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.