Monday, 9 March 2015

Million Women Rise - Saturday 7th March 2015

Guest blog by Nicky Amos, Somerset Federation

The Million Women Rise March takes place once a year, in London, and aims to raise awareness of all types of violence against women and children. It starts at Duke Street, near Selfridges in Oxford Street and ends two hours later in Trafalgar Square.

I am Chair of Public Affairs for Somerset Federation and have always been very supportive of the WI’s ‘No more Violence Against Women’ campaign.

As I planned to be in London for that weekend anyway, I gathered together a few friends and family, and with NFWI approval and the WI slogan “The WI, making a difference” in mind, I decided to take part.

I had a few reservations.

One was health and safety. Would it be safe?  I need not have worried. The police had closed Oxford Street and there were lots of MWR stewards ensuring the March went according to plan.

Another worry was, who would turn up? I had contacted the organizers before hand and they were a bit vague about the arrangements and the numbers expected.

I need not have worried. Lots of different organizations had come. There were several thousand of us altogether spread out all along the route. It was a very impressive sight. The sun shone, people chatted and the atmosphere was very convivial.

We were all given chant sheets and the lovely lady in this photo did a very good job of getting us all responding. Lots of people had drums and whistles. We made a great deal of noise.

I’ll be honest; I’m not a very extrovert person. Chanting in Oxford Street in front of many thousands of tourists and a few TV crews is not my normal cup of tea. But buoyed-up by the atmosphere, our group soon joined in enthusiastically.

Did we do any good? Did we raise awareness of the issue?

Frankly, before we set out I was sceptical. But people were standing three deep all along Oxford Street and Greek Street watching us pass. Many were filming us on their cameras. Lots clapped. The organisers passed out postcards telling by-standers about the organizations Million Women Rise supported.

Some tourists looked bemused. One told me marching was illegal in his country. Lots of people stopped to talk.

After stopping traffic in Shaftesbury Avenue, Haymarket and Piccadilly Circus we ended in Trafalgar Square, for a very welcome cup of tea.

Would I recommend your WI took part next year?

A resounding yes. I have never been on a march before. What an experience! My party all loved the entire afternoon. I will remember it for ever and I genuinely think we did make a difference.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Celebrating International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated every year on 8th March, was the brainchild of Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany. In 1910, she suggested an annual Women’s Day for women worldwide to celebrate their achievements and mobilise to make the case for labour rights and better working conditions. 

Over the years the Day has proved hugely successful, growing from its roots in the socialist movement to become a global day of celebration and recognition. IWD was formally recognised by the United Nations in 1975. Today, it’s a national holiday in more than 25 countries, from Afghanistan and Cuba to Zambia. It’s a day when women’s successes are recognised and celebrated, regardless of ethnic, cultural, economic or political differences.

It’s also an occasion for reflecting on past challenges and acknowledging the tremendous progress towards equal rights and women’s participation and, even more importantly, for highlighting the struggles women in different parts of the world still face today. Over a century on from the early 1900’s when a women’s day was first celebrated, the world is a very different place.  In the UK alone, women have gained the right to vote, seen education and age old professions like medicine open up, and benefited from a framework of legislation to protect against sex and pay discrimination. As we approach 8 March, we hope to see ground-breaking legislation, currently under debate in the Welsh Assembly, passed next week that would put Wales at the forefront of global efforts to eradicate domestic abuse, sexual violence and all forms of violence against women.

From the WI’s early days, members have campaigned on a wide range of social, political and economic challenges faced by women. Yet barriers remain that prevent us achieving gender equality. 

In June 1943, WI members passed a resolution calling for men and women to receive equal pay for equal work, yet women continue to be fighting for equal pay with female graduates typically paid less than men, an income gap that continues into retirement. 

Early WI resolutions passed in the 1920s highlighted the importance of women playing a prominent role in public life. West Suffolk federation’s 1921 resolution urged WIs to ‘educate members in the powers of the Parish Councils, Rural District Councils and County Councils with a view to getting local women on all these bodies.’  Despite their efforts, women remain chronically under-represented in political and public life at all levels. While there are now more female MPs than ever before, women still make up under a quarter of the House of Commons. With only one female judge on the Supreme Court and few female High Court judges, it’s clear that women have even less say in implementing the laws than in making them. 

In 1975 WI members began campaigning to tackle violence against women.  Today the scale of abuse remains staggering; official data suggests around 1.2 million women suffered domestic abuse last year. One in four women will experience domestic violence at the hands of a partner during their lives. 

So while tremendous advances have been made, gender equality remains far from a reality for women in the UK and our sisters around the world. Let’s take the time to take stock this weekend and continue working together to improve all women’s rights. How are you celebrating international women’s day and the women in your life this weekend?  

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Wear red and join Somerset Federation WI for the Million Women Rise March this Saturday, the 7th of March

The WI has long campaigned to stop violence against women and this Saturday, March 7th 2015, WI members are taking to the streets of London once more to protest endemic violence against women and girls as part of a march organised by the Million Women Rise Foundation.

The Somerset Federation will meet outside Waterstone’s in Oxford Street (W1C 2PQ) at 12.15. The march starts from nearby Duke Street at 1.15pm. Here is a link to the Somerset Federation facebook page where interested members can contact them directly if they are interested in joining up with them: 

The organisers say: “A woman’s right to live free from violence and / or the fear of violence has not been achieved. Women continue to be attacked and violated in many different ways, in our homes, on our streets, on our public transport, at our places of work. The government, the TV and newspapers do very little to address this issue; instead they often blame women for wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place.

If you think this needs to change, then join us on this women only critical mass. We need to be strong together and in large numbers. Unity is strength; the voices of many are louder together than a single voice. Together and united we are ending male violence against women and children. If you want to see change for yourself, your children, your families, your communities then come out and say no to violence against women! Every sister...bring a sister.”

It’s a woman only event so no husbands, partners, sons allowed but otherwise the more the merrier! The organisers would like everyone to try to wear red, but it’s not essential. Come as you are!