I am very pleased to say that just over a week ago, the amendments to the Bill to protect access to the lifeline of legal aid for domestic violence victims were accepted by the House of Lords. The Bill now goes back to the House of Commons and the NFWI is asking WI members to contact their MPs as a matter of urgency to ask for their support to ensure these improvements are not overturned and ignored. I sincerely hope the Government will do the right thing and accept these amendments when the Bill returns to the Commons.
As I’m sure many of you know, the 8 March was International Women's Day, and I represented the WI at a reception at No.10 Downing Street. Among the many guests were women who provided help for victims of domestic violence. Did you know that somewhere in the world, a woman dies every six hours as a result of domestic violence? This harrowing fact was included in a short speech from the Prime Minister, who also mentioned the Bill the government was to present that would make stalking a criminal offence, punishable with a prison sentence. The Deputy Prime Minister also commented that men should be engaged is trying to put a stop to domestic violence against women, and that they should feel ashamed that it was so common an occurrence.
Later that evening I attended another reception, this time in City Hall, London, for women and girls from all walks of life. The message was clear – any women can be as high an achiever as any man, but 'to achieve' takes hard work and determination.
Many people have used such qualities to achieve great things within their libraries, which leads me to the Libraries Lobby Day that was held on Tuesday 13 March last week with a rally in Central Hall, Westminster. After 'presenting' the 75,000 strong petition "Save our Libraries” to No 10 Downing Street in the morning, I then heard Ed Vaizey MP 'give evidence' in the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the House of Commons. Here he said much the same as he had when we met at Denman College last month; he does not believe that libraries are in crisis.
This certainly was not the feeling of the participants of the rally, not least that of Alan Gibbons compere and chair of "Speak Up for Libraries" coalition. Authors Kate Moss and Philip Ardargh, Dave Prentis of UNISON, John Dolan of CILIP and Dan Jarvis MP Shadow Culture Minister were all speakers during the day which provided a thought-provoking and varied day for everyone in attendance. I spoke to represent the WI’s perspective on the libraries campaign, and informed everyone about the successful petition handover.
Libraries are not a luxury but a necessity and the library service is an essential service. With books and the worlds they open up libraries can help dreams comes true, we can "wear another man's shoes from books"
Libraries are centres of knowledge; knowledge makes us equal and all people are entitled to knowledge - so much of which can be and is gained from libraries. We will NOT go gentle into that good night," Alan Gibbons closed the rally using this pertinent quote from Dylan Thomas.
Speak Up for Libraries was the resounding message from the day – make sure you aren’t “shushed” when championing them!