Thursday, 20 March 2008

£1million emergency funding for Rape Crisis - but what next?

On Tuesday evening, WRC and Rape Crisis (England & Wales) launched a new research report on the state of the Rape Crisis sector. Focusing on the appalling funding situation, the report also looks at staffing, services provided and public awareness of the sector.

The launch event was a beautiful candle-lit evening at the Directory of Social Change in London. The speakers (Tania Pouwhare from WRC, Jane Gregory from Rape Crisis (England & Wales) and a woman who had received life-saving support from Rape Crisis centres) gave hard hitting but inspiring speeches. The event closed with a touching poetry reading by my colleague, Skye.

Almost immediately, Harriet Harman announced that the government was pulling together £1million emergency funding to prevent any further closures of Rape Crisis centres this year. Now, obviously that's not enough and once again fails to address the real issue which is long-term, sustainable funding for these vital services, but it's difficult to be too curmudgeonly - I mean, it's not often you get £1million! And perhaps this really will be the first step in a concerted effort to sort out a plan to ensure that current centres don't have to close and that new centres can be opened in the very many places where there currently aren't any.

On the same day, Vivienne Hayes (WRC Chief Executive) went on the Jeni Barnett show on LBC radio to talk about this issue. Also on the programme was WRC's "gold star man of the week" (see below for last week's recipient of this prestigious award), Ben Davies of Not only has he been incredibly supportive of the campaign for better funding of Rape Crisis centres, he was also very articulate and passionate about it on the radio. He talked specifically about visiting a centre and meeting the staff and volunteers. Cheers Ben!

So a day for warm fuzzies, but definitely not the time to take our eye off the ball. As the report says:

Support for women and girls to rebuild their lives after rape must be a right, not a privilege determined by a postcode lottery.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Knight in shining armour?

Third Sector magazine isn't usually greeted with whoops of joy at WRC HQ, but today was an exception. This week's edition sees not one, not two, but three articles on women's organisations. There's a case study of women's counselling service Threshold, which merged with a larger charity to ensure the survival of its vital services, and a back page comment by Mathew Little on Ealing Council's decision to withdraw funding from Southall Black Sisters (see last week's blog), asking whether it is government policy to curb funding to ethnic groups. Little's piece was entitled: "No cash for ethnic group - is it because they is black?"...

The article that really gladdened our hearts, though, was the opinion piece by John Knight, who is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability. Headlined "In praise of women's organisations", the article displayed a real understanding of the women's voluntary and community sector which is as rare as it is refreshing.

"Where public services stop for women, voluntary services start. The importance of refuges and rape crisis centres cannot be overestimated. The plight of women asylum seekers fleeing violence and rape abroad is far too often unseen - by both the public and the state. The work of organisations to raise the profile of these issues and help women establish safe havens here is often done against incredible odds."

We really couldn't have put it better ourselves. Knight mentions not just the services provided by women's organisations, but also the advocacy and campaigning work which is so often overlooked. He writes about the wide range of issues addressed by women's organisations, the importance of International Women's Day, and the wide-ranging impact of the sector's work: "They support, advise and protect many thousands of women every day." He even references WRC and suggests that the lack of funding for women's organisations is a form of discrimination.

How refreshing to read an article by someone outside the women's sector with such a good understanding of the work we do. Three gold stars for Mr Knight.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Gearing up for International Women's Day

As usual the women's sector is abuzz with activities for International Women's Day (8 March). WRC is going to be present at two major events in London on the day itself: the annual capitalwoman conference and the all new Million Women Rise march.

Both events look set to attract thousands of women and both will highlight important issues for women. In the absence of a time machine or teleportation skills, WRC staff will be engaging in some nifty tag-team action to ensure we're able to support both of these events and make the most of these opportunities to raise the profile of women's organisations. If you're coming to capitalwoman, come up and see us in the Pickwick Lounge - we'll be the table tucked away in the corner, if the floorplan is to be believed (must bake cookies for the events planner next year) - we'll have all our latest reports and publications for you to take away with you, and might even stretch to a purple sparkly WRC pen if you ask nicely.

In less cheerful news, Ealing Council has decided to 'celebrate' International Women's Day by jeopardising the future of one of the most respected women's organisations in the country, maybe even the world: Southall Black Sisters. For decades, Southall Black Sisters has been a pioneering and pre-eminent campaigning and advocacy group for black & minority ethnic women experiencing domestic violence. Ealing Council has been giving SBS a regular grant to carry out this vital work. Now the Council only wants to fund an organisation that will provide services to all women in the borough (with no more money for this extra work). WRC has written to Ealing Council, urging them to recognise the value of the specialist service SBS provides to some of the most marginalised women, and also wrote to the Guardian newspaper:

Many black and minority ethnic women's organisations are in peril. I can only hope that the government is listening as it develops its proposals for funding guidance on cohesion. Advising funders to give preference to projects that bring groups together will not improve cohesion. Far from promoting cohesion, it will further exclude people already on the margins of society.

The government is out of touch with those working at the coalface. We need good guidance for funders that genuinely promotes equality and cohesion and ensures that invaluable organisations like Southall Black Sisters do not become victims of a 'one-size-fits-all' funding culture.
(Society Guardian, 20 February 2008)

News of the threat to SBS has spread quickly and support has come from far and wide - from physical protests at council meetings and letters to Ealing Council, to messages of support in myriad blogs and even an active and growing Facebook group. See for more.