Monday, 21 September 2015

Cake Making and Campaigning

Guest blog by Mary Dorrell, Norfolk Federation of Women’s Institutes, PA Chair

On September 17th the first ever WI meeting in the Houses of Parliament took place. The meeting launched a major new publication reflecting on the WI’s history and its members’ views on some of the UK’s biggest social issues, as part of the “Parliament in the Making” season celebrating the Magna Carta.

A WI meeting needs a cake and I had the privilege of baking Julie Clarke's (North Yorkshire Federation) winning centenary recipe for the occasion.

The whole process set me thinking about the WI's history of Resolutions and Campaigns. You see, when I look at the ingredients assembled, I remember that the WI is synonymous with good food and its preparation. This theme has been a regular theme in resolutions and debates, for example, in 1955 the NFWI passed a resolution that welcomed “the Clean Food Bill now before Parliament. They pledge themselves to maintain a high standard of cleanliness in their own homes and to demand it in public places especially at Women’s Institute gatherings.” And with ingredients coming from UK, EU, Commonwealth and USA, I am reminded that the “Great Food Debate” is truly global and that the WI has long sought International understanding and co-operation, as in 1921when an early resolution declared: “That this meeting urges all Women’s Institutes and County Federations within the National Federation to encourage the study of the principles underlying the League of Nations.

Not all the ingredients are easy to source in Norfolk and I remember the regional differences and diversity we celebrate within the WI. The pinhead currants: familiar to Lancashire and Yorkshire members had to be researched and sourced online.

When I look at the eggs, I remember our concerns about animal welfare. A resolution submitted from Cambridgeshire Federation to the June 1937 AGM stated: “That this meeting of delegates from WIs in England and Wales approves the action of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in endeavouring to secure international agreement for the protection of animals through the League of Nations, and pledges itself heartily to support its efforts.

When I look at the butter, I remember “Mission Milk” and the need to “Support British Dairy”. Find out more about the campaign here.

All the ingredients make me remember our COOL campaign for clear country of origin food labelling: “The meeting urges HM government to introduce clear and mandatory country of origin labelling on all meat, poultry and fish products sold in this country.”  Submitted by Bengeo Evening WI, Hertfordshire Federation in June 2010

I look at the candied peel and cherries and I have to decide how finely to chop them up. Is many and smaller always better? I remember the eight Millennium Development Goals we made members aware of through our Women reaching Women initiative.

Later this month, 25th September to 27th September a United Nations Summit will launch the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Is this too fine?

Project Everyone, founded by Richard Curtis has the simple but mighty ambition to share the global goals with 7 billion people in 7 days. You may have read about this in Emma Freud's column in the Telegraph.

Is Goal 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, going to be effective? Will past gains in moving women into equality, as well as out of poverty, be allowed to regress or be restored and strengthened?

I remember our 1999 resolution on  Women’s Human Rights “This meeting deplores the fact that women’s human rights continue to be violated worldwide and calls upon the governments of the world to adhere to the commitments made at the Fourth UN Convention on Women 1995, ‘that women’s human rights are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights’ and to implement policies to this end.”

Now the tin must be prepared and when I look at it I remember that all legislation, just like baking a cake requires a lot of prior investigation, calculations and preparations.

A lot of White Paper(s) are involved and the whole thing is wrapped around with journalism/newspaper.

In the WI we like to put just as much work into preparing our resolutions, and as I finally begin to mix everything together I remember how a resolution is assembled. The individual parts have to be investigated, collated and are ready to be put together. 

During the summer it must be collated and passed at local level. Off to short-listing …. will it rise and be in the short-list, or even make it to the AM for voting?

Where will our campaigning take us next? Will we continue as cake bakers and trouble makers (or as the Guardian had us: “pleasingly bolshie”)? 

Maybe our inspiration will come from Africa and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia): “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

More information about the report can be found here: