Free and Equal Conference By Emma Brown Araujo, Year 12

On 13th of October, a group of us, year 12 and 13 students, went to visit the Free and Equal Conference where a panel of speakers individually gave us talks on topics ranging from the limitations and dangers of the gender binary to a death-row lawyer and his aspect in representing convicted terrorists. The basis of the conference was a nationwide school event challenging oppression in society, this year’s conference focusing specifically on gender and gender-based violence.

We had a wide range of speakers, such as a man who is now a psychotherapist helping teenage boys specifically talking of masculinity and how gender stereotypes are only harmful when we make them, a woman CEO of a company empowering women in leadership in the global South, a non-binary person talking of their personal experience breaking out of the gender binary, and students from various schools talking of their adolescence and how their gender affected their experiences.

Perhaps the most impactful speech however was that of Billy Moore, one of the only death-row convicts to be released. He spoke of his experience being ‘7 hours away from death’ and the failure of the prison and legal system in handling his case yet his main message was on how his victim’s family was able to forgive and welcome him, an act that ultimately saved his life. He was later followed by the lawyer mentioned earlier, Clive Stafford Smith, offering an insight into his controversial job and how he manages to process everything he hears and deals with.

Nevertheless, the main focus of the talk was on gender and the dangerous stereotypes it brings. People such as the award-winning public speaker Gemma Aitchison and Imran Manzoor spoke on masculinity, looking at the negative stereotypes but also how masculinity as an attribute does not have to be toxic.

At the break and lunch, we were also able to visit several exhibitors from the companies of the speakers who were there and external charities such as Amnesty International. UNICEF had a representative school showcasing their new programme, Rights Respecting Schools, focusing on human and especially children’s rights and how schools across the UK can bring awareness and create change; we hope to inform our school on this and perhaps even join the scheme.

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