In the 26 years I’ve been involved, there’s not much I haven’t found myself doing for Glasgow Women’s Library. Through love, through necessity, but always with a profound belief in GWL’s potential in transforming the lives of women for the better.
Like many women’s and other equalities organisations, GWL grew from the grass-roots: founded and run by activists, by feminists – unpaid for the first decade – but tenacious and prepared to work for nothing to support women. I’ve literally shed blood, sweat and tears to help to build this incredible organisation.
In my time, along with my earlier colleagues, I’ve: Packed up and moved the Library to different premises (four times); Sanded and varnished floors; Built shelves; Pulled furniture from skips; Unpacked half-ton monthly log deliveries from the ground to the fourth floor for our only heating source – a wood burning stove; Mopped up raw sewage in the basement every day for a week due to an outside sewer collapse. In tears, I’ve phoned people to plead for a loan of money to pay the rent, and I’ve subsidised GWL on so many occasions, even while being on benefits.
Along the way, we’ve endured: Really cold and damp spaces; Leaks and raining in; Mushroom growth from the walls (weird!); Derision and anti-feminist backlash.
As a feminist I feel proud of the ways that our struggles have resulted in benefits for women, and of the ways I can point to that struggle translating into success and change. In the process I have learnt how to manage accounts, lead an equality campaign, generate successful funding bids, manage staff, lead a Design Team on a capital project and accomplish hundreds of things I had never imagined I would be able, or have the opportunity to do. I am gratified if this means that other women are inspired to face the fear and do it too.
It’s all been – and still is – one huge learning curve. We’ve not always got things right, we’ve had to dig deep, listen, learn, be brave, be better, get support – support each other, professionalise, upskill, become accountable, become employers, be role models.
Our tenacity, our feminism, our commitment to women have never waned. GWL is still built on love and belief. We’re certainly not in it for the money – as a manager, and working closely with our supportive Board of Directors, we are trying to ensure fair remuneration for everyone who works with us but, due to the nature of our steady growth for the first two decades or so without core funding, addressing the wage and pensions disparity ‘lag’ we experience in our niche ‘sector’ is just one of the ongoing struggles we still face.
But here we are, Glasgow Women’s Library celebrating its 27th International Women’s Day. The only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s history, lives and achievements; a Recognised Collection of National Significance; a multi award-winning feminist organisation now with 22 employees and supporting 100 volunteers.
Nobody has a monopoly on feminism; our collections chart feminism’s discourses and its struggles, and we celebrate its power.
If you’ve ever been to GWL, you know how special it is. If you’ve never been, please come.
With an open heart, happy International Women’s Day.