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

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