Friday, 27 November 2015

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and provides a vital opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support to people who live with HIV and remember those who have died. Inaugurated in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

The NFWI was one of the first organisations in the UK to talk publicly about HIV and AIDS following its 1986 resolution ‘to inform the general public of the true facts concerning the disease AIDS’ and used its unrivalled network of local organisations to educate the public and get people talking about the issue. One of its first tasks was to debunk the myth that AIDS wasn't a women’s issue. Just because women were officially categorised as a low risk group, the NFWI argued, that didn’t mean that the challenges AIDS presented to women weren’t real, pressing, or unique.  

To tackle this misinformation and produce information relevant to women, the NFWI teamed up with the Terrence Higgins Trust to help publish and produce the educational pamphlet ‘Women and AIDS,’ aimed at sparking a dialogue amongst women about the disease and how to protect themselves and their families. Marylyn Haines Evans, the chair of the WI’s public affairs committee was in fact part of that campaign. Haines Evans distributed Terrence Higgins Trust’s ‘Women and AIDS’ pamphlets “around village halls educating much older women about condoms and sexual health.” In contrast to what some may think older women are interested in, Haines Evans recollected that “they wanted to learn.” 

In the years immediately following the resolution, WI members participated in the government’s awareness raising campaign and challenged media characterisations of AIDS as a ‘plague’ because ‘this has led to unnecessary prejudice and extreme isolation for many sufferers.’ The NFWI also submitted evidence to the Social Services Committee inquiry on AIDS. In 1987 the BBC challenged the WI to ‘Face up to AIDS’ by organising public meetings to discuss the disease. The BBC subsequently reported that the WI response was amongst the best received, with Federations taking part up and down the country. This resolution is proof that, as the Terrence Higgins Trust said in 1986, ‘the WI does not flinch from the more difficult issues that face society.’

Despite significant advancements in HIV treatment and care, World AIDS Day remains as important as ever. There are over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. In many regions of the world women are at a higher risk of HIV infection than men; there are an estimated 380,000 new HIV infections among young women aged 15 – 24 every year with 80% of all young women living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women are a vulnerable group in the fight against HIV; they are particularly at risk due to societal norms such as gender-based violence, lack of access to healthcare services and lack of access to education. A number of studies have shown that intimate partner violence (IPV) increases the risk of HIV infection, as well as unwanted pregnancy. For example, a study from South Africa found that young women who experienced IPV were 50% more likely to acquire HIV than those who did not experience violence. Societal norms regarding gender-based violence also increase a woman’s risk of HIV. A study from Tanzania found that women are expected to stay loyal to their partner even if they are being abused; however men are encouraged to engage in unprotected extramarital sex, thus passing on the infection.

Women can face significant barriers in accessing health care services and education, for example child marriage can mean girls are taken out of school early, resulting in a lack of education about HIV. In addition, youth friendly HIV services are often inadequate due to age restrictions and lack of training on the laws around the age of consent and abortion legislation. For some women, working in the sex industry is their only choice to earn money, which means they are particularly affected by the age restrictions on health care services if they are under eighteen.

Charities such as Wise Up are trying to improve services for sex workers and their clients in Ethiopia by expanding HIV prevention services to venues associated with transactional sex to address underlying factors such as limited access to condoms and education. In addition, the charity Sophia Forum supports the health and welfare rights of women with HIV living in the UK by promoting prevention and treatment for women and increasing understanding of women’s sexual health.

The WI’s pioneering work helped fuel debates specifically about women and HIV and challenge the stereotypes people so often had about AIDS.

The NFWI asks that WI members take a moment today to commemorate World AIDS Day by speaking with their friends, family, and colleagues about the virus and asking yourself what you could do to help educate others and support those living with HIV and AIDS. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

WI Tea - Cheshire Federation's digital transformation

By Rachel Hughes, CFWI's Webeditor

Many of our WI members in the 40 plus age bracket find themselves in the group of women who left school before digital literacy became the 3rd basic skill taught in schools.

These members now find themselves making up part of the 10.5 million people in this country who have never been online.  Unless they worked for a company who encouraged the development of digital skills, then they can find themselves excluded from large parts of our modern society which is based on digital literacy.

Since the NFWI ran its initial Digital Champions scheme a few years ago computer skills have been superseded by the introduction of tablets. Many members find tablets easier to use and we have seen a rapid growth of interest from members wanting to use the internet and looking for support in doing so. Children and grandchildren have bought tablets for ‘Mum’ or ‘Gran’ but not sat down to help them come to terms with the new technology.

Our members have coped with so much rapid change over the years. They have all coped with new modes of transport and methods of communication and new gadgets in the home.  Tablets and the use of laptops can also be taken on-board quite readily with just a little help and support, and welcome guidance to the meaning of new words which have entered their vocabulary.

Cheshire Federation has spent the last 12 months improving its internet access and support for members.  The new website www.cheshirewi, has attracted half a million visits since it went live at the start of the centenary year.  Within the website are links to every WI in the Federation, where they can include links to their own websites and Facebook and Twitter pages.  Every WI in the Federation can also have their own information page within the county website to promote themselves and use as an independent web page if they want to.  WIs recognise the importance of a web presence to bring new members into their WIs and now over 60% of the WIs in Cheshire have taken advantage of these promotional tools.

On WI day on 16th September 2015 we launched the Cheshire Federation Facebook page and have attracted friends from all over the world who follow our posts.  We received over 2,000 hits for the first meeting of the newly formed WITea training session held in WI House on 28th October. Through Facebook we can keep in touch with WIs and Federations and share events and information amongst our members.

One of the WIs in our Federation submitted a Resolution this year to alert members to the problems of digital exclusion.  The resolution was not shortlisted, but we believe in what we are doing and are helping to offer support to our own members.

With the help of Cheshire East and Cheshire Libraries we have now launched our WITea scheme to train WI members who enjoy the benefits of being online, giving them the information they need to help their fellow members to use the internet for friendship, shopping and banking online safely.

We are rolling out support through WIs across the county making use of the resources which are free of charge to members of the libraries.  We also have computers and a WIFi hub in WI House in Chester which is used for running IT sessions for members.

Our second training session is being held at Macclesfield Library this week and in the New Year we are going to offer more drop-in sessions at libraries across the county and in WI House.

Now they are trained, members of the scheme are already running one to one sessions with fellow members and have set up WI training groups within their own WIs.  With the help of the MOODLE we have put together training materials and information to share with members and are busy setting up guidelines for internet protocol.

The last stage of the Cheshire Federation reaching the digital age is the launch of an online newsletter for members to subscribe to in 2016.

As to our WITea and cupcake logo.  Our scheme does what it says on the tin.  We offer IT support to WI members over a cup of tea and a cake.  The WI Inspiring Women.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Wasted food

Guest blog by Ruth Bond, Barton WI
Resealed, shrink wrapped, and bottled, are just three of the methods the packaging industry has introduced to preserve food stuffs for longer, and all in the name of reducing food wastage. A supermarket guru to shop with you, or the chance to be that supermarket’s town of the year are just two initiatives in the continuing lesson of how to use food for the consumer’s benefit and not to the detriment of the food stuff.  In other words, these are all actions we should try in order to eat what we buy before it goes off and, sadly still the case in many areas, topples into landfill pits or onto landfill mounds. 

We have come some way since the launch of the WI’s Love Food Hate Waste project in 2007 and WI Food Champions roamed the land, but the waste continues.

Last week the WI took part in IGD’s Working on Waste Debate ( with a panel of five from the world of legalities, packaging, selling, government, and the WI. There was the lawyer to make sure that collaboration does not restrict competition; the European director of marketing from a design and packaging company; a supermarket’s head of sustainability, energy and engineering; the director of WRAP to worry about waste every day; and the WI – to consume and try to teach what to do with leftovers.

Do we need industry to collaborate or be competitive, and is it behavioural change both en mass and individually that will stop the seven million tonnes of food waste generated by households yearly? How can we stop the avoidable 4.2million tonnes of that wasted food?

In the WI, we know it is a combination of education and practical teaching, as well as words that bring about a change in the individual. Supermarkets’ hold over producers and consumers also needs to be acknowledged and changed, and profit has to be relegated from top slot in order to feed our nation.  Something is wrong somewhere.

However, every individual action does make a difference. To alter a strap line of one of the major supermarkets: each small action to use, rather than abuse, food means a little less to throw away. Unsightly but still good vegetable and fruit can be used, and sell by dates have a lot to answer for. Perhaps a current television programme will go some way to getting the message over to more consumers on how not to waste food, but those Love Food Champions need to put on their aprons again and rally to the cause.

When there’s a problem, who do you call? The food myth busters – Food Champions, Let’s Cook tutors – the WI!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

White Ribbon Day - 25th November

The White Ribbon Campaign is an international effort by men and boys towards ending Violence Against Women (VAW). On 25 November (International White Ribbon Day and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) men across the world speak out against male VAW. In the UK, the White Ribbon Campaign runs from 25 November until 10 December (Human Rights Day).

The first White Ribbon Campaign was launched in 1991 by a group of men in Canada in response to the brutal mass shooting of 14 female students at the University of Montreal in 1989.  The first White Ribbon Day in the UK was launched by Womankind in 1998 and in 1999 the UN officially recognised 25 November as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is shocking to note that up to three million women across the UK experience some form of VAW each year.  If we are to challenge the attitudes towards VAW and behaviours that persist in our society, men must be part of the solution.

In support of White Ribbon Day, since 2012 NFWI-Wales has worked with Joyce Watson AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales on the Not in my Name Campaign; a campaign to recruit male ambassadors to speak out against VAW and to make a pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about VAW.  

Ann Jones, NFWI Chair of Federations of Wales Committee, and Joyce Watson AM

Over the years, the campaign has been supported by a broad range of bodies and groups from the Welsh Rugby Union and Glamorgan Cricket to Only Men Aloud, the Wales YFC and the Cardiff Devils.  WIs have also been using their strong community links to recruit male ambassadors and groups from their communities such as sports clubs, male voice choirs and businesses.

Cardiff Blues
The White Ribbon is a symbol of hope for a world where women and girls can live free from the fear of violence. By wearing a white ribbon and speaking against VAW, men can play their part in raising awareness that VAW should never be accepted, ignored or excused and challenge the attitudes and behaviours of a minority of men who use or condone violence against women.

As part of our Not in my Name campaign, we are urging people to sign to our Thunderclap message to send out a strong message that VAW will not be tolerated and to pledge support for the Not in my Name Campaign.  Sign up to the Thunderclap at 

Also, on 25 November, NFWI-Wales will be holding a candlelight vigil in Cardiff Bay to mark White Ribbon Day, show solidarity with victims of VAW across the world and spread the message that VAW is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

For further information about the Not in my Name Campaign, please visit