Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Human rights are for everyone!

Yesterday I took part in the final event of the British Institute of Human Right’s epic UK tour – 16 trainings in 16 cities to celebrate making human rights happen. It was a really empowering day with participants from a wide variety of organisations and public bodies and with a great deal of expertise and knowledge in the room.

In the workshop I was in we looked at what the obligations of public bodies are under the Human Rights Act and how we can ensure that they are enacting these to make their services better, safer and more accessible to everybody. It was good to look at practical examples of how the Human Rights Act can be used - you can find more examples of how it has been used to support women’s rights here.

The event was also a good opportunity to raise awareness of the current attack in the media and by our own political leaders, on the human rights legislation which we already have in place. The European Convention on Human Rights is being presented as something that is being imposed on the UK from Europe when in fact the UK was instrumental in drafting and implementing this important piece of legislation as a response to the atrocities of the Second World War.

The focus on human rights being ‘abused’ and on certain groups being more ‘deserving’ of human rights than others also totally goes against everything in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which understands that human rights must be for everybody so that we can tackle discrimination and move towards equality for all.

It is important that people learn about human rights so that they can stand up for their own rights and support the rights of others. We already have the tools we just need to use them!

Find out more about how you can use human rights in your work here.

Use our new online toolkit on the UN Women’s Bill of Rights (CEDAW) to support the women you work with.

Find out more about the proposed British Bill of Rights.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

WRC get the banner out!











WRC have been out on the streets in force supporting various events around London in the last few weeks. Even the chilly weather has not stopped people getting out to make their voices heard about issues that are affecting women all over the UK every day.

On Nov 19th we joined a few thousand women to march past No. 10 Downing Street and tell David Cameron that his policies are turning back time on women’s rights and that women must not be cut out as part of The Fawcett Society’s march and rally.

It was a fun and vibrant march and then we heard from a raft of amazing speakers (including our own Chief Executive Vivienne Hayes) who outlined various ways that women’s equality is being rolled back – from education, to reproductive rights, to employment and cuts to women’s specialist services. A particular highlight was Josie Long talking about her introduction to feminism and the sexism in her industry – we love her!

(If you want to look at the impact of the cuts on women in your local area there is a great new toolkit that can help you do just that – if you do use it please let us know what you have found out.)

Then on Saturday 26th Nov we wrapped ourselves up and joined the Reclaim the Night march through central London to raise awareness of violence against women and reclaim our space in the city. It was an inspiring feeling of sisterhood with lots of noise, chanting and singing and it was great to see all the women joining in along the way.

We heard again from lots of inspirational speakers and networked with other organisations, such as the new East London Fawcett Group who loved our why women? resources. Events like this are always a great opportunity to talk to people and figure out how you may be able to work together in the future.

It is really important to be involved in these feminist events as it reminds us why we do what we do, sometimes you can lose the bigger picture when you are in the office all day. As individual feminists and as an organisation we are part of a wider movement working towards women’s equality and this is shown through events like these that bring women together in solidarity.

We are now looking forward to International Women’s Month in March 2012 and getting the banner out again for Million Women Rise!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

'Speed dating' for women's orgs in Waltham Forest


Last week Women’s Resource Centre, in partnership with Voluntary Action Waltham Forest, held a very successful funding seminar in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Co-ordinated by Voluntary Action and the WRC development team, the half-day event brought together organisations, groups, networks and projects that have woman-centred services from across Waltham Forest.

This was the 15th borough funding seminar that the WRC has planned with local CVSs across London. They are organised as part of a project which aims to help women’s organisations understand and explore their options to diversify their funding and assist them in becoming more sustainable. It is also an excellent forum for networking.

Our "speed-dating" style structured networking session got the day off to an enthusiastic start. This energy was maintained throughout the seminar with presentations from a local commissioner, women who work in the borough of Waltham Forest and members of the WRC communications, policy and development teams.

Speakers from the WRC spoke about how to start exploring partnerships, social enterprise, raising funds for individual donors as well as the important of utilising policy and human rights tools to enable women working in the community to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to hear about the experiences of Shaminder, from the Ashiana Network and Sharon, from Waltham Forest Women's Network. Both emphasised the need for community and voluntary groups to share ideas and resources, consider entering into partnerships or forming consortia to represent women's needs in the area and lobbying for effective services.

Claire Witney from Waltham Forest council spoke to the group about how to prepare for the commissioning process. She also talked about the effects of the cuts, particularly how the local boroughs are looking more at data and statistics to make funding decisions, it isn't just about a well-written proposal. This is clearly a massive issue as women may be working with a group who, as of yet, do not have any data to support their cause.

Throughout the event the message that came through most strongly for me was the need for women to come together and share their stories. It is through talking to one another about our experiences and it can give us the strength we need in an era of increasingly destructive cutbacks and competitive tendering

Friday, 18 November 2011

Time for Change for BAMER women in Leeds

The lights of the Christmas market shone through the windows as a group of women and men met in central Leeds to discuss Black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee (BAMER) women’s needs and how these can be met locally.

Participants represented a wide variety of organisations from local specialist women’s services such as Dosti and Women’s Health Matters to larger organisations such as Leeds Racial Equality Council
and public bodies such as Leeds City Council. They had been brought together by the Leeds BME Women’s Forum supported, by the Oxfam Routes to Solidarity Project to provide a voice and advocate for BAMER women and the organisations that support them in Leeds and the surrounding area.

This was not my first visit to Leeds as part of Routes to Solidarity. WRC have been supporting this work for the last few years providing training and resources to meet the needs of the different BAMER women’s networks that have sprung up around the North of England following the support of the project. It is always great to meet the women involved and to find out about their organisations and the particular issues that they work on, and this event was no exception.

The workshops in the afternoon provided more in depth information on policy levers which can be used to lobby for specialist women’s services and to ensure that BAMER women’s issues are not ignored locally. For example information on the Single Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and how this gives organisations a chance to ensure that public bodies are meeting the General Duty by organisations feeding into how public bodies decide their equality objectives for the next four years. Public bodies must publish information demonstrating their compliance with the Equality Duty by January 31st 2012 and then annually after this – therefore organisations can ask questions about how they will do this in terms of gender equality and meeting local women’s needs. Public bodies must also publish their equalities objectives by April 6th 2012 and then every four years after this but they can decide how many objectives they set and do not have to choose any relating to gender! Again this is a chance for organisations to lobby for gender to be one of the objectives they set (women are 51% of the population!) at least for the next four years and to make sure there is an understanding of how important this is.

Another workshop raised the fact that making strong contacts and building relationships with those in local public bodies helps to improve lobbying possibilities and raise issues such as the need to pay ‘due regard’ to women and ‘foster good relations’ with local women and women’s organisations as a way for public bodies to meet the General Duty. This can involve inviting local Councillors and decision-makers to your events and sending them information about your work as well as attending relevant local events and forums where you can ask questions and give information about the women you work with.

Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters also provided information on using public law and spoke about their experience of taking a case against Ealing Council for withdrawing their funding.

The final session was a discussion on action planning for the Leeds BME Women’s Forum – what should it’s role be? How should it work? What would members like it to do in the future? – this was a chance for participants to ask questions and provide information on the kind of support and structure that they would need locally for example creating a directory of local services.

Overall it was a great event bringing together a wide range of different people from different organisations – some of whom did not know each other existed! I am sure that the Forum will go from strength to strength and become an important advocate for local women and women’s organisations ensuring that BAMER women’s voices are not ignored!

Find more information on tools you can use to engage and influence locally here

Monday, 14 November 2011

A day of action - WRC at FEM11 conference


Saturday 12 November saw hundreds of women converge in central London for the UK Feminista’s national conference –FEM11. The conference came at a pertinent time for women in the UK. The government has admitted it has a problem with winning women voters, after women’s organisations and activists noted that its cuts had disproportionately affected women and families. Concerns over healthcare, education, child benefits and legal aid have also all bubbled to the surface in recent months, and women’s activist groups and organisations have been at the forefront of pushing for measures that do not leave 51% of the UK’s population out in the cold.

All of which makes for a positively febrile atmosphere for a conference addressing issues on women and feminism. The Quakers Meeting House in Euston was packed with a diverse crowd of attendees, women (and men) from all different backgrounds brought together by an overriding concern that women’s issues were not being heard and that feminism is the tool to address it. A veritable who’s who of notable feminists were attending the event, from Sandi Toksvig to Samira Ahmed and Shami Chakrabarti, while the day was capped off with a London mayoral election debate between all the party candidates, with the exception of Boris Johnson, whose absence did not prevent a lively debate on issues ranging from rape crisis centres to women’s safety travelling in London.

WRC was there on the day to host a workshop on examining the landscape for women’s organisations in the UK and what attendees could do to support women’s organisations in their area. We provided an overview of the political, economic and social landscape for women and the organisations they support, and then discussed how the change in government, the economic crisis and shifting attitudes had impacted on the work undertaken by women’s organisations. Many women were keen to know more about the localism bill, about funding problems for women’s organisations and, encouragingly, what they could do to help.

The workshop discussed what could be done, from volunteering, to using social media, to mapping where organisations were (or weren’t) in different regions, to petitioning local government to provide more support. A lively 10 minute exercise on how to develop a campaign for women’s organisations produced some great ideas on how to help – from contacting local business networks to using universities to link in with women’s organisations. The atmosphere was enthusiastic and focused – and it was encouraging to see so many young women from schools and universities so keen to support their local women’s organisations. 

Afterwards, a stroll around the different stalls and gathered groups revealed dozens of enthusiastic conversations about feminism, women, government, politics, social justice and, most crucially of all, the best methods of change. It is almost a cliché nowadays to write of these ‘days of austerity’, but the fact remains that our current situation is a challenging one. All the more important, therefore, that events such as FEM11 take place, and remain so popular. Feminism is the lever by which we can change the situation for women – and women’s organisations – in this country for the better. It was great to be part of a day where this is recognised and applauded.

If you'd like to know more about women's organisations and how you can help check out our website for a list of our members, advice on how to help and jobs and volunteering options within the women's sector.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Raising money to keep services open - the Heba example

In June 2010, more than 30 women walked 10km along the Thames, from WRC member Heba in the East End to Buckingham Palace, and raised over £4000 to help keep Heba’s classes open while they looked for funding to replace what was lost in the recession.

Everyone had a great day and year later Heba is still here! After the success of last year’s walk they have decided to make it an annual thing. This year their aim is to double the efforts and raise £8000 towards a volunteering project.

Heba Women’s Project
is well known and loved in the community as a hub where immigrant women can come to learn, meet new people and increase their confidence. Heba offers accredited classes in English, sewing and computing and finds different ways to help depending on the needs of each woman.

One woman describes the 2010 walk:

I remember Heba women's walk . We raised the Heba flag made by our own hands.

I remember the streets from East London to Buckingham Palace. Crossing Tower Bridge, we saw the Tower of London and I remembered all the stories I had learnt at Heba about the people who built it and were imprisoned there. I remembered Queen Elisabeth when I saw the Tower's gates and again when we passed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. I remembered the entire nation who worked very hard to get that civilisation and that freedom that we are blessed with.

I do believe that we can work like them and can make a change and leave our finger print. I found that at Heba. Heba is like jewellery on my hands that I don’t want to lose. Heba helps lots of women find their missing jewels.

Other women today are in need of someone to take their hand. They are suffering in silence. Their lives can change if we don't forget them.

Another woman explains why she is going to walk 10km for Heba in 2011:

I came to the UK because of my husband. I had been a teacher in my country and I wanted to restart my teaching career here. I just wanted to be useful in this country and not let my skills go to waste but first I needed to learn English. I looked for English classes everywhere but there are so many restrictions on who can have free classes and I didn’t have any money. Finally, I enrolled in a beginner class. It was much too easy, but I was desperate to do something with my time.

Luckily, a woman in the class told me about Heba, that there was a wider range of classes there, for everyone. I went along and was put in a class at my level and given help with my computer skills too. But it didn’t stop there. Through my teachers, I found out about so many other courses that I had access to and was able to start three volunteer placements in the local area. This gave me valuable experience, motivation, and the feeling that I was finally able to give something to the community. Best of all, one of the placements was as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Through this placement, I gained my Level 2 childcare NVQ and was taken on in an official capacity. I am now working as a full time teaching assistant and I love the job.

If it hadn’t been for Heba, there is no way I would be in this position today.”

If you want to join the Heba Women's Project's 10km River Walk on Sunday 19th June 2011 at 2pm contact Anne on 07960 124 262 or anne@heba.org.uk or Anne or Afia on 0207 377 0400.

If you want to find out more about how Heba organised the walk and about other ways that you can fundraise to support your organisation and services see the sustainable fundraising pages on the WRC website.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Strengthening Women's Voices in Government

By Rebecca Veazey, policy officer

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is currently consulting around women's engagement with government and the new gender architecture that will replace the Women's National Commission, seeking appropriate ways for the government and Ministers to engage with individual women and women's organisations and strengthen their voices in government.

In recognition of the importance of the GEO's consultation; the WRC hosted an event with its members on Friday 13th May, bringing together a diverse range of women’s organisations to discuss the GEO's plans and the key issues impacting on the women’s sector.

As part of the event; attendees discussed the key challenges affecting women's organisations and how we can address them together, along with strategies for engagement with the GEO and ways in which women's organisations could work collaboratively in the future.

In the morning session, organisations discussed the GEO strategy in detail and then compiled a set of questions to ask representatives from Government. In the afternoon Helene Reardon-Bond, Director of Gender Equality Policy and Inclusion at the GEO, kindly attended and took questions from WRC members for more than an hour and discussed their key concerns.

Members reported that the event was a real success as it allowed them to express their views to government officials and to come together as a sector. Participants commented that they hoped to engage with one another more regularly and support strong channels of communication with Government.

To that end WRC strongly encourages all members to respond to the GEO consultation, as it provides a vital opportunity for women's organisations to have their say about government engagement and key policies impacting on women.

The consultation is open until 10 June 2011 and can be responded to through an online survey or alternatively organisations can submit a more detailed response by emailing:
womensengagement@geo.gsi.gov.uk

The WRC is supporting consultation events in other regions in order to give a more detailed picture of the opinions of the women's sector in the UK. If you would like to feed into WRC’s response please complete our online survey or email charlotte@wrc.org.uk, the deadline for responses to the survey is Monday 23rd May

To support organisations to respond the WRC will be producing a template consultation response which will be available on our website from Thursday 26th May. To read our briefing on this topic please go here.

Also here are the links for further information on the GEO consultation and to view the consultation document in full.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

WRC and our trade union sisters!



Women’s Resource Centre has been out and about around the country meeting and talking to trade union women about the why women? campaign and encouraging them to take information back to their regions, branches and trade union sisters.

We were at UNISON Women’s Conference in Harrogate in February where we had a stall and as delegates were also able to speak in favour of a motion on funding to violence against women services. It was great to see so many of the motions highlighting the impact of the cuts on women’s organisations and we urged everyone to find out about and support their local services through the campaign.

Next we had a stall and also ran a fringe event at TUC Women’s Conference in Eastbourne just after International Women’s Day. Over 50 women attended the fringe event which looked at how women and women’s organisations are already the real Big Society and had speakers from various trade unions, UNISON, GMB, PCS, and TUC, as well as Maternity Action and WRC. The speakers provided strong evidence on how the cuts disproportionately affect women and also spoke about the vital work that women’s services do, particularly during tough times. Ros Bragg from Maternity Action provided a perspective from a women’s organisation and spoke about the issue of maternity rights which are also at risk. The focus of the conference was ‘women against the cuts’ and again it was great to see motions addressing the cuts to services that women use and in support of organisations such as Abortion Rights and Rape Crisis (England and Wales).

Our last stop was at NUS Women’s Conference in Oxford where we ran a workshop on the affect of the cuts on women and how the why women? campaign can be used locally to support women and the services they use. It was great to see a new generation of feminist activists really engaged with the issues and ready to take the information back to their universities. Many were already involved in action around cuts in their areas and wanted information on how to ensure there was a gender perspective and facts and statistics on the specific impact on women.

At all the events we were able to give out our new trade union leaflet as well as various campaigning materials and had people signing up to stay in touch with the campaign. For more information on our work with trade unions see www.wrc.org.uk/whywomen/tradeunion and for campaign materials and other information for students see www.wrc.org.uk/students

Thanks to all those that we met and your support – hope to see you next year!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Using CEDAW in the UK


CEDAW is the UN Women’s Bill of Rights. CEDAW stands for ‘the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’ and 186 countries have ratified it worldwide.

During February the Women’s Resource Centre worked with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Rights of Women to present four events exploring ways CEDAW can be used in the UK. We held events in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle and women came from across the UK.

Workshops were run by Rights of Women and the British Institute of Human Rights as well as by WRC and members of the CEDAW Working Group. The workshops included an introduction to using CEDAW and other human rights standards in work on violence against women, information on other international women’s rights instruments and international mechanisms in general, and how CEDAW and other tools can be used to lobby and make change locally.

The EHRC also talked about the Optional Protocol – a legal way an individual woman can bring her case directly to the UN if she has been discriminated against.

Every four years the UK Government have to submit a report about the steps they have taken to achieve real, substantive equality for women. Their next report to the UN CEDAW Committee will be published this summer.

Women's and human rights organisations and campaign-groups can submit shadow reports to have their voices heard by the UN. These events were a valuable opportunity to consult with regional women’s groups and offer them support to feedback into the next shadow report.

The women who attended offered important insights into the challenges facing the women’s sector and the women they support and they provided powerful case studies from their work. It was wonderful to meet so many women and we really enjoyed the training, but don’t just take it from us, see what the women who attended said about the events!


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