My women’s sector adventure so far

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When I returned from the states, I realised I wanted to work in the women’s rights sector again. I had left to do something completely different, burned out from part-time, poorly-paid jobs where I felt I wasn’t making a difference. On returning, I had the chance to do things differently.

My partner encouraged me to take an entrepreneurial focus, a freelance career could be just that, ‘free’.

It’s been while since I blogged and I’ve wanted to get some of this adventure down. Going freelance has been petrifying and exhilarating all the same time.

After a bumpy summer trying to figure what, exactly my plan was, I found an advert for Campaigns Officer at Maternity Action. The role was part-time, allowing me to pursue freelance work at the same time. My five months at Maternity Action were fantastic. I ran two campaigns, the first was ‘When I Had My Baby’, collecting experiences of women who had been treated badly at work why pregnant or on maternity leave. This type of pregnancy discrimination is appallingly endemic. Though legal protection exists, it is regularly flouted and with the government buts to legal aid, getting justice is extremely difficult.

The other campaign was the ‘Cutbacks Calculator’, an online survey that showed mothers the difference between state support in 2010 and currently. The average pregnant woman has lost £1000 due to cuts to maternity and child-related benefits. When Britain is suffering huge deprivation, this type of money could have huge consequences on new mothers their children’s health and wellbeing.

Last year I was also welcomed onto the Management Committee of the Women’s Budget Group. I had worked for them in 2010 and remained part of their policy advisory group subsequently. They are an organisation for which I have such immense respect for and so I was looking forward to being back in the country and becoming more involved. I arrived just as they were finalising their toolkit to help people analyse the impact of local authority cuts on women in their area.

Local Governments have been hit hard by central government cuts, these have resulted in the closures of sure start centres, clinics, hospitals and other vital services. Women use local services more than men, in part because they are much more likely to be carers for family and so rely on state support.

Since the toolkit has been launched, I have been working to promote it and train women’s organisations on the issues. It so happened that the Women’s Resource Centre were running workshops on challenging local authority decisions so I did two workshops for them. The Fawcett Society will also be using it in their workshop ‘Cutting Women Out’ and I am currently talking to UK Feminista about how we can build women’s organisations confidence to engage in economic debates.

The third part of my life has been working with teachers to raise awareness of women’s rights and gender equality in schools. The first was a workshop with Oaklands A-level students looking at Jane Eyre and the male gaze. It was a niche but thoroughly enjoyable project, though less straight forward than I assumed as the novel is from Jane’s perspective. I was invited to lecture at London Southbank University to politics students on women and the economy where I outlined some of the key barriers to women’s economic engagement, including the work I was doing with Maternity Action and the Women’s Budget Group.

Highbury Grove school was holding a conference for the girls in their school who are outnumbered by boys by a 60:40 ratio. I was honoured to be part of ‘Women of the Future’ organised by forward-looking deputy head Umbar Sharif. The keynote speakers were educational overachiever and founder of Stemettes – XXXX and poet, playwright, director, award-winning jazz singer and Cambridge undergraduate Justina XXXX. I had a good chat to both of them and was frankly, awed.

I went back LSBU for their volunteering week, preaching the joys (and pitfalls!) of working in the voluntary sector and how important volunteering can be for future careers. I finished with a bang at Colne Community School in Brightlingsea running a three-hour workshop on gender in the media to A-level students there. It was great to have a lot of time with the students. At the end we finished with a debate on page three which many of the students were reluctant to leave!

Virtually all of my previous work in the women’s sector has been running networks. My first internship was with the Women’s Resource Centre who are an umbrella body for women’s organisations. My first job at the Women’s National Commission also worked with over 50 women’s orgs to represent the need of women to government, the the Gender and Development Network and Women’s Budget Group means I am lucky to have a lot of contacts. These last six months I have been trying to catch up with them all, as well as making new allies in organisations like UK Feminista, The Girls Network, Working Families, Unison and the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON).

Finally, last week I started a new role as Senior Campaigns and Policy Officer at the Fawcett Society. It is a job share so I still have time to do freelance work and my focus will be on women’s representation in public life.

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