Thursday, 6 December 2018

#AskHerToStand: Report on 50:50 Parliament event

Bucks Federation member Deb Sanders was fortunate enough to receive an invitation from her MP to attend the 21st November 2018 #AskHerToStand event organised with the Fawcett Society, 50:50 Parliament in partnership with the Jo Cox Foundation, and the Centenary Action Group. The reception, exhibition and panel discussion was to mark the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 when women were first able to stand for Parliament.

Photo credit: Deb Sanders
Here she recounts her experiences during her day at Westminster.

It’s amazing where your WI membership can lead you! I’d never have thought I’d be going to a conference aiming for 50/50 gender representation in Parliament. After asking my MP, Dominic Grieve, for a formal invitation, within 48hrs I had an appointment to have coffee with him in Portcullis House, Westminster, even though I was a non-political delegate.

As I only found out about the opportunity to go on the event late in the day I missed applying for tickets for Prime Minister’s Question Time and the Women’s Equality Select committee but nonetheless my day was really interesting. I did make a complaint, as I had climbed up the two flights of stairs to register at the start of the day, and there was no provision for people with mobility issues.

In the exhibition all the political parties had a stand including the Women’s Equality Party.  The Fawcett Society was advertising itself as “the largest women’s campaigning organisation in the UK” so I reminded them of the nearly quarter million WI members nationwide!

The next port of call was Portcullis House by Westminster station. 213 MPs have their offices in this impressive building so security is key. Once inside I waited in a communal area to be allowed in by my MP. We passed Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC holding a media interview. The meeting with Dominic Grieve was around thirty minutes – definitely not long enough to discuss either local or national politics but it was a good opportunity to ‘flag wave’ for the WI. We had an interesting discussion about the intense workload of MPs and how this can be so disruptive to family life.

Mr Grieve then escorted me through the tunnel that links Portcullis House to the Palace of Westminster and into Westminster Hall. What an impressive building, you could feel the years of history around you.  A full size Lego model of Emily Pankhurst is currently on display (see photo). After thirty minutes to take in the splendour of this building, all participants gathered for a group photo with many female MPs including Harriet Harman, Penny Mordaunt and Amber Rudd.

Then back to Portcullis House and the dreaded security checks. This took so long that I missed a buffet lunch!  However I made it in time for the keynote conference: ‘Ask Her to Stand’.  The Rt.Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Mother of the House, was the keynote speaker.  Other women MP speakers included Vicky Ford, MP - Chair of the APPG on Women in Parliament, Layla Moran, Rosena Allin-Khan, Mhairi Black, Penny Mordaunt, Maria Miller and Helen Whately.  The Q&A session was much more positive and friendly than BBC Question Time.

All spoke passionately about the rewards of being in Parliament and having the opportunity to make a difference. Despite the pressures and long hours, the job is rewarding was the unanimous thread.  There are a few disadvantages: Penny Mordaunt had to turn down an evening with Hugh Grant so that a committee of which she was a member was quorate! Other threads were that women take years to make the decision to stand for Parliament and often lack the confidence to do so but that the collaborative nature of working together in Parliament was rewarding, and women seem to be more compassionate. ‘Women network together to communicate, men work together to gain information and power’ was another statement. ‘The dynamics of Westminster, and all other levels of local government change when there is a fairer representation of women’ was another thought. This was a powerful and uplifting session which left me with much to think about.

The final part of the day was a seminar event back in Church House where we’d registered.  Delegates were looking at the problems of ‘hard to reach’ women in the community. It was suggested that the term used should be ‘Easy to Ignore Women’. I sat at a table with a group of women from a variety of backgrounds which included councillors from a very deprived area of the country. We all faced similar problems but I was impressed with the energy and compassion of these councillors who really understood their area and were so committed to action. Discussions ranged around measures that government can take and practical local solutions for these women with no ‘voice’. We all agreed that austerity has made social isolation a bigger issue and especially in adult education.

This was a fascinating day and I returned home with more questions than answers. Why was I there as a WI representative and what can we do to improve 50/50 representation at all levels of public life? The political parties are making great efforts to train and support women who wish to stand for election. This, however, creates a body of women who owe their allegiance to a party and less to a community.

I joined the WI thirty years ago. With the mentoring and friendship I received from local members I have chaired a number of committees, been a school governor, been a town councillor, and gained a Diploma in Stitched Textiles. The founding members of the WI were not afraid to campaign in public. The WI is in a unique position to encourage and train women to get involved in all levels of public life without the mantra of party politics. Are we doing enough? Have we got a little fluffy at the edges and concentrate too much on the craft and baking skills? It’s really hard to get local members inspired to campaign for our resolutions, should we be doing more to boost the confidence of members to speak in public and thus have the tools to be able to campaign?

It is time we had equal representation in all levels of local and national government but this requires giving women confidence and the tools to do the job. What can we as WI members do to facilitate this?

Further reading:

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Say ‘Not in my Name’ to Violence Against Women

Written by Sarah Thomas, Public Affairs Officer at NFWI-Wales

The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI)-Wales is calling on WI members to recruit male ambassadors to make a stand against Violence Against Women (VAW). The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence started on 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of VAW and White Ribbon Day) and ends of 10 December (Human Rights Day).

Last Tuesday (20 November), we held a Candlelight Vigil, sponsored by Joyce Watson AM, outside the Senedd to show solidarity with victims of VAW across the world and send out a powerful message that VAW is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Candlelight Vigil outside the Senedd
Since 2012, NFWI-Wales has engaged WI members in the Not in my Name Campaign which was established in 2012 with Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales.The campaign has seen WI members use their strong community links to recruit male ambassadors from their communities in speaking out against VAW and making a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW. During the 7 years of the campaign, we have seen groups across Wales, including male choirs, farming unions and sports clubs making a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW. Campaign supporters have included Christian Malcolm, the WRU, Glamorgan Cricket, Cricket Wales, Newport County Football Club, Wrexham Football Club, Only Men Aloud, Cardiff Blues and the Cardiff Devils.

The prevalence of VAW is shocking and unacceptable.  It is estimated that, every year, around three million women across the UK experience VAW, which includes domestic violence but also rape, forced marriage, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse and harassment. Over the last year, reports of sexual harassment and abuse have been endemic as we have seen women mobilised to speak up about their experiences through the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

Whilst women are disproportionately the victims of violence, we should not underestimate the role of men in the prevention and elimination of VAW. We must inspire more men to speak up publicly to challenge the attitudes, behaviours and gender inequalities that contribute to this violation of women’s rights. Men can be agents of change and play a crucial part as positive role models to help us achieve a culture change where VAW is not tolerated by society.

South Wales Fire and Rescue pledging support for the White Ribbon Campaign
It is encouraging to note that more and more public bodies are achieving the White Ribbon UK accreditation status in recognition of their commitment in involving men in speaking out and challenging male violence against women and girls. In October this year, Carmarthenshire County Council, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and Dyfed Powys Police were awarded White Ribbon accreditation. We should also celebrate the fact that South Wales Fire and Rescue Service was the first fire and rescue service in the UK and the world to achieve the White Ribbon status in 2014.

Whilst it is positive to note the commitment being shown to ending VAW, we know that the pace of progress has been slow and much further action, and at a faster pace, is needed if we are to achieve a society where women are treated equally to men and consequently a society where women are free from the fear of violence and abuse. This was reinforced last month when the WI marked 100 years of campaigning and reflected the progress made over the last 100 years through WI campaigns as well as what still needs to change. It was interesting to look back at the early campaigns which from the beginning focussed on achieving equal rights for women and in addressing what was referred to as ‘the unequal moral standard’ or what we would call today ‘the double standard’. Domestic violence was a key concern for WI members in the 1970s and 1980s and saw the WI campaigning for marital rape to be recognised under the law; for funding of refuges for survivors of domestic violence and their children in every county; to increase the severity of rape sentences, to adequately define domestic violence under the law so that women and children in the home were protected, and to make sure that survivors of domestic violence were able to access justice through the courts.

Revisiting these resolutions has brought home how relevant some of these resolutions are today as we continue to campaign for gender equality and the provision of sustainable specialist support services that women, wherever they live, can access. 

Gender inequality is a cause and consequence of VAW and we all have a part to play in challenging attitudes and behaviours that persist in our society - be it in the home, community, workplace or school. In Wales, we are fortunate to have the ground-breaking Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act in place which focuses on protecting and supporting victims. We must now ensure that the Government delivers on its commitments and that the implementation of the Act does truly make a difference to women’s lives.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Margaret Wintringham: ‘Our Institute MP’

2018 has been an important year for celebrating women’s suffrage and rights. In February we celebrated the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave women over 30 with a property qualification the right to vote for the first time. Many of the earliest members of the WI including Lady Denman and Grace Hadow were involved in the suffrage movement and we are proud to recognise their contribution.

Today we mark another milestone as it is 100 years since the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act passed, enabling women to stand for Parliament for the first time. While the WI is non-party political, this anniversary is also special to the organisation.

Margaret Wintringham 1930
Margaret Wintringham was the second female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons and a very active WI member. Margaret was supported by the NFWI in her career and was known as ‘our Institute MP’ by other WI members.

Margaret’s role in Parliament was celebrated in Home & Country, the WI’s membership magazine, which reported:

‘The election of Mrs Wintringham to Parliament is a matter for rejoicing among Institute members, not only because she is a well-known Institute worker, but also because she is the first woman to represent a rural constituency’.

Margaret was elected MP for Louth, Lincolnshire in 1921, three years after the law changed to allow women to stand and two years after her close friend, Lady Nancy Astor, the first female MP, took her seat.  Margaret Wintringham and Nancy Astor worked closely together in Parliament and it is believed Nancy Astor was also a member of the WI, although this is unconfirmed.

The two politicians campaigned in Parliament to maintain the numbers of women police after the First World War, an issue that was also the subject of two WI resolutions passed in 1922 and 1924. With Margaret elected to the NFWI Executive Committee in 1922, it gave the WI a direct line of communication into the House of Commons.

Margaret Wintringham and Nancy Astor 1922
Throughout her three years in office, Margaret Wintringham continued to assist the NFWI with parliamentary matters. She spoke about her work at the NFWI’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on numerous occasions and invited members in attendance at the London AGM for a tour around the Houses of Parliament. While on this tour, Margaret told her fellow members that her many years in the WI was the best training she could have had for her work as an MP.

Margaret Wintringham was succeeded in the House of Commons by Arthur Heneage in 1924. She remained part of many social and political women’s organisations for the rest of her life including her role as President of the Women’s Liberal Federation. Margaret Wintringham died in 1955, aged 75. We are proud of the lasting legacy she has left for women in politics and the WI.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Disley WI commemorates the forgotten women of the First World War

Guest blog written by Sue Boothby, member of Disley WI

When I learned that not a single poppy in the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' installation at the Tower of London in 2014 was in commemoration of a woman, I set out to put things right.

Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s display of 888,426 ceramic poppies was undeniable poignant and a fitting dedication to the fallen British and Colonial soldiers of the First World War, however the number provided to them by the War Graves Commission excluded any female casualties.

Disley WI wanted to remember and commemorate these forgotten women and so set out to try to find out how many women lost their lives in service.

This was not an easy task – the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) does maintain a database of casualties of the First World War however they acknowledged this could contain inaccuracies due to omissions in original information provided by the Military Authorities, or gaps as a result of computerisation and scanning of original texts. Their list also only included women who died whilst serving with, or attached to, a Commonwealth force.

This meant that women who died whilst working in a civilian capacity, such as ambulance drivers, munitions workers, spies, linguists etc, were not included. It was quickly realised the real number of female casualties will never be known.

We resolved to create a fitting memorial to commemorate these overlooked women. The CWGC were able to identify 818 individual women in the UK, and so our members decided to craft a unique poppy for each named individual. An additional poppy was created for Edith Cavell, who made a significant contribution to saving the lives of soldiers from both sides but was not included on the CWGC list as she was in occupied Belgium in WW1. Finally, a special black poppy was made to commemorate all the civilian casualties that were not recorded.

All 820 poppies will be on display at Disley’s Fountain Square on Sunday 11th November, with Disley’s annual Armistice Day Service taking place at the adjacent War Memorial at 11am.

We hope this will be a fitting commemoration to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the women of WW1.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Transforming the NHS through people power: why we’re working with NFWI Wales

Guest blog written by Helen Howson, Director, Bevan Commission

100 years ago, the Women’s Institute was founded to improve the lives of communities and contribute to the war effort. The first WI meeting in the UK took place in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey, establishing a strong Welsh voice for an organisation that has since become the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK.

The ‘jam and Jerusalem’ image of the WI fails to honour their serious role in campaigning for a wide variety of social issues in their 100-year history. WI members have a strong history of campaigning on important health matters – sometimes many years before these issues became mainstream.

The WI first campaigned against smoking in public places in 1964, and was an early voice for providing accurate information around the AIDS epidemic and removing its stigma. Its work to improve the health and wellbeing of women and communities across the UK continues through campaigns to increase the number of midwives in the NHS and to reduce domestic violence.

WI members work tirelessly to improve their local communities and have a strong social conscience. I have seen first-hand through my Mother, who is a long-standing member of the WI Glamorgan Federation, how supportive this network is within its communities and how powerful it can be in bringing about real change. Therefore, when it came to transforming the future of the NHS through people power, NFWI Wales was my first call.

The Bevan Commission is Wales’ leading think tank for health and care, established in 2008. We bring together 22 Bevan Commissioners – eminent experts in the NHS, academia and industry – to provide independent, authoritative advice on health and care to leaders in Welsh Government, NHS Wales and beyond. We identify and share best practice from healthcare systems around the world, building on the principles of the NHS as first articulated by Aneurin Bevan in 1948. Our aim is to ensure that we have a health and care system which is fit for the future not just the past.

We translate this thinking into action on the frontline of the NHS, by supporting health professionals to trial and test out their new ideas in their own hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes through our Bevan Exemplar scheme.

As important as it is to inspire change through policymakers and NHS workers, we believe that we can only truly transform the future of the health system by also working with people, patients and communities. That is why we want WI members across Wales to join discussions and take action to make good health and care everyone’s responsibility.

The NHS, which turned 70 earlier this year, faces real challenges in terms of limited resources, rising demands and a shrinking workforce. We all have to ensure that we use the health system responsibly and act as change agents in our own towns, villages and cities. Do you sometimes see the GP when you could see a pharmacist? Do you help others in your community who may need non-medical care? Do you provide feedback on health services in your area?

These are some of the questions we will be asking WI members to discuss in their meetings, and we will also provide a comprehensive resource pack for those that want explore this issue in more detail, including inspirational case studies of wellbeing champions in their workplaces and communities.

We know that people in Wales and WI members are passionate about the NHS and its Welsh origins, and we would like to capture and use this passion to create a ‘social movement for change’. We want to change the dependency on medical solutions when other simple solutions may be more effective and cause less harm. We want to make sure we use these important skills and resources wisely and help everyone to take care of themselves  and others in ways which may not need drugs, tests or other interventions - when maybe a cup of tea and a chat will do the trick instead.  

We hope that you will join us in 2019 to have conversations and together take actions which transform our NHS through people power, just as we did when it as created. By working together, using all our wisdom, skills and connections, we can make sure we maintain the very best health and NHS - our ’jewel in the crown’ - for future generations to come.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Manchester WI’s ‘Lady Grey IPA’

Love British Food’s ‘British Food Fortnight’ runs from 22 September to 7 October 2018. It is the biggest, annual celebration of British food and drink. The following guest blog has been written by Manchester WI about a special beer that it brewed in partnership with a local brewery in Manchester, to celebrate 100 years since some women were given the vote for the first time.

President Shelly shares how members created ‘Lady Grey IPA’, why British independent produce is important to them and how the beer has been received in the local community…

Manchester WI and Runaway Brewery celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted some women the vote for the first time, and International Women’s Day 2018 by brewing a limited edition beer called ‘Lady Grey IPA’.

We wanted to celebrate votes for women by doing something a little out of the ordinary that lots of people across Manchester could enjoy. Brewing a beer 100 years on from the first women being granted the vote shows one small way how far women have come in the last 100 years – it’s about demonstrating equality in a fun way that other people can join in with.

All of our members voted on the flavour of the beer and tried testers at our Christmas party last year. The final product was infused with Lady Grey Tea, Bergamot and citrus zest for a delicately perfumed, fruity IPA.

We had decided to launch the beer at the beginning of March, to coincide with International Women’s Day (8 March). During the week in February that marked the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, members spent a day at The Runaway Brewery, getting stuck into the start of the brewing process.

Working on the brewing process!
As a local community group, supporting independent businesses in our community is very important to Manchester WI. We wanted to work with a local brewery that we could really get to know and become friends with, it’s been a great experience and Mark and his team from Runaway are definitely honorary WI members!

On Saturday 10 March Runaway opened its doors for the Lady Grey IPA Launch Party and there was an open invite to beer lovers across Manchester to come and raise a celebratory pint.  Seven other beers all brewed on site were available, plus we were joined by Steep Soda serving locally made, all natural soda on their pop-up gin bar - so something for every taste!

The Lady Grey IPA Launch Party soundtrack was an eclectic and celebratory mix of female led bands and artists with recommendations from across the decades suggested by Manchester WI members.

Members of Manchester WI at Runaway Brewery

Mark Welsby, the owner of Runaway kept back two kegs of Lady Grey IPA for the launch – which were all drank before the end of the day! The rest of the beer was distributed around pubs and restaurants in Manchester and sold out in record time.

A percentage of the price of each bottle and pint went into the Manchester WI bursary fund, supporting the WI’s original purpose of education for women. This raised us over £200, giving us a fantastic boost to the bursary fund available for our members this year.

We’re thinking about brewing another beer for International Women’s Day 2019 following the success of the Lady Grey IPA!

Friday, 20 July 2018

It’s time for the Government to commit to a proper measure of food insecurity

Written by Lynne Stubbings, NFWI Chair 
Today I have written to the Prime Minister, asking her to commit to measuring the prevalence of food insecurity in the UK. The work that has been done on this so far in the UK is patchy at best; I have urged her to commit instead to ongoing and robust measurement. Without it, we cannot hope to find proper solutions to the problem of hunger in this country.

As the largest women’s organisation in the UK, the Women’s Institute (WI) retains a strong grassroots ethos at the core of all policy and campaigning work. Over its 103 year history, the WI has worked across a wide-ranging portfolio of issues. As Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), I am proud to say that all WI campaigns are member-led. The issues we work on reflect the concerns of nearly 220,000 members who are committed to realising the potential of an active and informed civic society.

In 2016 a resolution was passed by the membership which calls for the WI to work to tackle the issue of food insecurity. WI members across the country are organising discussion events to learn about the issue of food insecurity, and to learn how this can be tackled at the local and systemic levels. Through this work WI members have been disappointed at both the lack and quality of statistics available which measure the extent of the problem.

There are easy and validated tools for collecting data on food insecurity which are already in use in other countries. For example in the United States, the Department of Agriculture operates the Household Food Insecurity Survey Module. At the United Nations the Food and Agricultural Organisation has developed a Food Insecurity Experience Scale. Proper implementation of these tools in existing surveys would allow robust and effective measurement.

By committing to measure household food insecurity in the UK, the government would also be working towards meeting its obligations under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – especially Goal Two, which calls for an end to hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture.

Without proper measurement it is clear that both the Government and civil society are ill-equipped to understand the full extent of food insecurity. Only once the true scale of the problem is known do we stand a chance of responding effectively, and ensuring that no-one goes hungry in the UK.

You can read the full letter here.