The event involved 18 different organisations, some members of the general public and academics. It was funded by the Eleanor Rathbone Trust, and held on Tuesday the 30th of October 2012 at the Baha’i centre, Liverpool. The Baha’i religion has the equality of women and men as a basic principle and the centre’s manager, Isaac, welcomed us, telling us that the prophet had said that the day women’s voices were heard , that day would bring peace. The delicious sit down vegetarian lunch was specially cooked for us and set the scene for excellent debate.
Inspiring speeches were given by our speakers on the varying areas they worked in, such as training for self esteem, leadership and empowerment towards employment (Sylvia Forchap of Voice of Nations), development of young women and girls with advocacy and a strong emphasis on hearing the voices of the ‘users’ themselves whether close to home or in the Houses of Parliament (Jacqui Murphy and Ali Thomas of Platform 51) and on the basic need for economic independence for all women (Maggie o’Carroll of the Women’s Organisation). The latter also stressed the imperative to work with men. ‘We must reach out even to unpromising areas!’ said Maggie.
Speakers enriched their messages with personal stories and anecdotes from their lives as well as from the female base with which they mainly work. They also participated in small group discussions which brought out central areas of concern and strategies for action.
Women there were clear on the major issues in Merseyside such as the impact of housing benefit and other cuts, on all too frequent insensitive medical interviews even in Liverpool’s renowned Women’s Hospital and other serious health issues. They proposed important steps such as the strong use of equality impact assessments and the need for women to demand these and (despite the fact the emphasis on gender has gone) to have outcomes made publicly available. It was very important to have evidence and women present with access to soild data offered to share it. All were clear their voices had to be loud and clear. ‘Go on local radio, after all you can’t be seen and don’t have to worry about that’ (Maggie O’Carroll).
And just as important, at the level of the individual, a young African woman who came with two of her children and is seeking asylum, was helped to feel she, too, might be worth listening to, perhaps to take a course with Sylvia Forchap, who had left a scholarly, medical career once she had children to found Voice of Nations and ‘bring help and support to others less advantaged’ than herself.
Lastly, summing the results of the evaluations completed by attendees, all gave highly positive feedback with an average of 90% scored, and all of the 60% who claimed little knowledge before the event, measured at least a doubling afterwards! All wanted more such opportunities. NAWO plans to do just that.
We send a big thank you to our speakers and participants!