Thursday, 25 March 2010

Success! London local election hustings draws a crowd

Wednesday afternoon saw the Women's Resource Centre, HEAR and Voluntary Sector Forum’s hustings event for London’s Local Elections. The 60-strong audience was made up of representatives of the length and breadth of London’s voluntary and community sector, with an emphasis on the equalities and women’s sectors.

There were four councillors on the panel - Cllr Nilgun Canver, Labour, Cllr Lynn Hillan, Conservative, Cllr Stephen Knight, Liberal Democrat and Cllr Ute Michel, Green Party, and the event was chaired by Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women.

So, once everyone had arrived and found a seat, the questioning began…

“What future do you see for the London Councils grants budget and London Councils’ commitment to pan-London and cross-borough service provision?”

This opening question drew out the commitment from the whole panel to funding the work of the voluntary and community sector (VCS), with a cautionary note around the impact of inevitable spending cuts.

However, there was also recognition that some services are more suitable for being funded on a pan-London basis, whereas some which address more local problems need to be addressed on a borough level.

A question on the VCS’ right to campaign on behalf of beneficiaries and be funded for this work threw up the first major difference between the panellists. While the Liberal Democrat and Green councillors were keen to have this work funded by public money, and the Labour councillor emphasised that this work is not political, but a form of advocacy and so should be funded, the Conservative councillor was in support of lobbyists, but was uneasy about their work being funded through public money.

The equalities questions focussed on issues such as the Human Rights Act and how it can be implemented at a local level, how to balance the need for making services available to the whole community and maintaining specialist skills, and the role of equalities organisations in policy work.

The final section of the hustings focussed on the women’s sector, where we heard from the panel on their commitment to London Councils’ spending of 12% of its budget on the violence against women sector. You can read the full responses of the panel to key issues for the women’s sector in our Q&A sheet

There were further questions on women with no recourse to public funds (from the Women Together against Abuse partnership), licensing of lap dancing clubs (from OBJECT) and on addressing the needs of women ex-offenders (from Women in Prison), all of which elicited thoughtful responses from panel members. You can see photos from the event and some of their responses on video here and we will be putting up fuller notes later on.

All in all, it was great to have a space where London’s VCS could come face to face with councillors and there was a real sense of democratic accountability, as those affected by councillors’ decisions were able to question them directly. We’d like to thank the councillors for taking the time to take part in the hustings and all those who took time out of their working day to come along!

We strongly encourage women’s organisations across the country to organise similar events for future elections. After all, councillors represent you - and you need to both get your voice heard and get your sector’s issues on their agenda!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A WISH for International Women’s Day

Last Wednesday evening I travelled to Harrow to celebrate International Women’s Day with The WISH Centre. WISH provides support and opportunities for women, youth and children who are survivors of abuse, violence and neglect and also works with young self harmers.

It was a very swish affair with tasty Indian food and even party bags to take home! We saw some brilliant examples of the work that WISH do, including hearing a spoken word performance by one of the young men from the B.A.S.H. boys self harm group, and watching a video about self image, and how this is influenced by the media, created by the girls group. We also met some of the young people themselves who spoke confidently and articulately about why they come to WISH. Young women like Steph who was interviewed by BBC Sport Relief in 2008:

A lot of the work with young people involves using multi-media and video and the girls self harm group Girls Xpress have even made their own music video!

You can see more of the photos and examples of how WISH use multi-media on their website.

WISH are also very good at getting in the media with interviews on television and celebrity visits. In fact they are on Sport Relief this Thursday March 18th in the Million Pound Bike Ride documentary on BBC 1, 9-10pm. Comic Miranda Hart visited WISH and Girls Xpress and the documentary features one of the young women, who is now a WISH Trustee, talking about her self harm journey and the support she has received from WISH.

WISH are a great example of using innovative ways to work with young and marginalised people and to raise awareness about the issues that they face with a wider audience through new and exciting media.

WRC ‘wish’ them all the best in the future with their work!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Million Women Rise 2010

Say it once, say it again
No excuse for violent men! Say it once, say it loud We are women, we are proud!

A gloriously sunny (but pretty chilly) Saturday lunchtime saw thousands of women assemble at Marble Arch to join the Million Women Rise (MWR) march, which celebrates and honours “women’s activism, courage and achievements and continued struggle against global male violence in all its forms”. Women had come from as far afield as Cornwall, Scotland and Uganda to take part and all ages were well represented, from babies in prams to women in their nineties. It truly felt like the diversity of the women at the march reflected a wide spectrum of women’s experiences. As we marched down Oxford Street, to chants, songs and whistles, we drew support from the watching crowds of Saturday shoppers, with some smiling, others waving and some even joining the march itself.

Now in its third year, the march always has a fantastic atmosphere, as it’s a rare opportunity for women and women’s organisations to take over the streets and to have their voices heard. It’s always great to see so many of our member organisations continuing the fight for women’s equality and freedom from violence. In the two hours or so that it took us to reach the rally at Trafalgar Square, I’d pretty much chanted myself hoarse, but it was well worth it!

At the rally itself, there was a great range of inspirational women speakers, including Sabrina Qureshi (Founder of MWR), Vivienne Hayes (WRC CEO), Cath Elliott (union activist and journalist) and many other representatives from the women’s sector, both in the UK and internationally. While they all spoke on different topics, there was one overriding message – only through working together, through being sisters, can we hope to start winning the fight to end male violence against women in all its forms. Can’t wait until next year!