"We need to give young people respect too” activist Gina Martin interviewed by a 17 year old Young Scot member

"We need to give young people respect too” activist Gina Martin interviewed by a 17 year old Young Scot member

The Edinburgh International Book Festival teamed up with Young Scot this year to offer one of their members the opportunity to experience being a journalist at the Festival. Lucy Penman, a 17 year old student on her way to study International Relations at the University of St Andrews, won tickets to Book Festival events including Gina Martin’s, plus the chance to interview her, observe photo calls and get behind the scenes with our team. We all enjoyed the experience so much she came back for two more days. Read all about Lucy’s experience in her own words below:

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a time for great authors to be celebrated and for those who love reading to share their passion with their favourite authors, like I have done with most of my childhood heroes. Many authors featured in the programme are inspiring, but for me meeting Gina Martin shed a light on what it means to be a modern-day feminist.

After a horrible experience where she was upskirted (meaning someone took a photo inside her clothes without her consent) at a music festival, she took on the government without any legal background. She discovered upskirting wasn’t illegal in England and, following an inspiring campaign lasting 18 months, she managed to convince the government to change the law in April. I was lucky enough to spend an evening with her at the Book Festival and interview her where we discussed her campaign, how to deal with the challenges that come with being an activist and her thoughts on societal opinions of women. 

Martin always thought of herself as ordinary and wasn’t invested in politics growing up. She is proud of having achieved average grades in school; “I’m the least academic person you will meet. I scraped by in school, but I was really happy in school and enjoyed it. I was good at English and loved writing and words, but I wasn’t great at the science stuff.”

Martin has opened up an important conversation surrounding gender and how society views women. She was inspired to start her campaign to challenge the status quo and because she saw a gap in the law: “So often we are told to get on with it and brush it off. Life shouldn’t be like that. If every time something happened to us we got angry and tried to do something, society would be a much better place.”

When looking back on her campaign, she said the advice she would give to her younger self would be to embrace the passion that motivated her: “When I was younger, in my late teens, I was very passionate about topics and very connected to my emotions. I was really loud to the point where everyone thought I was a bit too loud. I really hated that part of myself when I was in my late teens because I thought I was too over the top and not cool enough. However, looking back now, I realise that’s the one part of me that would get me to where I am now.”

Her book Be the Change is a toolkit for young activists like me about how to run an effective political campaign. It’s the book she wished she had at the start of the campaign, detailing her top tips on how build a support network to survive tough times. “Find people who are doing the same thing. You can have the best idea in the world and know you are 100% right about it, but if you are doing it on your own, you will always doubt yourself, especially as a woman… Online, you can build amazing communities that make you feel less alone.”

Martin recognised that her campaign symbolises a larger discussion society needs to have about gender and women’s sexual freedom. “It’s really hard because I think the larger problem we have as a society is how we view gender, sexuality and sex as the same thing, but they are very different. The world isn’t split up into men and women, the world is split up into humans and individuals of all different genders, different sexualities. Right now, we’re having a conversation about men versus women and that’s not actually what we’re dealing with.”

She then outlined her opinion on how society can begin to solve the problem: “The conversations we’re having with young girls, we need to be having them with young boys. If we’re talking to girls about contraception, we talk to boys about consent. We’re having conversations with young people far too late. We talk about sex when teenagers are 17, but kids have had sex before then. We need to give young people respect too.”

She spoke candidly about learning to handle the consequences of an active social media campaign, both positive and negative. “For the first year, I received a lot of rape threats, some which were very graphic and sometimes from the same person… Now, if I can tell from the first line of the message or the user that it is a message intended to scare me, I just delete it. However, if I receive messages that are debates about my work, I’ll write an amazing response that is fact-based but I don’t send it, I’ll just screenshot the message. Then, I feel I’ve got what I want to say out, but I’ve not given them the satisfaction. To me, that’s a healthy way of dealing with it.”

Now, with the success of her upskirting campaign, Martin is turning her thoughts to a worldwide issue that affects all women: climate change. She highlights the importance of solving the climate emergency due to its effects on ordinary women. “Climate breakdown is a feminist issue. It disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities and developing countries before the west, who are the people who caused it. We have women all over developing countries having six or seven kids, but they can’t look after them all. If they had contraception, they could space their births and have healthy births. It’s just basic human rights. Climate breakdown is a manmade issue which could be solved by women.”

Young Scot offer discounts, rewards and opportunitites to people aged between 11 and 26 living in Scotland. Find out more about how you can become involved by visiting the Young Scot website. Look out for Gina Martin's full event on our Look & Listen page

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