Bronwen Rashad, practitioner and chair of the Practitioners' Representative Body, writes about why the centenary celebrations of (some) women winning the right to vote is particularly signigicant to the supporters of NCT.
Today marks 100 years since some women were granted the vote in the UK. Only applying to those over 30 and owning property, it didn’t liberate us all immediately, but it was a giant step forward in the Suffragettes and Suffragists fight for equality.
It’s no accident that some of NCT’s colours match with the glorious green, purple and cream used by the Suffragette movement. NCT was founded by women (and supportive men) who demanded more - that their rights in birth should be as they are in everyday life. So what do we still have to fight for and what has NCT got to do with feminism now?
This year I’ve become involved in the #NCTyarns project that is using a craft to draw together all the various strands of NCT. It is an inherently feminine response to a problem. Craftivisim has gained lots of attention in recent years from the ubiquitous Pussy Hats on the Women’s March to the semi-regular yarn bombing from the likes of the Graffitti Grannies. This use of craft goes way back though. As I listened to the Today programme this morning, the interviewer was passed by some women in Parliament who’d just had their photo taken. She remarked on the many sashes and badges, the corsages and lapel pins on display, many homemade. This ties in to the way the Suffragettes used the means available to them (domestic, female skills) to make their mark. I can’t be the only woman whose first taste of the movement was Glynis John’s gorgeous purple, green and cream sash as she sang out about standing ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ in Mary Poppins?
Craft is a deep vein in NCT - when I saw the knitted breasts on Call the Midwife I knew there were women up and down the country shouting out along with me in recognition. Being creative is a huge part of being a practitioner and volunteer in this organisation. Whether it’s making banners for Nearly New Sales or crocheting a placenta, NCTers are undeniably creative, ingenious and determined. What may seem an inoffensive ball of wool becomes a tool for reclaiming power.
The Suffragette movement has been attacked for various reasons, but one that interests me, especially now, is that it was much easier for women with means to join in. They had domestic help, time and had privilege that protected them to a certain extent. These issues have relevance for NCT too. We stand at a crossroads - the crucial importance of intersectionality to the birth world and early parenting is key. What reports such as MBRRACE-UK make painfully clear is that race, socio-economic background and educational level are still acting to create health inequality. We know women are not listened to enough when they report health issues, but that is far worse if you are also a woman of colour, young, disabled etc. What excites me is that NCT has always fought for ALL women and ALL families, whether someone attends a course or not. The passionate women and men who form the backbone of this organisation work tirelessly to represent all families. I know lots and lots of work and thought is going into making us more representative and accessible, the fantastic images project from Philip Bray is just one example.
We can’t rest on our laurels though. We have to keep asking awkward questions, keep using whatever voice we have, we have to elevate other voices that are not traditionally heard. Not until all women have their rights respected, in birth and in life, can we say that our job is done. The implications for women, their partners and their children are extraordinary. Now, where did I leave my knitting needles?