2015 marks 100 years since the first WI meeting was held. The WI’s early aims - to ensure that women are able to play an effective part in their communities, to improve and develop the quality of life for everyone, and to influence local, national and international affairs on the issues that matter to members remain relevant today. Over the past 100 years, WI members have been fulfilling that remit through tireless campaigning. With roots in villages, towns and cities across England, Wales and the islands, members nationwide get behind WI campaigns, building pressure and often maintaining momentum over a period of years until they see a result.
With new campaigns launched every year the WI has tackled many of the big issues facing our society, raising awareness of taboo issues and helping to deliver real change along the way. Here are some highlights of these campaigns:
- In 1943 a resolution was passed calling for 'equal pay for equal work' and the WI was represented for many years on the Equal Pay Campaign Committee. Members kept up momentum for decades, lobbying the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1950s and then campaigning for equal pay in professions such as teaching. By 1970 the NFWI was backing Employment Secretary, Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Bill.
- In 1954 a resolution to 'inaugurate a campaign to preserve the countryside against desecration by litter' led to the formation of the Keep Britain Tidy group and was influential in transforming litter policy following the introduction of the 1958 Litter Act.
- The WI first campaigned on jury service in 1921, urging women to 'accept their full responsibilities as citizens in whatever way they may be called upon to serve their country'. In 1964 the WI were still campaigning on jury service, now calling for the removal of restrictions against women serving. This was finally achieved with the Juries Act of 1974.
In celebration of the WI Centenary we have put together a snapshot of campaign highlights, examining the WI's role promoting women's rights, fostering health awareness, encouraging sustainable development and building a fairer society. It can be found on the website here:
For more information about the history of WI campaigns, please see our website: http://www.thewi.org.uk/campaigns/the-wi-history-of-campaigning