The Feminist Library: how austerity can have an affect on the history, culture and safety of women

After residing in Central London, for 30 years, the Feminist Library is under threat of eviction. What are the consequences of organizations such as this being threatened with closure? 

By Tilly Dowman

After a ten minute walk from Lambeth North tube station. Peaking from one of the windows of a high rise red brick building are the words ‘FEMINIST LIBRARY’ one letter stuck to the individual panes of glass.

After buzzing in for access, the site is much smaller than imagined, with one cramped room holding thousands of fictitious and theoretical books, smaller in size than a majority of secondary school libraries.

The second room, has three large desk and is surrounded by hundreds of boxes full of zines (small scale, DIY magazines), newsletters and academic books that date back as far as the 60s. The third an office fitting snugly two desks with computers, with not a corner bare.

On closer inspection of the limited space, the walls are peeling, there’s a corner that suggests fire not so long ago. Yet, Southwark Council are now asking for £30,000 a year in rent. This is double the price of what they had been previously paying. Austerity is to blame, a word that all sides of politics talk about continuously. What is less discussed is how this word affects women not only financially but culturally too, the closure of this library and organisations of a similar stature is an erasure of a culture that is still important for the UK.

“It’s a library of quite a specific collection books formed around the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s, it’s been in this building for 30 years and it’s been around as an organisation for 40 years. It has an academic qualification in the world.” Said Sarah O’Mahoney, a trustee as well as finance and admin worker worker for the library.

Not only is the quadragenarian library a place with thousands of different books, but a serious facility that assists other organisations in research:

“We’ve had support from organizations across the world and Europe, with gender research facilities that have used our facilities. Local students use it. So on one level it’s that, the other idea is that people come to us from off the street. It’s not a lending library, it’s more usual that people to use the facilities for research but people can also sit and read our collection of novels we have.”

“I’m not really here for a specific reason but the collection of DIY zines and newsletters are just really fascinating, especially in relation to queer culture.” Said Rosie Eveleigh who was visiting from Berlin and studies in the Netherlands.

 

The Council has had its funding cut by £47 million. Yet with something that has acted as a non-gratuitous hub of feminist information, it is something the council are not willing to compromise on:

“The reason we’re under threat is the council’s desire to make money from what they’ve got after cuts to their budget. We have a very good relationship with the previous administration where we had a more reasonable amount.” Continued O’Mahoney

Over the last few years London has seen similar organisations close. Examples include the London Irish Women’s Centre and the Lambeth Women’s Project, a non-profit that provided a space for women’s services to help, support and empower women.

There has already been speculation that austerity is hitting women hardest.  In 2012, under a Conservative/Liberal Democrat government, analysts studied the impact of a list of fiscal measures such as the Government’s 2010 Budget.

The impact, which was referenced by projected government revenues in 2014/5 was calculated at 14.9 billion, of which £11.1 billion fell primary on women due to the areas in which changes were made. The biggest impacts came from the removal of child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers (£1.6 billion), the decision to freeze child benefit for three years (£1.3billion) and changes to public sector arrangements (£6.1 billion).

Three years later, under a solely Conservative government, An umbrella of different charities drew attention to the fact that the UK has one of the widest gender pay gaps of any countries in Europe and was looking to get wider. Cuts to benefits, according to Fair Deal for Women, were at risk at putting women and children in poverty. The attempted closure of organizations seeking to help women show another way in which women are hit harder by cuts, showing the slow dissipation of women’s history and culture.

“I’m sure there is some on one level that the government probably question the need for women’s organizations and why we need women’s centres.  There are issues such as the refugee crisis that are very important right now. The irony might be that in the 70s and 80s with the women’s liberation movement was the forefront of the start of the some important equality issues, like these sort of things are needed anymore. Or that the importance of that isn’t strong enough compared to other things, where it is still relevant.” Continued O’Mahoney

This is a country, where the argument is always fresh in relation to the lack of women writers on the education prospectus. Where only a high profile petition stopping the topic of feminism from being dropped entirely from politics lessons. 

The Feminist Library, itself is an integral meeting point in modern feminist history, acting as the starting base for many of the most influential feminist organisations in the country.

An example of this OBJECT, an award winning Human Rights Organization that that challenges ‘sex object culture’, the normalising of porn and sex through advertising, ‘lads’ magazine or lap dancing clubs. Their first meetings began at the Feminist Library in 2003. The organization has grown to become one of the country’s most influential groups. It’s collaborative effort has seen the organisation assist bills  Assisting that strengthen lap-dancing licensing laws as well as laws that make it illegal to pay for sex with someone that has been exploited. This is now an organisation making a difference.

This showcases that the library is not just a collection comes with the Feminist Library is much more than a showcase of what has been done, it itself has the genesis of many different organisations that contribute towards a healthier, positive attitude towards women in the UK, which is not entirely unnoticed by the public.

“Since we received the notice of eviction from the council about the change in rent, we’ve received a lot of support. We created a petition that received a lot of signatures. We’ve had a letters and tweets from mails from local MPs and councillors that have helped us get our petition accepted. We had a visit from the Women’s Equality Party, we created a bit of motion so I think we made an impact so the council have extended our time here under the same conditions.” Said O’Mahoney.

The extension that the Council has given them is until the 30th of April. The future is uncertain for the Library and options will be discussed with hopes of still staying in London.

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