Friday, 12 October 2012

Brick Lane women’s group to play a leading role at the Lord Mayor’s Show

 East-End women’s community group Heba Women’s Project has received a grant of £15,000 from the City of London Corporation to take part in the prestigious Lord Mayor’s Show this year. 

On Saturday 10 November, the 685th Lord Mayor of London will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and embark on a procession from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice via St Paul’s Cathedral, and this year, the local Brick Lane group is creating one of the leading floats.

Heba is a women’s training centre, well known and loved in the community as a hub where isolated and disadvantaged women can come to learn skills, meet new people and increase self-esteem.  Heba supports women into training and employment and helps integration into UK society.

Anne Wilding, Heba’s manager explained:  “Our float is about women’s role in holding society together. The centrepiece is a bobbin with three embroidered panels representing the tools of women: strength, respect and balance.

“The Strength panel is grey, to represent steel, and tells of the World Wars when we women took on new jobs and adopted a ‘make do and mend’ attitude. The Respect panel is purple and green – Heba’s colours – in memory of the suffragettes whose struggle still continues in the home countries of many Heba women. The Balance panel is red, representing the urgency in women’s lives now. The panel shows women balancing the many activities and roles of every day

One of the ways Heba helps its members is by providing training programmes and courses in spoken and written English, sewing, garment production, and I.T. training. Courses are taught to a variety of levels and all lead to nationally recognised qualifications.

The enterprise programme also offers women production work through its links with new designers, and a small number of subsidised work spaces for those who want to try out new ideas and start up in business.

Anjum Ishtiaq, Heba’s sewing teacher and production manager, said: “Creating the designs for the float is a lot of hard work, but we’re very excited to have such a nice group of volunteers. We’ve never done anything like this before but we’re really progressing quickly, and working on the float has helped us to recruit new members.”

Heba was the winner of the 'Social Inclusion & Diversity' section of Tower Hamlets 2010 Third Sector Awards. The centre was recently chosen by the Women’s Resource Centre to feature in their report 'Hidden Value: Demonstrating the extraordinary impact of women's voluntary and community organisations', which had its launch in the Houses of Parliament last year.

John Park, Press Officer, City of London Corporation

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Harnessing feminist energy!

This weekend Bristol was buzzing with feminists from around the country sharing information, skills and ideas at the UK Feminista summer school. WRC was proud to take part on both days and also to attend some of the sessions to improve our own knowledge.

On Saturday our Policy Officer, Charlotte ran the ‘Save our Services: Feminist activism against the cuts’ workshop with Sam Lyles who has been the driving force behind the Save Coventry Sure Start Centres campaign Sam shared her experiences of starting and running a local campaign, with all it’s highs and lows! And Charlotte provided information on broader campaigning tactics and ways to build your campaign such as mapping your allies, which is part of our Raising Women’s Voices training. Then the participants got to have a go and in a very short time we had plans for a letter writing campaign on local sexual health education and a mass ‘faint in’ to protest about women’s sweatshop labour in high street clothing chains, among other brilliant ideas.

It was a really dynamic workshop with lots of people sharing their ideas and experiences as well as taking away information about our why women? campaign, and was a great way to start the weekend!

‘Protecting funding for violence against woman and girls services: Influencing Police and Crime Commissioners’ was the focus of the session on Sunday led by our Policy Officer, Annette. This was run more as an informative session, as we have found that many people and women's organisations are unaware of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and their effect on funding to services working on violence against women and girls.

Annette outlined the issues, as well as the resources and information available, and ways to get involved before the elections on 15th November. Ideas for action at a local level included; holding a hustings, using template letters to write to candidates, and working with local women’s organisations to build awareness of local issues.

It was something that a lot of people knew nothing about and they were shocked at the impact that it could have on their local services and on women’s safety. Hopefully now they will be galvanised into action!

The open spaces for discussion, stalls and events at the summer school ensured that it was an active and energetic event with new ideas hatched and action plans made for the future of feminism, and it was great to be involved.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Safer Future Communities event: Supporting partnership working between the police and voluntary sector

Safer Future Communities and the Association of Chief Police Officers teamed up in June 2012 for an event titled, Matchmaking policing with third sector partners, how will the new partnerships and commissioning arrangements work? The event brought the police and the Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector together to discuss partnership working and commissioning arrangements in the new policing landscape.

This event highlighted the good partnership working between the VCSE, police and other statutory bodies working in community safety that has resulted in positive outcomes for local community safety issues. It explored opportunities for further partnership work and funding arrangements in the future.

The event included presentations from Deputy Chair of the West Midlands Police Authority, and PCC candidate, Diana Holl-Allen, as well as senior police commissioning experts from across England. Presentations from the event can be accessed from the Safer Future Communities website here.

Why was this event important?

Due to new changes to police commissioning structures partnership working with the police is increasing important for women’s organisations.

WRC is working as part of the Safer Communities Partnership to support the engagement of Violence Against Women and Girls organisations with new police commissioning plans and to help them to understand what these new changes mean.

 As part of government reforms, the Home Office is reforming police commissioning processes to connect decision-making with local communities.

They will be introducing locally elected Police Crime Commissioners, which will replace Police Authorities from November 2012, to work in partnership with local community organisations.

 The Police Commissioners will have responsibility for:
  • Appointing the Chief Constable (CC) and holding them to account for the running of their force
  • Setting out a five year Police and Crime Plan (in consultation with the CC) determining local policing priorities. Setting the annual local precept and annual force budget 
  • Making community safety grants to other organisations aside from the CC (including but not limited to Community Safety Partnerships).
Therefore it is essential that equalities organisations are engaged in the changing landscape.

Over the next coming months WRC will be hosting a range of regional events and producing guidance to support women’s organisations engagement with the plans.

To find out more about our work visit our website.

Rebecca Veazey, Policy Officer, WRC

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Spotlight on Women’s Homelessness event: supporting partnership working on women’s homelessness

As part of St Mungo’s Action Week on Women’s Homelessness and to celebrate the launch of their Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign, Homeless Link, WRC and St Mungo’s held a Spotlight on Women’s Homelessness event on the 20th June.

The event aimed to promote partnership working between women’s and homelessness organisations and to improve knowledge, skills and highlight best practice when supporting homelessness women, many of whom have complex needs.

The event was a fully booked success and featured a variety of speakers including: Shadow Equalities Minister Kate Green MP, staff from the Department for Communities and Local Government and experts from the homelessness and violence against women sectors. Attendees participated in interactive workshops on topics including: sex trafficking and the Olympics, and joint working between domestic violence and substance misuse organisations.

Over the next 18 months, St Mungo’s will be continuing this great work and exploring ways to support homeless women through its Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign. As part of the campaign they are inviting organisations, front-line workers and especially women themselves, to talk about how best to prevent women’s homelessness and support their recovery. The objective of their campaign is to increase awareness, promote good practice and ultimately achieve policy change. 

Learn more about the Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign and how you can get involved here.

Find out more about WRC’s future training and events here.

Rebecca Veazey, Policy Officer, WRC

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Strong recommendations around women’s rights to the UK Government as part of the Universal Periodic Review

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examination of the UK Government on May 24th some clear recommendations and areas of concern around women’s rights, and equalities in general, were raised by the 60 countries who questioned the UK.

Gender equality was at the core of the examination and these issues were picked up by a number of states from Australia to Angola. However, the Government failed to address many of these concerns in its response and hardly mentioned women’s rights at all.

More information can be found here and the agreed report will be available here. Below is a summary of some of the key recommendations:

Women’s rights
  • Continue efforts in the promotion of women’s rights (Indonesia)
  • Give priority attention to the questions of gender equality and discrimination against women (Uzbekistan)
Violence against women and girls
  • Sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (France and Australia)
  • Continue efforts to combat discrimination on any ground and violence against women and girls (Cuba)
  • Adopt a national strategy to combat all forms of violence against women and girls (Brazil)
  • Take more effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women and girls and to ensure that the perpetrators of violence are taken to justice and punished (Malaysia)
Forced marriage
  • Assess the impact of the minimum age limit for overseas spouses or fianc├ęs on the prevention of forced marriage and review its policy in this regard (Slovenia)
Human trafficking
  • Increase efforts to combat trafficking in persons, particularly to protect women and children (Spain)
  • Continue making progress in applying the strategy on trafficking in persons adopted in July 2011 (Colombia) 
  • Implement the EU Directive on trafficking in human beings by April 2013 (Australia)
  • Standardise anti-trafficking responses across the UK insofar as possible given the devolution of law enforcement powers, and appoint a rapporteur in each devolved authority to make critical assessments and improve the UK’s overall anti-trafficking response (United States) 
  • Take all measures to ensure that all trafficked people are able to access the support and services they are entitled to, including free legal aid and access to their right to compensation (Greece)
Women in prison
  • Consider incorporating the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders as part of its policy on the treatment of women prisoners (Thailand)
Reproductive rights
  • Ensure by legislative and other measures that women in Northern Ireland are entitled to safe and legal abortion on equal basis with women living in other parts of the UK (Finland)
Equal pay
  • Adopt government policies and legislation to address the pay gap between men and women (Sudan)
  • Consider policies and legal provisions to encourage equal pay practices (India)
  • Review national legislation to ensure equality and non-discrimination (Egypt)
  • Ensure that the reform process of the Equality and Human Rights Commission does not affect its independence in conformity with the Paris Principles
  • Strengthen measures aimed at reducing serious inequalities in access to health, education and employment, which still exist despite the adoption of the Equality Act (Spain) 
  • Consider strengthening policies to combat discrimination in all areas, notably in education and employment (Morocco)
  • Strengthen data collection and maintain disaggregated data to better understand the scale and severity of hate crimes towards women, immigrants, religious minorities, persons with disabilities and children (United States)
  • Provide more resources for reforming the welfare system in order to make it better able to tackle poverty and worklessness, and reduce negative impact on social vulnerable groups (Viet Nam)
  • Guarantee the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly health, education and adequate housing (Cuba)
Other relevant areas
  • Publish the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry on the establishment of a regulatory regime for ethical media (Angola)
  • Share best practices of tackling the situation of the Roma and Traveller people through the EU Framework of National Roma Integration Strategies adopted in 2011 (Hungary)
The UK Government now has three months to look over the recommendations and decide which ones it will accept, reject or partly accept and are due to report back on this in September. This will then be an opportunity for the voluntary sector to present some clear ideas for implementation and action around the adopted recommendations.

Many of the recommendations that came out of the UPR process will be useful for other treaty monitoring, such as the CEDAW Convention which is coming up in 2013, and it was useful to note that many countries had looked at the recommendations from previous treaty bodies when compiling their questions.

This included a specific recommendation to remove reservations to the CEDAW Convention from Greece and references to 2008 CEDAW concluding observations on women in prison and female genital mutilation (FGM). It was also good to see how many of the issues in the UPR submissions from the UK voluntary sector had been picked up and were reflected in the final recommendations.

Therefore, we can see that the UPR and other treaty processes can work closely together and reinforce each other to build stronger obligations and recommendations for action around human rights that government’s cannot ignore.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The CEDAW Working Group: bringing an inspiring group of women together

Over the last year, WRC have been gathering evidence from all over the country to feed into our CEDAW shadow report. The UK is coming under review in 2013, and the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has submitted their report to the Committee. It is our job in the women’s sector to ensure that the Committee gets a full picture of the state of gender equality in the UK, and so we at the WRC are bringing together a shadow report, which will be submitted in response to the GEO’s report.

To ensure the shadow report is as accurate and as inclusive as possible, in addition to using the Convention to its best effect, WRC set up the CEDAW Working Group in 2009, where women from a large range of organisations meet every four months for training, to work on the report, and to discuss how best to ensure that CEDAW is reaching everyone it needs to.

Last Monday’s meeting was the first that I had attended, and it was really exciting to be part of a group so committed to improving gender equality in the UK. And not just gender equality, but equality across the board. With representatives from ROTA, Eaves Housing for Women, BIHR, Sisters of Frida and the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain to name but a few, issues of multiple discrimination were consistently addressed. As a group, we have been working to ensure that no minority group is ignored in our report, and so have ensured that NGOs from outside the women’s sector also get a chance to feed into the report. This dialogue has given us the additional opportunity of ensuring that issues specifically affecting women are in the forefront of the minds of organisations writing shadow reports for other international conventions, for example the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Another way to raise the voices of women in the UK is involvement in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Some CEDAW Working Group members attended the CSW this year, and, while they reported that there were great elements to the event, the representation of women from the sector in the UK is very low. With strategic planning for next year’s event, where the focus is violence against women, we hope to be able to join forces with international organisations and maybe hold an event and will also use this global platform to disseminate information about women’s rights in the UK and how we are using CEDAW.

At a time when women in the UK are being given such a raw deal by the Government, it is really inspiring to be part of a group of such fantastic women devoting their time to maintaining and developing the gains in gender equality that have been won over the past decades. In the coming months we will be working to create a really strong shadow report for the CEDAW Committee, and using CEDAW, alongside as many other international conventions as we can, to ensure that the Government is fully aware of its obligations to protect and improve women’s equality.

Ava Lee, CEDAW Intern, WRC

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Women’s sector looks to the Universal Periodic Review to hold UK Government to account over its record on women’s rights

On May 24th 2012, the United Kingdom’s human rights record will come under scrutiny in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This examination, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to improve the human rights situation in each of the 193 UN member states, is similar to a peer review in that it consists of other member states assessing the state under review and providing recommendations for improvement. As this will be the UK’s second UPR, there is now evidence that many of the recommendations from the previous review, particularly those relating to women, have been ignored. The UPR is an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate effect that the coalition Government’s austerity measures are having on women, and we hope that the Government uses the examination to prove it is genuinely committed to promoting women’s rights.

The Government’s submission provides a section on how it is ‘Promoting Gender Equality’ following a recommendation to “integrate fully a gender perspective in the next stages of the UPR review”, but it’s sole UK wide example of this is the Women’s Business Council and the provision of £2 million support for women setting up and expanding businesses in rural areas. Given that a total of £13.2 billion has been taken from women’s incomes already in the cuts to benefits and tax credits (more than twice as much than has been taken from men) £2 million directed at women in a position to run their own businesses does nothing to improve gender equality for the increasingly large numbers of women facing unemployment and poverty. We hope that the UPR will compel the Government to provide answers for this.

Another recommendation that came from the UK’s previous UPR, was “to set up a strategic oversight body, such as a commission on violence against women, to ensure greater coherence and more effective protection for women”. Unfortunately no such body has been put in place, and while the Government has adopted a national strategy to address violence against women (which does not cover the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales) there is no co-ordinated four nation strategy in place. On top of this, the lack of commitment by the current Government to provide ring-fenced funding for frontline women’s VAWG services is raising serious doubts about the sustainability of support currently provided for survivors of gender based violence; quite the opposite from providing “more effective protection for women”.

Additionally, the Government’s report does not sufficiently address the effect the changes to legal aid will have to VAWG survivors, even though new research has shown that at least 46% of domestic violence cases will be ineligible for legal aid because the evidence they will be required to present is dangerously restrictive. Further cuts to legal aid will force people to represent themselves in court, which will result in some women survivors having to face cross-examination by the perpetrator of the crimes committed against them. While the situation for survivors of domestic violence is clearly unacceptable, there is also grave concern that the commitment at policy level across all four nations only covers DV, leaving survivors of all other forms of gender based violence (including rape, FGM, forced marriage, stalking and other forms of violence) with little access to support.

And, even after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to sign the EU Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence on International Women’s Day, it is still yet to be signed and a long way from being implemented.

It is vitally important that these and other issues affecting women in the UK are raised at the UK’s Universal Periodic Review this May. Following the UPR, the UK will be examined by the UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women) Committee in July 2013. CEDAW’s sole focus is ending discrimination against women and we look to both of these examinations to call the Government to account on its current policies which are having a dramatic and disproportionate impact on women in the UK. 

Ava Lee, CEDAW Intern, WRC