Thursday, 11 December 2008

Stronger Together in the South West

This week WRC Policy Team members travelled south to hold an event near Taunton with the South West Foundation looking at how women’s organisations in this area can better influence their local agenda and get their voices heard. It was a really great opportunity for women from lots of different kinds of organisations to meet and talk about the issues that they face locally and discuss what they can do about it! The event was part of WRC’s Stronger Together project and highlighted the need for women’s groups to work together and support each other when faced with gender discrimination at a local level. Networks like Equality South West’s gender network are already starting to do this.

Women’s Action Network Dorset spoke about their work supporting isolated women through social events and projects, and SEEDS Devon were keen to know about how they could challenge funding decisions and get more involved in local government.

The one thing that really struck me was the huge geographical areas that services have to cover in rural areas like the South West. The differences between the extent of services in the towns and countryside were obvious, however, the experiences of lack of recognition were the same.

We had fun creating our ideal visions of the future which were very colourful and optimistic – let’s hope we can get closer to this through solidarity and challenging decisions that reflect negatively on women!

Friday, 5 December 2008

A forum for change?

As part on WRC’s ongoing interest in the potential of social media (this very blog being a perfect example), I went to the IT Innovation in the Community event, organised by Ealing CVS and DC10. Case studies were used to show how people could make use of technology to engage with local communities. Digital inclusion is vitally important, with ICT being identified as the third skill for life, along with literacy and numeracy. But 75% of socially excluded adults do not use the internet, so we have to be very careful about balancing the opportunities on offer with the danger of excluding the most vulnerable groups.

One workshop showcased Ealing Community Network (ECN), which is piloting online consultation forums to access marginalised groups, by enabling strategic partners to consult with groups on service delivery. There are two forums: one for disabled people and one for Muslim women. The forum for disabled people to consult with Ealing Police has 12 members and is very successful. The Muslim women’s forum (for Ealing Hospital Trust to ask questions about service in both the accident and emergency department and the maternity unit) has 8 members, but it was clear from the outset that the level of support needed to access the forum was high, mainly due to the varying levels of English and IT skills amongst the women. This meant that activity levels were relatively low.

This was a small, but valuable, pilot project and ECN will be following up with a second round of discussions in the new year. It does, though, pose questions about how to reach marginalised groups. It can be a success, as shown by the disabled people’s forum, but the varying levels ‘life skills’ in the Muslim women’s community meant that not as many potential beneficiaries were reached. Nor were their voices heard.

Should the VCS be shifting focus to these kind of initiatives before making sure that basic IT skills are available in the communities we are trying to benefit? This a good question, but not one which should hold us back. This kind of project means that women are being reached who would otherwise not have had their voice heard. While this is not the only way to consult groups, it seems that any responses gathered are valuable. This kind of tool should be used as a way of complementing other methods for consultation and information sharing. The potential in these tools is an opportunity too good to miss!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Is it enough to get more women in power?

Despite losing the election, Sarah Palin's nomination for vice presidential candidate was hailed in some quarters as a victory for women - and even for feminism. But many women (including myself) felt extremely uncomfortable celebrating her nomination - even purely as a victory for women's representation in 'high politics' - given her stance on issues like reproductive rights, gay rights, environmental issues, access to healthcare and support for rape survivors. As Sarah Seltzer at the Huffington Post noted: "Just because Sarah Palin is a woman, doesn't mean she's good for women." (See also Jezebel)

So we got to thinking (if you'll excuse the Carrie Bradshaw moment)... is it enough to get more women represented at all levels of politics (from grassroots to government) or do they need to be the 'right' women? That is, women who will fight for women's rights and encourage other women to join them? Women who also represent marginalised groups in society and will fight for equality in all areas? And if that's the case, doesn't that mean we all have a responsibility to make sure we step up to the plate ourselves? Would a website like for the UK help?

And it's not just me who's been pondering this issue:

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Reclaiming the Night

We braved the cold on Saturday evening to carry the WRC banner through the streets of central London to raise awareness about violence against women and demand safety for women on the streets at night. It was a really positive and uplifting march with lots of chanting (my favourite is the call and response: “hay, ho, sexual violence has got to go!” as you can really get a good rhythm going!) and colourful handmade banners and placards representing the huge range of women who were involved.

We got the usual lads near Leicester Square being loud and obnoxious but they soon disappeared in embarrassment when they realised we were shouting about rape and domestic abuse! Along Charing Cross Road some people leaned out of their window to bang saucepan lids in support (I remember them from last year!) and of course the usual landmarks along the way – the Soho Bookshop, Harmony and Spearmint Rhino – were the focus for some particular attention.

At Friends Meeting House we had a stall outside the main auditorium and could hear the rousing speeches, it was a full house with loud cheering and even standing ovations! There was lots of interest in the action sheet for the Rape Crisis campaign and people signing up to the why women? campaign as well, and nearly all our materials were taken by interested women which meant I had a lot less to carry home!

Reclaim the Night marches happen all over the country and at different times of year (it would be nice to have one when it was a bit warmer!) so look out for one near you or join the London march in 2009!

See pictures of the night on Flickr

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

WRC blog is back!

As you can see, we've not been blogging at WRC for a while (due to technical issues), but we're back now! I'm not sure what's happened to the photos and fonts in the interim - I can only apologise!

In the meantime, we've got a new website, some new staff and some new projects.

We've also been looking into how we can best use social media and online tools to connect women's organisations across the country. So far, we have a Facebook group for our why women? campaign and our Communications Officer (that's me) has been dipping into Twitter. We're also interested in the social networks that have been set up for people in the charity sector ( and for policy workers in the sector (

Today is also the start of the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women. See a round-up of related events on womensgrid.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

New fund to help women's sector blossom

Tuesday night saw the launch of a new UK-wide fund devoted exclusively to championing and investing in charities working with women and girls. The fund is called Rosa, and we've been following its pre-launch progress quite closely (not least because we've been sharing an office with their staff for a few months).

Rosa's mission is to tackle the problems facing women and girls in the UK today by raising funds, investing in change, promoting women's organisations and raising awareness of the challenges facing women and their organisations. We're all really excited - so much hard work has already gone in behind the scenes to get Rosa to this stage (£750,000 had already been donated before the launch) - and it's going to be such a positive force for the women's sector.

They also have a lovely new logo and some very, very pretty business cards (if you're the kind of the person who gets excited by such things, as I am, you should check them out) and even the reasoning behind the name Rosa is inspiring. It was chosen because it is a recognisable name in many languages, and it's also the first name of three outstanding historical female activists: Rosa Luxemburg, the German socialist leader; Rosa May Billingshurst, the British suffragette; and Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist.

They're kicking off their fundraising efforts with a "Celebrate her" campaign, suggesting people celebrate a special woman in their life (mum, friends, daughters etc) by making a gift and sending a virtual rose. Check it out!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

How to deliver unpopular messages (and how not to)

Perhaps surprisingly for a communications officer, I don't get out much, so I always look forward to events that allow me to meet other charity communications people, swap stories and learn from people with more experience and - frankly - bigger teams and bigger budgets. And today I went to one of those events, Charity Communications 08.

There were lots of inspiring speakers there, although disappointingly fewer examples of successful comms "on a shoestring" than last year, but perhaps the most striking thing I came away with was the contrast between two of the speakers, Camila Batmanghelidjh (director of Kids Company) and Kelvin MacKenzie (former editor of the Sun).

Both very strong, determined personalities. Both fearless, outspoken, unafraid of personal criticism and prepared to deliver unpopular messages. But where Camila Batmangelidjh is prepared to speak out in defence of the young people she works with, often vilified in the media, however much that opens her to attack (she talked about speaking out at the time of the murder of Damilola Taylor, making the point that we as adults had failed not only Damilola Taylor but also the children who killed him), Kelvin MacKenzie really didn't seem interested in anyone but himself. MacKenzie perhaps didn't endear himself to the audience by characterising charity workers as overpaid, dishonest, crooks, at best "not bad people, but misguided", by showing a total lack of interest in the work of charities, and also by refusing to engage in any discussion he wasn't controlling (he refused point blank to discuss with a woman from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation why it might be necessary for a charity to work with paedophiles). But enough about him...

Batmangelidjh made a few really key points. Asked how she has managed to use the media for such positive effect, she says she speaks the truth and is not afraid to be attacked for it. When she speaks out, "it may not be in the best interest of me, it is not always in the best interest of Kids Company, but it is always in the best interest of the kids". She noted that a lot of charity chief executives feel vulnerable about speaking out, and that the voluntary sector has "disempowered itself in the search for money". Her message: "Get brave and refuse that equation". But she was realistic about how you get yourself in a strong enough position to do that:

(1) run an effective project
(2) get your work independently assessed to prove its efficacy, and
(3) stay true to your values

"Don't underestimate the power of the truth. Find the truth in what you're doing". Only then should you (in her words) open your big mouth.

It was certainly clear to me why her clear-headed and uncompromising stance has paid dividends in the media coverage she and her project have attracted over the years.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

WRC supports day of action for women with no recourse to public funds

Today WRC staff joined a 200-strong protest against the 'no recourse to public funds' rule, which leaves women trapped between violence and destitution.

Here's a brief report from Kate, WRC's Membership Officer:

By 11am people had started to gather outside Portcullis House in the spitting rain. Stewards drank steaming cups of tea, and handed out white masks to the new arrivals, who started to form a un-orderly line along the pavement.

People had come from all over the capital and the country, with the 52-seater coach from Roshni in Sheffield pulling up just before midday to great applause after long rain induced delays on the motorway. Over 200 people stood holding the banners: “Violence or Destitution, which would you choose? Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds", their rows of hidden faces eerie behind the white masks.

After an hour, people started to make their way in to the public meeting. Security on the door to Portcullis House was tight as expected, but the heavies soon mellowed, even allowing Heather, one of the Amnesty organisers, to hand them her seeping bag of rubbish!

The public meeting was buzzing, with MPs from each of the political parties, representatives of Islington No Recourse to Public Funds, Kalayaan, Amnesty, The Poppy Project, Southall Black Sisters and two women from the Metropolitan Police, who agreed completely with Southall Black Sisters that violence against women is not an immigration issue: "you don’t want to have to ask a woman at a point of crisis: “What’s your immigration status?”’ . The meeting closed with all united in the determination to continue the lobbying and campaigning and build on the day’s energy. The sun even came out to celebrate.

A great day, despite the rain. Big thanks to everyone who came!
A full report of the day and speakers will be on the WRC website soon.

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.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Welcome, welcome, come on in. Would you like a cup of tea?

This is my first post on the Women's Resource Centre blog. We've been kicking around the idea of a blog for a while, but for various reasons have put it on the backburner. But today - inspired by a podcast ( I thought it was time to take the plunge.

"But why?" I hear you cry. "Is this really what we pay you for?". Well, yes and no. Yes- because WRC does get some funding to be the 'voice of the women's voluntary and community sector' and this blog is one more way to get the issues that matter to the sector a wider airing. For example, we're doing a lot of work on issues like the appalling lack of funding to women's organisations providing support to survivors of sexual assault and the difficulties faced by Black and minority ethnic women's organisations as a result of the government's current stance on 'integration and cohesion', and frankly we want to tell the world about it

We also want more people to know about women's organisations and the work they do. We started telling people through our why women? campaign (, and it's a really important part of what we do.

And finally, we'd like to kick some ideas around with you in a less formal set-up.

But no, blogging is never going to be our core work or only way of communicating. As WRC's Information & Events Officer (or, as I prefer to be known, Empress of Communications), I'm just going to be sewing a new 'blogging' badge on to the already crowded sleeve of my Girl Guide uniform, and instead of hovering in the kitchen ready to rant at my unsuspecting colleagues as they try to make themselves a cup of tea, I might just put it down in words instead. So all it'll cost is my time, and since my time is precious but (thanks to voluntary sector salaries) essentially cheap, that seems like quite good value to me.

I'll kick off the blog proper soon. but until then, feel free to leave us a comment!