’s permission to be uncomfortable, ever) as well as where to go and who to contact in the worst case scenario, whether it affects us or a friend.
In England and Wales alone, there are around 11 rapes per hour (and that’s not including children). The frustration, anger and disbelief of the stats we learned on Sunday afternoon – as well as how sexual harassment and sexual assault is dealt with by the government – was therapeutically dealt with through our fierce execution of the self defence moves we’d learned the previous day.
I spent Sunday evening enjoying the pamper products gifted to me by LUSH in my very own gift box. I’m sure many of you are curious to check out what was inside, so don’t worry – I’ve got some photos for you!
What I learned from the S.A.S.S. Weekend Masterclass
The S.A.S.S. Weekend Masterclass genuinely changed my life. Not just in terms of giving me incredibly special friendships and the opportunity to meet inspiring women, but also in terms of awareness of my own safety and the safety of other women and what I can do to support them.
Sending so much love and a massive thank you to Kiran and Amna at GirlDreamer, Ali at ROAR, everyone at LUSH and the absolutely beautiful (both inside and out) women that I met this weekend. You have taught me so, so much.