International Women´s Fair at Spitalfields Market

Photo: Hala Elnahas

Celebrating the centenary of International Women´s day, the International Women’s Fair took place on Saturday at Spitalfields Market .

The fair was held by Alternative Arts, an East London arts organization which aims to raise the profile of creative women who range from artists, craftswomen, fashion designers and performers as well as women’s groups and organizations.

From small independent businesses to big women’s organizations, a variety of creative women came to Spitalfields Market to exhibit their art work, paintings, photography, hand-made crafts and food.

Maggie Pinhorn, director of Alternative Arts, was very pleased with the outcome of the event.

“It’s all about helping women network and letting them know that there is a market out there for them where they can meet new clients,” she said.

“Ultimately we are interested in equality for women. It all comes down to women’s rights. We are still struggling in this country but it is important to understand that the more women celebrate themselves the more change we will make. Because if you celebrate womanhood it will inspire your children and that is what will improve the position of women in society.”

In the market, the air was filled with the sound of music and exotic food smells from dozens of colourful stands.

Maya Sherki, aged 32, who attended the fair, said: “If empowering hundreds of women all in one day in one place isn’t inspiring, then I don’t know what is.”

Among those taking part in the fair were three Bangladeshi women who were selling porcelain cups with hand-painted henna. They were part of ‘Aao na’ (‘Come with me’  in Bangladeshi), a social enterprise working with the Stepney Community Centre.

A community centre spokesperson said: “We are trying to empower these women by helping them learn English and open their own business. By selling their craft, they make money and as a result become independent.”

One of the organisations represented at the fair was Action Village India, a charity supporting women in India by providing them with education, health services and small businesses.

Liz Crosthwait, who has worked for the organisation for the past 16 years said: “We are here selling silk scarves which Indian women have woven from scratch. They extract the silk from worm cocoons, produce the thread themselves and weave clothing. All the profits from today will go to them in their country.”

Mary Holmes, another member of Action India Live said: “We are happy to take part in events like this one. It is important to understand that women have a role to play in breaking the cycle of poverty. We are here to represent these women and to help them speak out.”

One of the women setting up her own stall was Helen Smith, a Fairtrade jewellery designer who reuses old pieces of jewellery and recycled materials to make her designs.

“I have been doing this craft for about five years and thought it would be a good opportunity to come to the fair, try out a new area and get the chance to meet new customers,” she said.

Another artist who attended the fair was Brenda Coyle. “An artist with a camera”, as she likes to call herself, her work is based on visual meditation or ‘Mandala’.

“We all need to ground ourselves, no matter what religious background we have or what our ethnicity is. We all meditate and this is where my work comes in,” she said.

Domestic violence charity organizations such as Standing Together distributed pamphlets about supporting those in abusive relationships and sold cookbooks to raise funds for Women’s Aid.

Cath Kane, partnership manager of Standing Together said: “It is important to inform people about domestic violence because it is usually women and children who are victims of abuse. That is why we are here today, to spread the word and raise money to support survivors.”

Performing at the fair were the Electric Landladies, an all-female rock band. Sarah Pritchard, the lead singer of the band described the event as “amazing”.

“We need more events like this one which takes place in an open, public space so we can keep empowering women and give more chanced to small, independent businesses to grow and get noticed,” she said.

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