The Annual National Council meeting, the 54th of its kind, was a gathering of every Federation Chairman and Treasurer to discuss all things WI. One of the exciting issues raised was the fact that since the previous council meeting, 20,800 more women have become WI members and 114 new WIs have been established. Indeed, the WI has been inspiring women for 96 years now and no doubt continues to do so. The WI truly offers something for every woman. For many that can begin with new friendships and continues into learning new craft and cookery skills as well as taking part in the many campaigns instigated by members. Part of what makes the WI such a unique organisation is that it is member led at every level.
Early on Monday morning I set off to Manchester and the latest party conference, to chair another roundtable conversation with politicians and organisations with a major interest in the WI's Care not Custody campaign. This time the discussion focussed on how the idea of care is more than a wish and is now in some parts of the system and beginning to have an impact on those who come into the criminal justice system with mental health problems. We call it Keeping the Care not Custody Promise. Police, prison and several mental heath organisations attended as well as representatives from the health sector such as the NHS Confederation and Royal College of Nursing – the NHS has to be involved. So many people need to be understood, made well and diverted from a life of crime, which takes them through the revolving door of criminal justice.
We are involved in this issue because of a mandate that was formed from a resolution put forward by a WI after a suggestion from one of its members – a lady who was very familiar with mental health and the criminal justice system. I mention this because on Tuesday a day long consultation with federation representatives, known as the resolution shortlist selection meeting, took place. The resulting shortlist will be made known in a few days’ time. Watch this space.
Wednesday saw an external advisory meeting with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on what should be reported to CEDAW – The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Sadly, discrimination against women does still readily happen and most recently the WI has been concerned that there will be huge discrimination against women who experience domestic violence if the legal aid reforms, proposed by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, become law. The WI has been privileged to hear the stories of some women who feel that without access to legal aid they would have had no choice but to stay in abusive situations that ultimately would have led to their deaths!
Again, we work on this issue by dint of mandates passed as long ago as the 1930s but also one passed in 1994.
The WI has always been there for women; it still is and it inspires.
The end of the week – for me, a year older and a family celebration.
Next week I'm off to the hills of Wales to meet with the Federations of Wales committee. Da Boh u.