30 Under 30: Hannah Pearson

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Hannah Pearson, 28, from Sunderland in England, lives in Edinburgh

Hannah is currently Policy Coordinator at the Equality Network; volunteers for the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion; is on the Abortion Rights Scotland Committee; and is a member of YouAct: European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Following her undergrad degree in History of Art, Hannah lived in France for one year and the Netherlands for the next year, where she says she had her “feminist awakening” while completing an internship with Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF). (WECF advocates for gender equality in international and sustainable development, and enables women to participate in global environmental policy processes).

After this she worked at Centrepoint, the UK’s leading charity for homeless young people, and volunteered on the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline for two years.

Next, Hannah completed an MSc in Equality and Human Rights at Glasgow University, where she focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights and conducted research into abortion in Scotland.

Her research, which was carried out in collaboration with Amnesty Scotland, and provided a Scottish perspective to Amnesty International’s My Body My Rights campaign, was awarded a distinction and has been raised by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

Hannah has presented her research at three international conferences, and her paper is due to be published in the Women’s Reproductive Health journal this year.

As well as her continuing voluntary work to raise awareness of abortion access around the world – which has taken her to meet MEPs in the European Parliament in Brussels, and will soon see her meeting with campaigners in Poland – Hannah has also volunteered in refugee camps in Hungary and Serbia with Migration Aid.

After her masters, Hannah worked on Scottish Women’s Aid’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline; Kalitasha, a menstrual hygiene management organisation; and now for Equality Network, which promotes equality and human rights for LGBTI people in Scotland.

It’s fair to say this woman has been feministing pretty hard, so we were super excited to meet her to find out more!


What’s your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement is raising awareness of barriers to abortion access in Scotland, in both the public and political sphere. My postgraduate research and advocacy resulted in the Scottish Government putting abortion access back on the political agenda in Scotland.

When we think of abortion access in the UK and the restrictions, we think of Northern Ireland. Obviously it is a horrendous situation in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but it is a little known and under-researched issue, that despite abortion being legal in all of Great Britain up until 24 weeks (as made law in the 1967 Abortion Act), there are significant barriers to abortion access in Scotland and some women in Scotland are being forced to travel to obtain the healthcare they should be receiving at home.

Scotland is an uncommon example of a country where abortion is legally permitted, but where women face substantial barriers to access when seeking a late term abortion, i.e. from 16 weeks gestation. In contrast to the rest of Britain, abortion at gestations over 20 weeks is not provided in Scotland, and provision of procedures above 16 weeks varies considerably between health board regions. Women seeking a late term abortion in the country are forced to travel to England, in much the same way as their Northern Irish sisters, undertaking a round trip of up to 1,400 miles, having to take time off work and having to pay the up-front costs.

If a woman is diagnosed at 17 weeks into pregnancy with foetal abnormality, she could have an abortion in Scotland, but if a woman chooses for whatever reason, such as relationship breakdown or a financial change, to have an abortion she would be forced to travel. So it’s not that they can’t do it, it’s that they won’t do it – it’s that there’s stigma attached to it. So for the women being forced to travel, it’s just horrendous.

As part of my research I interviewed MSPs and following that there were motions lodged in parliament, several politicians asked parliamentary questions, and then I was invited to meet the minister for public health. Since then it has been put back on the table and I’m very proud of raising awareness of that issue.

It is an under-researched issue but there are researchers before me who have done amazing work as well so I’m not claiming all the credit, but I think out of everything that’s what I’m most proud of. I hope that it leads to concrete change but we’re yet to see that.

What women inspire you?

Countless women throughout my entire life, at different times for different reasons.

Writers: Erica Jong, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxanne Gay.

Musicians: Alanis Morissette- when I was a teenager she was very inspirational for me, Joni Mitchell, the riot grrrl movement in general (with a particular shout out to Carrie Brownstein of Sleater Kinney)

Artists: Paula Rego (who depicted illegal abortion scenes in the 60s and 70s, which are very shocking to see. I just think she’s incredibly courageous), Tamara de Lempicka, Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, and Barbara Kruger, to name a few.

Women in politics, both political activists and politicans Rosa Luxemburg, Hannah Arendt, Stella Creasy, the Labour MP who was recently responsible for the government allowing Northern Irish women to come to the UK to access abortion for free, and Monica Lennon MSP for all the work she’s doing around period poverty in Scotland.

The abortion providers and abortion rights activists around the world risking their lives to enable women to access abortion.

Marge Berer of the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion and all the other staff there. All the amazing women at Abortion Rights.

Women around the world imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of obtaining an abortion, and women forced to travel for abortion, so Northern Irish women, and women in Scotland as well.

My mum (who brought me up to be a feminist and introduced me to so many amazing feminist writers, musicians, etc.), my friends, who are single parents, working in so many different careers and working towards making the world a better place.

One particular woman I’ve chosen is Rebecca Gomperts, she’s a Dutch woman and she’s the founder of Women on Waves, which is a visible ship that travels the world in international waters to countries where abortion is restricted,  and Women on Web, which is an online service which allows women to buy abortion pills from anywhere around the world.  I just love her – she’s definitely made the world a better place.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

There are many changes I’d want to see but we’d be here all year, so I’ve just picked four changes I’d like to see.

Girls and young women no longer living in fear from violence and sexual harassment – not only physical violence and harassment, but just being able to walk down the street at night and feel safe. It sounds to some people, i.e. cis men, that that might be nothing, but I think for a lot of girls and young women that would be revolutionary.

Girls and young women feeling confident in themselves; feeling confident to go out into the world and take up space in the world. I’m nearly 30 and I still struggle with taking up space, even though I am a committed feminist and have been for so long. It’s still something I have to remind myself of. I think that’s particularly important when you’re young, when you’re in school and education, so I’d love to see the next generation of women being really sure of themselves and – I know it’s cheesy – but believing in themselves.

LGBT girls and young women feeling valued members of their own community, so feeling valued members of the LGBT community. Sometimes when we talk about LGBT rights we’re talking about gay rights and gay men’s rights. Again it ties in with taking up space – I want young LGBT girls and women to take up space, not just in society in general but in their own relevant communities.

In terms of legislation, I would like to see the Abortion Act fully implemented in Scotland, but more generally an end to abortion stigma, and also on the theme if stigma, an end to period/menstruation stigma. I think if we could do that it would also make girls and young women feel more confident.

All those things by themselves may seem small – although I’m sure to young women and all ages of women they don’t seem small – but the shift would be incredible, even if we could have just one of those things.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

My annoying answer is that when we talk about the glass ceiling, we’re talking about corporate feminism and corporate feminism is easy to sell. Not that I don’t support shattering the glass ceiling, because I do, but adding women in places of high responsibility doesn’t translate straight to away to an improvement in women’s rights and their quality of life.

There’s this idea of “trickle down feminism”, which I think is very comforting to some people, who think if you put a woman at the top, the women at the bottom’s lives will be improved, but I don’t think that is the reality.

Corporate feminism is obsessed with individual women’s stories of success, so we always hear about the CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer, and we hear these stories of these successful women and that’s incredible, but that’s not the reality for a lot of women who are reading those stories.

And this idea of ‘having it all’, because some women have nothing, we see homeless women on the street, and women have been disproportionately affected by austerity, with single mothers and pensioner aged women most affected. Although we might have more female MPs, MSPs – particularly in the Scottish parliament we have better representation which is great – but now young women in particular are three times as likely to be in low-paid jobs than they were 20 years ago.

So I just feel there is a sort of disconnect. I think that focusing on individual success stories, rather than structural inequality, is politically helpful to the Conservatives’ squeeze on living standards. So if you’re languishing at the bottom of the corporate ladder rather than hammering on the glass ceiling, it’s implied that it’s because you didn’t try hard enough compared to the women who’ve made it.

So there’s a lot more to it than shattering the glass ceiling.

But I think if we are going to shatter the glass ceiling then men need to stand up and be counted. Obviously now in Scotland and around the world, it’s largely men who are in those positions of power, so we need men to be our allies and we need men to do more. It’s alright for celebrity men to stand up and call themselves feminist, that’s great, but we need the men that we know, then men we see every day, to do more. Not that I’m saying it’s just men who have to solve it, but I think they need to help, and I think movements like He For She are important, because it puts that onus on men to do something.

I see this example a lot because obviously I do a lot of abortion rights campaign work, and I went recently to Dublin to the March for Choice, and there were men there but I’d say it was 90% women. It would be nice to see more men out there supporting a woman’s right to choose. In the same way that a lot of abortion rights activists who may be cis and heterosexual will go out and support Pride marches and march for equal marriage, it would be nice to see it reciprocated.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

Very difficult question! I would want to invite all the inspiring women I mentioned above, but I thought I can’t just pick three of those women, so I picked all fictional women to narrow it down.

Dana Scully – I’m a big X Files fan, a big Gillian Anderson fan. Dana and Gillian are the coolest.

Maggie Chascarillo – she’s a character from a graphic novel series called Love and Rockets, which is actually by a male author, which is very unsual for me, but I feel he has portrayed women incredibly well, and Maggie is my favourite character in it. I love graphic novels and graphic art, and it follows her whole life from being born until very old age, and I read them all and I just love Maggie and I’d love to sit down and talk to her.

The third one is a bit pretentious, but I used to love classics when I was at school and mythology, so I picked the Greek goddess Artemis, because she was always my favourite goddess when I was school. She is the goddess of the hunt and she’s also the goddess of child birth and labour and in mythology she was the one who helped to birth Apollo the God, and I just think she’s really cool.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

Take up space. I’m going to cheat a bit for this answer and quote one of my favourite poems by Vanessa Kisuule. It’s a spoken word poem and when my friend first showed me the video of it a couple of years ago, we sat in her room and cried. It is incredibly powerful and should be mandatory watching for all young women. To quote some of my favourite lines from the poem:

Take up space.

Don’t wait for permission or approval.

Don’t let ghostly question marks haunt the ends of your sentences…

Push at the brackets choking your voice.

Your potential will no longer be pressed between thumb and forefinger anymore.

Take up space.

Celebrate the women you share life, love, liquor and the occasional tube journey with.

Exchange small smiles like a secret handshake.

We are walking pillars of defiance…

Run your tongue along the swords of the women who fought before us…

Rest your head on each other’s shoulders

The journey has been long but now you can

Take up space.

I could never say it better than Vanessa herself, so everyone should watch the video here.

Find Hannah on Twitter @mshjp

Pictures courtesy of Hannah Pearson

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature a different finalist every day throughout November.


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