Here I am on Woman’s Hour talking about the impact of the Autumn Statement 2015 on women on behalf of the Women’s Budget Group. Have a listen here!
In February I took part in a 2.5 day innovation process to help Oxfam come up with some great ideas for how to solve women’s poverty. It was amazing, exhausting and emotional. You can see me in my various states of dress in this video below.
Delighted to be interviewed by Fiona for Womanthology – a completely wicked stealth-feminist blog. My interview came in a series around economics during World Economic Forum at Davos 2016.
Full interview available here or read it below:
Polly Trenow is a campaigner on gender, economics and education who has worked in women’s rights and gender equality since 2005. She is a freelance campaigner on gender equality working with schools, local government and charities and she currently holds several different roles, including sitting on the Management Committee of the Women’s Budget Group and working as Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at the Fawcett Society. Last November, Polly became the 2016 Esmée Fairbairn Gender Equality Fellow on the Clore Social Leadership Programme.
“…We’ve…got to change the cultural pressures on men, for whom it’s often still seen as unacceptable to take time off to care. Gender stereotyping works both ways so men are disadvantaged too, and that’s something else that we need to challenge…”
Getting interested in working at the interface between gender and economics and saving the world
I think it was my degree. I studied Social Anthropology and as part of that I did a module on Gender and Trade. That was looking at how societies organise their economies, and what importance they place, if any, about what gender you are when you’re trading. I didn’t realise at the time how interesting I thought it was, but then when I left university I decided: “I want to save the world!” It seemed obvious that I should try and improve women’s equality, so that’s what I went for.
I started off volunteering in the women’s sector, working for a variety of different international development charities and UK charities. I became a trustee of a Zimbabwe women’s organisation (and I hadn’t even been to Zimbabwe!). I felt really at home and I loved what I was doing, and the people I was working with.
I then get my first job working in the Women’s National Commission, which was a quango – a quasi non-governmental equality organisation – and that was fascinating because we were based within the Civil Service, but we were theoretically independent. I got my first understanding of the challenges of talking to people in positions of power and how to manage what you’re saying to them.
No compromising: Making change from the outside shouting in
I had this great boss when I was doing one of my internships – a proper old-school feminist, who said to me: “Polly. There are two ways to make change. You’re either on the inside, or you’re on the outside shouting in. If you’re on the outside shouting in you don’t really have to compromise what you say, but if you’re on the inside you do.” So I thought, “I don’t want to compromise what I say! So rather than doing something like being in the Civil Service or being a Government adviser, I’m going to stick to charities and campaigning.”
So I worked for a variety of different women’s organisations. Lots of them were membership or network based where I got a real appreciation of the power in numbers, and also the importance of engaging members who have so much to give, but who maybe need some guidance to know how they can help or what they can do.
Ultimately the women’s sector is quite small, quite underfunded, and after about five or six years I was quite exhausted from low paid jobs and I didn’t really know where I was going, so I took a career break, which I though was just going to be a year, but it ended up being three years. I did something completely different with my life. I went to America and sang in a band!
I eventually thought I’d had enough of a break. I really missed the women’s sector and I felt I needed to do something a bit differently. I wasn’t that healthy or happy in the women’s sector before, so I decided to develop a freelance career, and I was lucky enough to get a part time job as a Policy Officer at Maternity Action and then at The Fawcett Society, which left me over half my week to do my freelance work, which I’ve been doing for about four years now.
The work of the Women’s Budget Group
I’ve been involved in the Women’s Budget Group for ages. I started off as their coordinator way back in 2008, and then whilst I was in America I was on the policy advisory group because it was a writing and research role, so I was able to do it long-distance. When I got back to the UK I joined the Management Committee, and I’ve been on it ever since.
The Women’s Budget Group is about analysing economic policy and saying: “What impact is this going to have on men and women, and how equal they are?” We have lots of academics who are there to crunch the numbers and to get into the nitty gritty. I’m not an academic, I’m an activist, but I suppose I see my role in the Women’s Budget Group as trying to communicate all of this vital, interesting academic work in a way that is going to engage the public.
At the moment I’m running a series of workshops across the country – so in Bristol in the South West, in East Anglia, in Manchester and in Glasgow. We’re bringing together feminists, because in the last few years we’ve seen a real resurgence in feminism, with lots of new feminist groups starting up and it’s really exciting, but a lot of those people are campaigning on things like sexual harassment or page three, and not really entering the economic sphere.
Here I am talking about what a good London would like for women… More info on Good London here.
As someone who is dedicated to feminist economics I understand that this is (wrongly) considered by most to be quite a niche subject and will rarely warrant discussion on national radio programmes. So you can imagine my delight when I was asked to appear on BBC Radio 4’s the Today Programme to discuss this very issue.
It was all thanks to Yvette Cooper who in her leadership speech in Manchester had said we must organise the family in a feminist manner, so Today thought they would get some of us on to discuss it. You can listen here until it expires – I’m endeavouring to permalink. I’m on in the last 10 minutes of the programme.
I was delighted to be asked to come and discuss feminist economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in York. I did two sessions – the first was a general talk about the ways in which gender interacts with the economy, you can see that session captured in the video below. The second was a session for the policy staff who asked a lot of tough questions! We looked more specifically at some of the measures the Women’s Budget Group advocate for in order to create a more equal society.
Great to be up in York with you all!
I was really delighted to be part of this book. I’ve written an essay on how care work makes the world go round and it’s part of this collection. We’re crowd funding for the £2k publishing costs to get it out as a free e-book and although we have some of the costs covered by the publisher we still need a bit of money. Here is the blurb, please consider giving some money there are some awesome perks!:
Resist! is the third book in the Radical Future series: publications written and edited by young* activists, journalists and artists calling for radical alternatives to the status quo. We’re interested in social justice, liberation and collectivity, and the ways young people are organising to create change. If you think mainstream politics is a dismal failure and you still have hope we can do better, this book is for you.
The first book in the series, Radical Future: Politics for the next generation, was written before the 2010 election (remember back when things were bad, but we had no idea how much worse they were going to get?). The follow up, Regeneration, was published in 2012, and received over 50,000 downloads.
Resist! includes chapters about youth activist movements, re-envisioning work, feminist economics, direct action against the housing crisis, alternative media and organising after the London riots, from contributors like feminist campaigner Polly Trenow, activist Wail Qasim and openDemocracy journalist Adam Ramsay. It is edited by journalist and openDemocracy editor Ray Filar.
We’re really excited about this next book and can’t wait to get it published.
But to get there, we need your help.
Like the first two books in the series, we want to make Resist! as accessible as possible by also offering it as a free ebook (as well as a paperback version). But ironically, publishing a free ebook is expensive. The publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, is covering most of the costs, but we need help with the final £2000. And we need it sharpish to get it out before the general election. So that’s why we’re asking you to donate. Your money will go towards typesetting, copy editing, proofing, and promotion.
We’ve put together some amazing rewards. As well as beautiful merchandise designed by our talented cover artist Yoav Segal, we’re harnessing the talents, pub-debating skills and canal boats of our contributors. We’re offering prints that you can put on your wall, and tote bags with our cover art on. You’ll also find a great selection of workshops, excursions and experimental fun, all there to encourage you to part with your cash.
If we get more money than our target, we’ll divide it up to pay everyone who has given their time for free. Anything over that we’ll put towards the next book in theRadical Future series. You can read the first two books in the series right now. For free!
The full list of contributing authors to Resist! Against a Precarious Future are:
Sarah Allan, Craig Berry, Matthew Cheeseman, Rhiannon Colvin, Sean Farmelo, Ray Filar, Robbie Gillett, Deborah Grayson, Noel Hatch, Izzy Koksal, Ben Little, Wail Qasim, Adam Ramsay, Niki Seth-Smith, Mike Shaw, Polly Trenow, Matt Adam Williams.
*in some cases, at heart
Last month I was delighted to be invited to present at Unison Women’s Conference in
Southport on behalf of the Women’s Budget Group. Last year I also presented at the Local Government Conference and there was a lot of enthusiasm for my analysis of local government spending and the impact on gender equality. I also gave a similar talk to the Essex Feminist Collective who were the ones who recommended me to speak at Unison.
It was a fascinating morning as the caucus passed motions. Much to my delight
one of these motions was a call to continue to work closely with the Women’s Budget Group on the ongoing impacts of austerity on women, which was an
excellent start to the day.
In the afternoon I was presenting in the main conference hall which was slightly terrifying. We first looked at some of the problems with economic theory which is predicated on the household male-breadwinner model and does not have any means for understanding how resources are split within the household. Secondly there is a total failure by mainstream economics to take into account the impact of unpaid care work. We then moved to local government and looked at equality impact assessments. These can be quite dry but they are a good tool to show how the basics of gender budget analysis works.
It was a fantastic day and I am looking forward to working with Unison more closely this year.