Iâ€™ve always avoided being part of a womenâ€™s collective. Iâ€™m not a feminist, never been tempted to burn my bra or grab a placard. So I was apprehensive about attending the International Bazaar on 6 March.
Boosted by my friendâ€™s enthusiasm, we swept into The Atrium at South Essex College. Weâ€™d missed the opening address from the Mayor, a performance by Aygifrika Dance and the African Fashion Show. But there was still plenty to keep us occupied for the three remaining hours as we toured the light airy space which Laura compared to â€œa low budget version of the Sydney Opera House.â€ Though she did admit its functionality as the Blossoms on the Oasis Belly Dancers performed a myriad of rainbow movements under the red bulbous growth that shelters the cafÃ©.
My eyes strayed to a poster board behind the stall of the Westcliff branch of the WI as I half listened to President and founding member Sarah Mills enthuse with pride. Phrases â€œformed in the autumn of 2009,â€ â€œour books have closedâ€ and â€œwith 180 members, we could be the largest in the country,â€ jostled with a quote from Janis Joplin: â€œDonâ€™t compromise yourself. You are all youâ€™ve got.â€
Continuing our semi-umbilical trail round the arena, we were dazzled by wirework jewellery and the Community Mosaics East initiative: invigorated by the infectious enthusiasm of Pippa Simpson, Project Manager at The Dove who was pleased this yearâ€™s turnout was bigger than 2009; recognised women from the Womenâ€™s Environmental Group where I reminisced about an evening spent making cosmetics from cucumber and milk and appreciated the well represented balance of ethnic diversity.
As usual I became a kleptomaniac with leaflets and goody bags and launched questions and enthusiastic praise to every stall holder. But never once did I feel intimidated and it was good to see women accompanied by partners and children.
On our way out Laura revealed her discussion with Pippa about belly dancing. We thrashed out the dichotomy of the dances traditional meaning in the Turkish harem and its assimilation into Western culture as a social exercise.
As we embraced the cold afternoon air sweeping the concourse, I flashed my henna wrist tattoo. It was my first and probably wonâ€™t be my last. The event was an inspiration in more ways than one.
â€œDo you know,â€ said Laura â€œI think women operate collectively.â€ I agreed. Weâ€™ve come a long way from the days when women living in communities were branded as witches. â€œAnd Iâ€™ve just realisedâ€ she continued, â€œI forgot to put my bra on this morning!â€
Between sputtered laughter I suggested a visit to Claireâ€™s Accessories to look for an adhesive nose stud. It may be a while before I commit to having my nose pierced, but itâ€™s a start.
International Womenâ€™s Day takes place every year on 8th March. 2011 will mark the global centenary of the event. For more details log onto: