Joanne Hiley: University of Liverpool's Powerful Female

 

Sharing your town of birth with the powerful British figure of resolute womanhood that is Margaret Thatcher no doubt has the potential to sculpt you into a similar pearl-wearing, female bulldog of politics. However, growing up beneath the Iron Lady’s stern legacy appears to have had quite the opposite effect on Amnesty International’s Student President, Joanne Hiley. Choosing to turn away from the pearls and blue suit, Joanne looked instead for inspiration from her rebellious Dad. His campaigns and protests during the 1970’s lead him into clashes at home and in the Middle East; no doubt Maggie would have winced to hear how he squatted in London homes and painted his rights on the door. Yes, Maggie had truly lost one of the Grantham faithful in Joanne.

Joanne heads weekly meetings of the Amnesty International Student group, where issues are discussed and members write to those suffering under the breach of human rights or to those behind the breaches. Members can choose to whom they write with the mail list ranging from local MP’s to Shell Oil. The last batch of letters focused on an asylum seekers rights bill, which looks to tackle the current living provision for those fleeing to the UK on £5 a day: “It’s a key Amnesty aim to generate constituent pressure,” said Joanne. “This results in MP’s openly supporting and voicing concerns over particular bills”.

One of six campaign areas Amnesty focuses on is the promotion of women’s rights, and as a female in a leadership role I asked Joanne what this issue means to her: “I feel that every woman has had some experience of suffering because of their sex and this creates a great empathy between women, a real positive atmosphere and a desire to help.” This is evident in the group’s recent show of support to the wounded Malala Yousafzai, who was shot for campaigning for education for girls in Pakistan. In Joanne’s opinion education is the key to helping women in areas of the world where they suffer subjugation and intimidation. “Once education is established and won, women can then look to tackle the wider issue with coherence and confidence. It is through education that we can hope to make progress in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.” Joanne has found particular inspiration in the progress of women’s rights and activism in the figures of the campaigner for black equality Rosa Parkes and the opposition leader in Burma, Ann San Suu Kyi. “Many women who make a stand in politics are often wrongly assumed to be acting spontaneously,” Jo noted.  “Most are devoted campaigners and activists. For example Rosa Parks did not suddenly decided to keep her seat on that bus, she was a long term voice in the movement.” In the light of the women she admires and her own achievements with Amnesty I asked Joanne to choose the three qualities essential to any aspiring female leader.

1.         Determination –“Don’t allow slogan shouting men to put you off, you know what you believe.”

2.         Be motivated- “Maintaining commitment in the great environment of university will only breed rewards and achievement.”

3.         Listen – “In my position I encounter many conflicting and passionate points of view and it is important for me to be diplomatic and understanding. You must stick to your principals but be fair in your judgement. Don’t be the radical lefty they expect you to be.”

Alongside her Amnesty commitments Joanne is a second year English student and I quizzed her on who from literature she finds inspiring or interesting in the light of her cause.

“I see the Duchess of Malfi as potentially the first feminist in literature in the way she fights to keep her leadership role.” Alongside the fiery Duchess Joanne placed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre whose quiet demeanour hides a surety of purpose and strength of character. However Joanne also explained how she finds Shakespeare’s Ophelia equally fascinating in her passive submission to a male dictated path. Her favourite poets include the melancholy realist Larkin and the romantic activist William Blake. “He taught his wife to read and maintained a constant stance against the churches suppression of women.” However, Joanne admits she was seduced by the silver tongued romantic Jay Gatsby, naming him as the hero of her favourite book.

Joanne believes that in order for women to achieve greater goals in the pursuit of equality, they must look to reclaim feminism through reason. This seems to me an accurate way to capture the ethos Joanne follows in her leadership of Amnesty.  Whether your cause is feminism or in another field screaming a plan for a radical left wing utopia from a street corner or smashing through opposition in a tank and pearls Maggie style, will have no enduring effect. It takes a group like Amnesty who persevere with respect and reason in the pursuit of equality to raise awareness and prompt change; and a leader with a passion and patience like Joanne to head it.

If you are interested in working with Amnesty, the group meets every Tuesday at seven in the Augustus John on Campus. You can also find out more about their campaigns through Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/groups...) and the Amnesty website (http://www.amnesty.org.uk).