The struggle continues at the 15th biennial Women in French UK (WiF) conference, Women and Power in French and Francophone Cultures and Societies’at Hinsley Hall, Leeds, 17–19 May.  Professor Shirley Jordan provides some background about the  formation of WiF, which grew out of a sense of gender imbalance in the UK higher education sector, and what to expect from this year’s event. 

Women in French (WiF) UK is a scholarly association which promotes the study of French and Francophone women authors, women’s place in French and Francophone cultures and literatures, the evolution of feminist literary criticism and theory, and a wide range of related issues. Since its inception and first conference in 1991, it has kept the situation of women in higher education in the UK firmly on the agenda and helped to foster and promote cutting-edge research by female scholars.

WiF holds biennial international conferences on topical themes, which attract large numbers of speakers. It is a friendly and inclusive forum, aiming in particular to welcome and support postgraduate and early career researchers and to work in tandem with other associations such as WiF UK.

This year sees an exciting association between WiF and the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing (CCWW) in the shape of the 15th biennial conference, ‘Women and power in French and Francophone cultures and societies / Femmes et pouvoir dans les cultures et sociétés françaises et francophones’ (17–19 May). CCWW, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is affiliated to the Institute of Modern Languages Research, itself part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.

The topic ‘women in power’ is a particularly pertinent one in France today. And this conference, one of the CCWW’s anniversary events, will focus on historical and contemporary instances of power (and powerlessness), empowerment (disempowerment) to explore the contention that what constitutes women’s ‘power’ requires renewed investigation and therorising.

This year’s keynote speakers, both prize-winning writers, are Chahdortt Djavann, an Iranian-born French author of powerful works that scrutinise immigration, exile, identity, feminism and women’s position in Islamic societies, and French political scientist and essayist, Armelle Le Bras-Chopard.

A wide range of papers will cover topics as diverse as: women and royal power; women’s involvement in social uprising; politics and journalism; witches; power and sexuality; knitting in French texts of WWII; the #metoo and #balancetonporc controversies; representation of FGM; women’s crime fiction and bande dessinée; the writings of Virginie Despentes; Monique Wittig; Candice Renoir (and many others). The films of Agnes Varda will also feature.

As the conference is held at Hinsley Hall in Leeds, one of its highlights is a brisk walk on Ilkley Moor where discussions on the themes will be pursued in the fresh air! This year we also running a creative writing workshop for those who prefer more sedate leisure activities.

Shirley Jordan is professor in French studies at Newcastle University, and co-director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing. Her erresearch interests include 20th and 21st-century French and Francophone literature and visual culture, especially new women’s writing in French, feminisms, life writing and photography.

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