Thursday, 17 December 2009

I have sampled my first Twitter party; and what a fantastic experience it was.  Invited by Sarah Brown to No 10 Downing Street, I mingled with individuals and organisations, all as surprised as I was at being invited, whom the Prime Minister’s wife follows on Twitter.  Sarah hosted this party to raise the profile of Million Mothers campaign, which raises awareness of the many women across the world who still die in pregnancy and childbirth.  Highlighting this issue must eventually lead to better care – one day.

As I went upstairs in No 10 to that event the Prime Minister himself came down the same stairs exhorting me to “enjoy the party”. That party I did enjoy, but I certainly did not enjoy the party in Copenhagen he is attending right now. In fact, the WI cut short its stay in the Danish capital because it could not gain access to the Bella Conference Centre to attend the UN climate change talks. Many hundreds of people, no, thousands, were in the same position  and the organisation of the whole event left a lot be desired.  To have the right cards in one’s possession to allow entry, entry first had to be gained.  Once in the centre, after waiting for more than five and a half hours in the freezing cold, and with no explanation as to why, (no facilities either!) the collection point for said cards was closed.  Hence no opportunity to collect them before our proposed 9.30am meeting the next morning with Joan Ruddock MP. The collection point would open at 10.00am!

I could go on, but discourse at this stage will not change a disastrous situation. Even though we were in telephone contact with relevant people inside the Centre they could do nothing to change the entry criterion. So the whole WI delegation – the Head of the Delegation (me) and the WI’s climate change campaigns officer (Emily) – decided to cut its losses and return to England, complete with head colds brewing and looking forward to a proper meal.

Now, from a warmer distance the whole experience was as bad as it felt at the time. I am completely confident that the WI would have done a much better job of organization. But the real point is that by not even being allowed into the conference, ordinary women’s voices were ignored and the role of women was undermined. We were left feeling humiliated at being ignored along with the many other NGOs there and annoyed at the cost and CO2 emissions perpetrated by the thousands who, like the WI, did not gain entry to the most important conference in a long time for the future of this planet. Lets hope that this will not be an opportunity missed. 

Thursday, 10 December 2009


WI members from around the country attended The Wave event in London on Saturday 5 December – I asked Joy Thompson, a fellow NFWI Board member, to give her account of her first ever march.

The Wave, London, December 5th 2009 – unbelievably my first but hopefully not last, protest march – and what’s more over 40,000 others agreed and joined me including a wonderful band of WI supporters. I say supporters because we had daughters, children, and young men with us – mum or gran had obviously put out the three line whip!

What a great day – how exciting it was to see members pouring in from all over the UK, some coming down on special buses and trains, others making their own way into central London. After our pre-event in the Mayfair library gave us the opportunity to meet with other WI members who had come from round the country, we set off towards Grosvenor Square to gather with the thousands of others who had congregated there.

Every side of Grosvenor Square was packed with people, virtually all in varying shades of blue, including faces and hands – our blue Marigolds making it difficult to miss the WI contingent!

Along with hundreds of other organisations hoisting aloft banners and carrying placards, we set off towards Parliament through the ‘posher’ areas of London (despite the nightingales I’d never been to Berkeley Square!), past the Connaught Hotel, Claridges, the Ritz and Fortnum & Mason, down Regent Street to Westminster where we encircled the Houses of Parliament over Lambeth and Westminster Bridges ready for The Wave at 3.00pm. There were so many of us that we had to stop between the bridges as it wasn’t safe to let any more through.

What an amazing experience, no trouble at all (as far as I could see), support from passers by, redundant policemen lining the route and smiling us through, fantastic dragons, pandas, costumes and an incredible atmosphere from start to finish. More importantly, the paramount feeling that we were all there to publicise a vital cause and encourage the governments of the world to come together at last to reach viable decisions that will affect all our futures but especially those of our children and their children. Now let’s see exactly what they can come up with at Copenhagen – and pray that it is something substantial that will make a difference.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Campaigns, Party Conferences and Inspirational Women

Since I last signed in much of my time has been taken with attending talks and discussions on our different campaigns.

Together with some of our Bee Ambassadors I paid a visit to the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York. We were introduced to its Bee Base and also saw the veroa mite close up, as well as the devastating effects of its infestation in bee hives.

The visit to FERA was swiftly followed by a day of lobbying the three main political parties, including, government Minister Joan Ruddock MP, on climate change. In particular, this conference identified the WIs concern around the disproportionate consequences climate change can have for women – this should be a major issue in the Copenhagen talks in December.

Next was a round table discussion at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on issues of gender in the upcoming Equalities Bill. Then, on to a meeting with Philip Sellwood, Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust – always with a view to adding different activities to our environmental campaigns.

A talk on the Care Not Custody Campaign at the Action for Prisoners’ Families Conference in Birmingham came just before we handed over 1,550 signatures from WI members to Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, at his office in Whitehall Place. Both he and Minister Joan Ruddock have agreed to speak with the WI in Copenhagen so that our voice can be heard.

And last but by no means least, lunch with the Calendar Girls, original and current theatre cast, at the Women of The Year Awards. What a great event it was, full of inspiring women from all over the UK.

This action packed month has once again made me feel very proud of our great organization and the impact members are having in all parts of today’s society.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Party Experience

During the last two weeks I’ve had The Party Experience – conferences, that is. The WI has travelled to both Brighton and Manchester having been invited to the Labour and Conservative party conferences. We were invited to add our voice to debates on the Equalities Bill and the inappropriate imprisonment of the mentally ill.

At the Labour conference, a crowded room listened to Vera Baird MP and Trevor Phillips from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as well as a representative of the Fawcett Society (who hosted the event) and Unison extolling the virtues of the Equalities Bill.

I told them that the WI had been waiting since 1921 for successive governments to address many gender inequalities, not least that of pay which the WI raised directly way back in 1943. I could only concur with the sentiment of ‘get on with it’ put by an audience member who reminded us all that in the mid 70s it was decreed that women’s pay from then on would be set at a minimum of 80% of a man’s wage for an identical job!

At the Conservative conference, many of the participants at the round table discussion set up by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health were really encouraged to see the WI there too.

The merits of the Bradley report were acknowledged. It’s implementation is a major undertaking that needs all relevant agencies to work together. When this joint working practice does occur then imprisonment for crimes committed after agency ‘neglect’ from a young age will drastically decrease.

The WI’s involvement in a mentoring pilot project for vulnerable women based at the Ashe Centre in Worcestershire could prove a vital step in helping vulnerable people stay out of prison and the WI’s suggestion of training prison staff, who are right there, to listen when offenders need to talk, is a step forward (incidentally, currently used in Manchester).

However the ghost at the banquet remains the lack of money for diversion services compared to the creation of new prison places. The time for talk is over and everyone must now work together to help the people at risk of slipping through the system.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Saving our honey bees

Last Wednesday I met Sarah Brown in the garden of 10 Downing Street, with representatives from other organisations, to discuss the plight of our honey bees.

The Prime Minister’s wife is very interested in the issue and has planted bee friendly plants in No. 10’s garden. This is something we all can do and the suggestion of asking local authorities to do the same – as the WI has already done – is the obvious next step.

The veroa mite has destroyed many hives. Habitats of many species of bees and insects are also being lost because of some pesticides, lack of planting and less planting of the right vegetation. Insects are the best monitors of our environment so when the beetles, bugs and bees are not there, something is wrong.

The pollination of apple trees depends upon the bees sourcing the sweetest of pollen otherwise the apples will be made into juice rather than apples for eating.

The £10 million promised by government for research into the demise of all pollinating insects has not yet been distributed. According to the British Beekeepers Association, the same sum is still needed to reverse the plight of the honeybee according to the BBKA.

You can help by planting bee friendly plants or attending a bee keeping course at Denman College in Oxfordshire - there is always a need for more trained bee keepers.

If you want to do more, get involved in our Bee Aware Action Week: 24 – 31 October. Visit the WI website for more detilas.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Women Reaching Women project update

A 2008 poll asked which Millennium Development Goal issues the government should focus on. Promoting gender equality and empowering women ranked last.

Our three-year Women Reaching Women campaign aims to raise awareness of world poverty, inequality and climate change, focussing particularly on how women are affected.

We want our communities to know why promoting gender equality worldwide is of vital importance to achieving sustainable development. Then together we can send a message to the government that empowering women should be at the top of our international development agenda. It is through this work at the grassroots level that we can contribute to lasting change in the lives of women around the world.

This time it’s not about fundraising. Instead, WI members are doing what they do best: bringing a marginalised issue to the forefront of national concern, to change the terms of the debate and ultimately achieve government commitment, support and funds allocated to this issue.

WIs are holding events for WI members and their communities around the country. Events so far have taken place at dinner parties, town halls, universities and even the local zoo! The main aim is to get people together to learn about global poverty and particularly how women are affected - and then spread the word.

The campaign is part funded by the Department for International Development we are working closely with Oxfam and the Everyone Foundation.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

10:10 Campaign launched at the Tate Modern

I’ve been at the launch of or part of many climate change campaigns in recent years but the most recent 10:10 campaign has high ambitions that calls on everyone and every organisation to get involved and make the difference. Well, they did.

We all descended on Tate Modern yesterday: local authorities and primary care trusts rubbed shoulders with school children and the NFWI (of course); churches and museums met student unions and energy companies, Royal Societies and theatres. A few celebrities were there too.

This campaign comes from the filmmakers behind the Age of Stupid.

10:10 has much in common with the WI’s own Carbon Challenge, which encouraged individuals to reduce their carbon emissions through a change in lifestyle. The campaign lists 10 simple actions that any person can take to cut their emissions by 10% during 2010, starting now. And if individuals can do it so can any organisation.

The launch was like a pop concert with wrist bands and a 10:10 tag to hang around our neck, made from an old 747 plane. The bands were there too.

If the people of the UK not only pledge to cut their emissions but actually do cut their emissions then the Government will go into UN negotiations with other countries in December in Copenhagen with a real groundswell of support from the people.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The challenges facing women in Zimbabwe

Women’s rights around the world is an issue that WI members feel very strongly about. In June 2007, members attending our AGM voted to send a letter to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband about women’s rights in Zimbabwe.

Based on our Women’s Human Rights resolution of 1999, the letter expressed our concern at the Zimbabwean Government’s actions and urged the Foreign Secretary to use his influence to take action to help women in Zimbabwe access affordable sanitary protection without threat or intimidation.

While the government’s response to our letter highlighted various initiatives it supported in Zimbabwe, none directly addressed the issue of women’s sanitary protection.

Since Zimbabwe’s economic decline began, the price of sanitary goods has increased to three-quarters of a woman’s monthly salary. Most Zimbabwean women simply cannot afford this.

In late 2005, the Dignity! Period. campaign was launched by Action for South Africa (ACTSA). This was to support the rights of Zimbabwe women to have access to safe and hygienic sanitary protection every month. You can read more about the impact that lack of access to sanitary products has on women and girls by visiting their website.

Recently manufactures that have supported the Dignity! Period. campaign for the past two years have withdrawn their support. Sadly, despite the power-sharing agreement within Zimbabwe’s new MDC-Zanu PF unity government, basic sanitary protection is still completely unaffordable to the vast majority of women in the country. To find out more and get involved, please visit the Dignity! Period. campaign website.

You can find our more about the WI’s work on women’s rights issues worldwide on our website.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Welcome to my blog

In recent months I have posted on this blog as Chair of the NFWI’s Public Affairs committee, the part of the WI that takes on most of the campaigning.

But I was elected Chair of the NFWI in June which means my ‘area of responsibility’ is now the whole organisation. Wow! Together with many other members, I work to achieve the WI’s objectives of enabling women to make a difference in their communities and to provide a setting for learning. This can be within an individual WI, in a federation, at our adult education centre, Denman College, in Oxfordshire, or from campaigning action.

There is a niche for every woman in the WI with lots of opportunities to make friends and to have fun. I know this is true. I joined the WI more than 30 years ago at the age of 23 and have made so many friends and had the best times; and I still love being part of the WI.

I will be blogging on a range of subjects and issues in the coming months and look forward to hearing your comments.

Monday, 20 July 2009

WI samples life inside Wandsworth prison (Guest blog)

Living less than half a mile from Wandsworth prison I have always been curious about its inner workings. An austere, Victorian place, I walk past it often and my local pub, the County Arms, sits in its shadow and is a favourite with prison officers.

Through the NFWI’s Care Not Custody campaign I was offered the opportunity to visit the prison, alongside several WI ladies from other federations and a journalist from the Independent on Sunday.

After you hand over your mobile phone and passport, the first thing you notice upon arrival is the friendliness of the staff. We met the acting-Governor, who told us in glowing terms how happy she is to work for the prison service. She was joined by two staff from the vocational skills team and they were also friendly and very happy in their work.

Having half imagined an austere and forbidding atmosphere I was pleasantly surprised by the warm atmosphere of the place. Of course as guests we would be given somewhat special treatment, but the rapport between guards and inmates seemed jovial and there appeared to be a lot of trust invested in the inmates.

When you think of a prison you automatically think of Porridge and sitting on a bunk ticking off the days: But not here. Wandsworth Prison has some excellent vocational initiatives, especially designed to help the inmates get jobs “on the out”. Dave, a guard and our guide around part of the prison, said the prison tried to mimic the outside world, where people must be productive and not just go to the gym or sit around all day.

To that end prisoners can sign up to study brick-laying, plastering, sewing, computing and even motorbike maintenance. Everything is geared towards gaining skills that will make the inmates more employable once they are released, and hopefully break the cycle of re-offending. There is even a small garden and chickens in one corner of the complex, with plans to expand.

For me, the most fascinating part of the tour was E Wing, the original Victorian part of the prison. In E wing we went to the “first night” accommodation on the ground floor (alcoholics are housed one floor up and drug addicts separately – for good reason – on the floor above).

This is where new prisoners are brought to be assessed and monitored during their first night. The prison psychiatrist explained that this is when inmates are at their most vulnerable and likely to self harm or worse. This is a real risk in prison. Just the night before our visit, we were told, a Chinese man who spoke no English had been hospitalised after pouring a kettle full of boiling water over himself.

No one ever plans to go to prison and inmates will often arrive at Wandsworth after a whirlwind trip from the police station, to Court and on to the prison. Shock, resentment, stress and anxiety are then at their peak. The prison psychiatrist told us this is why she believes diversion schemes should be favoured over custodial sentences – a key goal of our Care Not Custody campaign.

The prison psychiatrist estimated 80% of inmates have at least one mental health issue. It seems logical that a prison environment is going to exacerbate these underlying problems and make not one iota of difference towards rehabilitation and treatment. There must be another way.

Despite this, my overriding impression from the prison visit – apart from resolving always to avoid a more permanent trip inside – is that there is a dedicated team of people working to do a tremendous job within a system they know is not perfect.

Jill Grieve, Wandsworth WI (Guest blogger)

Let the digging begin...(Guest blog)

Wandsworth WI has found a novel way to combine the No More Violence Against Women campaign and the WI’s commitment to environmental sustainability by planting a vegetable garden for a women’s refuge in south London.

It really hit home to me what being part of the Women's Institute is all about last week when we did our first 'official' WI project together. We are a fairly new WI in Wandsworth and I am a very new President in this world of fabulously established, intelligent, beautiful and terribly witty women of the WI. It must be said that I formed the Wandsworth branch because not only did I aspire to be a Calendar Girl but I saw this as a way to campaign for things I truly believe in and genuinely do good things for the community I live in.

Our chosen charity is the Wandswoth Women's Aid, a fantastic organisation that houses women and children that have experienced domestic violence (which is obviously one of the WI's biggest campaigns). We thought long and hard about how we could add just a small something to enhance their lives after having been through such an ordeal. So we applied for a grant from Capital Growth to plant a kitchen garden in their backyard and were lucky enough to get it!

So the work began.... We prepared for a couple of months prior to the planting and finally on a(thankfully sunny) Sunday we embarked on mission one - clearing the garden. A big thanks to Fiskars for getting us some of the most fabulous tools any of us have ever used as they made the gardening easy and fun, not a chore at all!

The photographs show how much work we did, clearing, digging and planting yummy veggies for the ladies and children to grow and eat. We have began creating a manual for the house so they all know exactly what is growing and how to look after it as well as delicious, simple and easy recipes too. Hopefully if this project is a success we can roll it out nationally as the WWA is just one of hundreds of shelters throughout the UK - maybe there is one that could use the same care near you?

I can tell you there were a lot of emotions felt by all of us girls throughout the day and there were a few tears of joy as the sun went down over the beautiful garden we had created. Even more tears came as we watched the children's excitement once we had finished. They all swore they would love the garden as much as we do and according to the WWA they have been guarding it ever since and when the first tomatoes were red and ready to eat last week, well it was like Christmas had come early!

Rebecca Sullivan, Wandsworth WI President (Guest blogger).

Monday, 6 July 2009

Mili-band sends message to Ed: coal is not the answer

Standing as part of a human chain on the edge of a field in Hoo is not the usual way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But I was truly glad to give up part of my weekend to reiterate the dire message to Ed Miliband that the country does NOT NEED a new generation of coal fired power stations and just one on that field in Hoo would go a long way to negate all that the government promised it would put on the table at Copenhagen.

That “Eastenders” actress, Nina Wadia, should give up her Saturday afternoon, and on her wedding anniversary too, to join in the rally and walk a long distance round a field as well, indicates that people do care what happens to our country and to our world. Dirty coal is NOT the way forward in cutting emissions.

The NFWI‘s postcards to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change were signed by many people on Saturday. Ed, you have to listen.

Ruth Bond, NFWI Chair

WI join 'Mili-band' against 'dirty' coal power station

On Saturday 4 July, representatives from organisations including the Woodcraft Folk, the RSPB, Oxfam, and the World Development Movement went to Kingsnorth power station in Kent to form a human band around the site of a proposed new coal fired power station. The NFWI was part of the coalition, with members from across the country coming to take part. The NFWI believes that climate change is one of the most momentous challenges to face this generation, and that this is the year in which serious action must be taken. With the UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in December seeking a global deal on emissions cuts, the decision in the UK to create a new generation of coal fired power stations which do not capture their own emissions would clearly show that our government is not serious about tackling climate change at home.

After the event, we spoke to one of the members who went on the march to tell Ed Miliband (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) that he should say “no” to new dirty coal.

Was this your first experience of being on a protest march and what inspired you to become involved in climate change protesting?

My first experience of a protest march was the Stop Climate Chaos event in London in December 2008. It took me a number of years to get to where I am now; looking at news articles, reading a little more into the science behind the arguments, listening to experts talking about the issues all led me to believe that climate change is a real threat that we cannot ignore. I think it was the sheer magnitude of the threat that we face which made me want to get involved in actually protesting. At first, you can’t believe that nobody’s acting on the urgency of the situation, then you realise that the only way to promote such a sense of urgency is to stand up and make your voice count. The threat is so far removed from people’s everyday lives that it difficult to see how it relates, but the threat is so great that there is a real need for big events like this to push the urgency of the message home.

I’m really pleased to see that the NFWI is involved in things like this because, as an organisation, it has so much credibility behind it that can only help to further the cause of tackling climate change. It was also good to see other organisations like the RSPB, Oxfam and others at the event, as all of those organisations have the credibility and mainstream audience that will be really important in making a different to our climate.

What was it like being at the event on Saturday?

The atmosphere was really good actually! It was inspiring to see so many different people there, particularly families with children. Everyone was clearly so committed to the cause that it really made you believe that someone else out there cares as much as you – really inspiring for me. The speakers during the rally in the afternoon were also excellent – the Bangladeshi speaker who spoke about such traumatic experiences during her life, all as a result of our changing climate, had a huge influence on me. As I went home on the train from the event, I kept returning to think about her story and it did really make you think about what we’re doing.

Will you be coming to any of the events we’re involved in during the rest of this important year?

Yes! I’ll be coming to the Stop Climate Chaos march in London on 5 December and am trying to coordinate a group to travel there together from our local area. I’m involved in the Transition Towns initiative, alongside Friends of the Earth, so I’m trying to get a big contingent together.

I think it can be a little bit frightening if you don’t know what to expect from events like these, but I would honestly encourage people to attend as in my experience there is nothing to worry about. Even if it’s just to meet other people and find out what they think, it is so important to find out more about the issues. I would really encourage everyone to find out more about climate change, particularly about the scientific evidence, as that was what really convinced me that it was happening. Now I am so convinced that it is of the utmost importance that we all come together and tackle this issue, which really does matter to everyone as it will impact on all of our lives in the future.

Celia Carter, Terriers Evening WI, Buckinghamshire Federation

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Earth Hour 2009

As Big Ben’s illuminated face went dark on the evening of Saturday 28 March at 8.30 pm, so did the lights in many WI members’ homes; and as a gesture of support Cambridge Federation hosted a supper for members and friends in its office, lit with candles and light jars.

Now, some might say it was a waste of time because the emissions of the cars that brought the people there cancelled any saving made by turning off the lights. I think this can be offset though by the knowledge that was shared between the participants. Many more will now take further actions in their homes to lessen the effect they have on the changed climate. Some will make alteration to their lifestyle as a consequence of hearing of what other people do.

There are so many facets to this climate change issue. The food we ate – pineapple, strawberry, melon – enjoyed by all, but it was brought into this country by airfreight. We now expect exotic fruit to be available all year round and for that to be so it has to be brought into the country by some means. If, however, we do not buy such fruits then what of Fairtrade and the livelihoods of those in the countries where these commodities come from? And recycling was an issue also spoken of at length – all very much to do with the changing climate which was at the heart of this event.

We showed The WI film “A World Without Jam”, which looks forward to a world 20 years from now. Interested? Anyone reading this blog, please do have a look at the film – you can even download it without going leaving this site!

People who did not know each other before this evening will now make a difference to their lives but, not only that, they will make a difference to the changing climate.

Whatever ways we choose to alert people to the necessity of doing something urgently to slow down climate change can only be good – and if Big Ben can do it, so can the WI.

Ruth Bond

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Fairtrade Fortnight Launch

When I posted “Leaving the Fairtrade Foundation” on the Public Affairs Blog in July 2008 little did I think that at the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight this year I’d be giving away over 3,000 pieces of chocolate cake made with Fairtrade cocoa and sugar!

On Sunday 22 February London South Bank hosted a Fairtrade themed family sports day, highlights including making Fairtrade smoothies under pedal power and a Harry Hill look alike competition.

NFWI had been offered a promotional stand and I persuaded 3 of my friends (and I hope I can still call them my friends!) to made 45 chocolate cakes measuring 14"x 11" and weighing over 1 kilogram, the ingredients for our WI Fairtrade Chocolate cake was given to us by Sainsbury’s Supermarkets and Divine Chocolate. All 45 cakes were transported from Cambridge, Oxford and West Sussex by very varying means of transport to the South Bank. They were unpacked and cut up on site, over 3,000 pieces in all and placed in paper bags with a label bearing the WI logo and a quote saying –

“Bake for change, use the Fairtrade range”

Around 10,000 people visited the launch and this was a great opportunity to promote the WI and support Fairtrade as NFWI was one of the founder members of the Fairtrade Foundation.

It was an exhilarating and exhausting day spreading the word about WI, about our campaigns and interests and lots of women wanted to know how they could become WI members. The cake, of course, was delicious and a huge success with all the visitors – the recipe is on the WI website.

Many thanks to those who helped Emily (Boost) and I with this venture – would we consider doing it again? Well ………………

Janice Langley

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Million Women Rise

WI members from across the country joined the Million Women Rise march on 7 March to protest against violence and celebrate International Women's Day. Lynn Martin of Oakley & Deane WI attended the march from Hampshire Federation and has shared the following account of the day.

What can I write about a march that is new? It’s just a load of women with placards isn’t it? A rabble walking down Oxford Street shouting “end male violence to women”, blowing whistles, drumming and making a noise. What could they possibly hope to achieve by doing that? Particularly when the national news media did not even acknowledge the march took place. But I met groups of women who felt strongly enough to stand up and be counted. Who gave up their precious free time, travelled long distances to London, who were determined to stride out along this nation’s busiest shopping streets saying enough is enough, this has to stop.

The march began in Portman Square where I met women present from all ethnicities, some pushing pushchairs, some in wheelchairs, young, old, black, white, Asian, Arab. All saying the same thing and linking with women throughout the world. As we walked in Oxford Street I felt very moved when I witnessed the passion and determination of so many women who wanted to give other women hope. I hoped that if the sight of us gave just one woman the courage to walk away from a damaging relationship, it was worthwhile, that if it made just one man feel ashamed enough to seek help with his anger, it was worthwhile. Two women die every week as a result of male violence. It isn’t acceptable.

We marched from Portman Square to Waterloo Place where there were speeches, live performances of reggae and hip hop music, stalls with information and petitions and cakes and leaflets on the WI stall. Niki Stevens of East End WI spoke on behalf of the NFWI and I quote: “More than 50 years ago WI members called on the government to do more to prevent the rising numbers of rapes and sexual assaults. Nearly 35 years ago WI members called on the government to ensure a refuge was available in every county if not every town . . . one in 4 local authorities still lack specialist support services for women, and rural women bear the brunt of this postcode lottery”.

During the speeches a Labour MP cynically said ”we only listen when an election is due and there will be a General Election next year”. But she also said, “Get out there and use your vote and encourage your daughters [and sons] to do the same”. Women marched for us to have the right to vote and some felt so strongly they were prepared to die for that belief. They achieved their aim and so can we. Write to your MP and local councillors, make a noise and a fuss, make a difference.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Women Reaching Women

Our new Women Reaching Women campaign is another example of ground breaking actions by our organisation.

Communities extend vertically and horizontally in the 21st century, and many people are now familiar with the idea that they can be part of a community across national borders. Just as travel and technology have broken down barriers for co-existence, so can we as WI women build on our skills, honed in our locality, family and though our WI branch, and extend them to women in other countries. To join our global online community, please email

After all materialistic assets and aspirations have been stripped away, women across the world are faced with similar needs, requirements and challenges. Our actions often impact on those who are a world away, very far from mind, but for whom we are beginning, through our campaign, to take responsibility for. Women are pivotal to the survival of families and communities, through working together and better understanding we can touch and reach women all over the globe. The Women Reaching Women workbook is a fascinating read, littered with questions to provoke thought and ultimately lead us to action – which is what NFWI is respected for. To download the workbook, just log onto our website,

Caroline Macdonald

The NFWI Campaigns blog is back

The NFWI Campaigns blog is a great way for members to share campaign news and updates. If you would like to tell other members what your WI has been doing for any of the campaigns, please email your news and updates to