Calling All Women! Get Heard in UK Parliament!

Our very own coordinator from The Red Box Project – Stoke Newington, London went to an event about women being heard in UK politics. The sTandTall Event was held at The Houses of Parliament, London. Gemma’s account from the event is detailed below:

 

Some people seem to be born holding a placard, with their sense of justice and moral compass ready formed. Others can spend a lifetime looking inward, sometimes spurred into temporary action by a particularly grave humanitarian crisis or well-targeted aid appeal, but otherwise focussed on their own world and their own problems.

What moves a person from the latter to the former? How do people become engaged with the world around them?

I was awakened by my kids. (In this sense, figuratively, although clearly literally also!) My first baby allowed me to suddenly take breath after a hectic ten years in a demanding City job, where I worked hard, played hard and eased a quietly simmering social conscience with a few charity direct debits and marathon sponsorships. My bubble was popped. I realised that I needed to better understand the perilous disadvantage and injustice around me, that seemed to be worsening daily. I realised that I didn’t want my children to spend half their lives in wilful ignorance of their privilege, as I had done. I realised how important it was for them see in me a person I would be happy for them to become.

So I began to volunteer. I’ve provided legal advice to prisoners and people with concerns about their human rights via the Prisoners’ Advice Service and Liberty; I am a trustee of a small charity called A Mile in Her Shoes, which offers women experiencing multiple disadvantage the opportunity to find a sense of community and empowerment through run and games activities; I am the joint co-ordinator of my local Red Box Project, a scheme addressing the issue of period poverty by providing free menstrual products to girls in local schools who might otherwise go without.

I certainly don’t expect a medal for any of this by the way. I know I am horribly, horribly late to the party. But I stand by the wisdom of the proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” There’s not much point in chastising my former self for my inaction; I might as well get on with trying to make change in the present. And if there is one benefit to my tardiness, it is that I should be well placed to convince other similarly disengaged people that it is never too late to help.

It was with this in mind, that I eagerly answered this clarion call: “Calling All Women! Get Heard in UK Parliament!

The invitation was to a workshop at Parliament, to discuss how individual activists and campaigning groups can harness their power and rights to influence policy. The event was hosted by sTandTall, a charity that helps women and girls to quickly and anonymously access the support they need after they’ve been in an abusive relationship. The session was led by senior Parliamentary Outreach officer, Charlotte Dobson, who did a great job of explaining Parliamentary processes in a clear and accessible way.

It would take a while to cover all of the content (and you would obviously be much better asking Charlotte herself; she said she is happy to host similar sessions for other groups underrepresented in Parliament) but here are a few things I found particularly useful:

I knew I could contact my local MP by email and on Twitter but I hadn’t thought to identify members of the House of Lords who might be sympathetic to my agenda. (Charlotte’s top tip: google “Hansard House of Lords” and “[key issue]” for a record of historical discussions of that issue in the House of Lords.)

Nor had I thought to check the register of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) for those whose work could be relevant – for example, there are APPGs on poverty and homelessness, both of which I am now following on Twitter with interest (@APPGPoverty and @HomelessAPPG). If your local MP isn’t able to help you for whatever reason, approaching members of a relevant APPG is a great next step.

Select Committees also often have their own Twitter accounts (and an email update service you can sign-up for on the Parliament website) so that you can stay up to date with their work and be notified if they are looking for people to provide evidence or comment on developments. The Women and Equalities Select Committee has a Twitter account (@WomenEqualitiesSelect) that I am also now following.

The event was as rewarding from a networking perspective as from an educational one. There was a brilliant group of women in attendance, with a diverse range of interests and experiences. Fellow participants spoke of their work tackling such issues as period poverty, refugees’ rights, gender-based violence, post-natal rehabilitation, homelessness and mental health (I wish I had been quick enough to take notes of everyone’s introductions!). Our interests were manifold – but underpinned and unified by a focus on women’s rights and a desire to learn how to be more effective in our campaigning.

The women I spoke to were all so interesting – and interested in the projects I am working on currently! It brought particular pleasure to pass on to my Red Box sisters details of people who could be part of the Red Box Project in the future, whether as volunteers, through our partnerships with schools or both!

I left Parliament feeling motivated and energised. My work with A Mile in Her Shoes and the Red Box Project is incredibly satisfying already, but I am really eager to take things further in terms of campaigning and influencing policy.

I have realised, at last, that I have the agency and capacity to make change.

Activist? Activated.

 

Gemma Abbot – Red Box Project, Stoke Newington – Coordinator.