Thank you very for much for inviting Women’s Resource Centre to speak at this UN Women Brunch.

I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a bit about what we do at Women’s Resource Centre, who we are but especially the importance of grassroots organisations - and organising - , as well as intersectionality and cooperation - including how intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) such as the UN and the Commonwealth and women’s organisations could best work together.

About WRC

So Women’s Resource Centre, we are the leading national umbrella organisation for the women’s sector. Our membership and networks include predominantly small local specialist women’s organisations so it is really important for us to always be relevant to their needs with a particular focus on intersectionality.

We strive to give voice to the most marginalised and disadvantaged organisations and are working towards transformational and substantive equality for women. We push for empowerment in its true sense by supporting women and women’s organisations to achieve their full potential.

Our work is guided by our values of feminism, sustainability, collaboration, professionalism, equality and integrity

Our vision is that all women are empowered and have substantive equality

And our mission is to support and stand up for a diverse and thriving women’s sector

We are a non-issue based organisation, which means that we don’t work on one particular issue but have a larger remit - we have a birds-eye view on women’s equality.

We are what you call a second tier organisation, which means that we do not work frontline but with organisations as our aim is to support women’s charities and to foster a thriving women’s sector.

We therefore focus on collective and collaborative action across women’s organisations endeavouring to provide strategic advocacy, for example we focus on the cumulative impact of austerity on women, consortium work, and intersectionality. We position ourselves on a theory of change that is based upon the work of Patricia Hill Collins and the need to address the domains of power simultaneously. This approach acknowledges the need to work for change simultaneously across the personal, cultural; and institutional areas in order to realise transformational change.

The women’s sector provide us with a wide reach which maintains our knowledge base and ensures we are kept well informed of current manifestations of structural inequality across all aspects of women’s lives.

Our work with the sector

WRC is continuously and tirelessly working to ensure the women’s sector is alive and well despite the increasingly challenging reality in which they all work. WRC has an incomparable reach and access to intelligence about women and their organisations. By staying in constant contact with new and established women’s organisations across the country, and by being non-issue based, Women’s Resource Centre has its finger on the pulse of grassroots women’s organisations and thereby possesses a unique and in-depth understanding of the needs of the sector and women. Through WRC’s leadership in collaboration, exemplified by e.g. the WCSU project and the VAWG Consortium, WRC has a bird’s eye view of the current state of women’s equality which no other organisation has. Through building capacity in the sector and by sharing information, creating networking opportunities and by campaigning and influencing decision-makers, the work that WRC does is imperative to ensure a thriving sector that can achieve the best outcomes for women.

Working collaboratively

At Women’s Resource Centre I have been managing a project called Ascent, which is truly quite unique and remarkable. It is the first project undertaken by the London VAWG Consortium, which is a unique and first of its kind type of collaboration. It is made up by 28 VAWG organisations in London and through this impressive network, the Consortium delivers coordinated services to women and girls, strengthens referral pathways and encourages shared learning and best practice amongst members. WRC is one of the founding members and is the coordinating body of the London VAWG Consortium. Without the commitment and work of WRC the creation of which would have been impossible.

Ascent is thus a project undertaken by the London VAWG Consortium and 23 organisations - all Consortium members of course - are involved in the project. It is funded by London Councils and its aim is to tackle domestic and sexual violence in London and is divided into six strands:

  • Prevention
  • Advice and Counselling
  • Domestic and Sexual Violence Helplines
  • Specialist Refuge
  • Ending Harmful Practices
  • Support Services to Organisations

Women’s Resource Centre is the lead partner of the Support Services to Organisations strand where we work together with 5 other organisations. The aim of our strand is to build sustainability and resilience amongst frontline VAWG organisations. And we do this by training, events, one-to-one support etc.

We also have another project called Women’s Commissioning and Support Unit. The aim of the project is to improve and develop the strategic and delivery capacity of the women’s voluntary sector. The WCSU project concentrates its work in and around Cambridgeshire, the North-East, West-Midlands and Greater Manchester focusing on those organisations working in the areas of criminal justice, violence against women and girls, women’s health and employment and education.

So working collaboratively is really at the core of what we do as an organisation. Through its unique position in the sector, WRC has been considered good at reminding the sector of their grassroots and about the ethics and morals of the work. We recognise the in-depth expertise of our sister organisations and membership. Specialist frontline women’s organisations are unique in their approach and rich in experience and knowledge because they look at every woman that comes through their doors with the sole intention of providing her with the services most suitable for her needs, and to be able to do that they listen to her and what she has gone through. This allows them to tailor their services to suit her needs, which is not possible in generic organisations, and especially those that do not have a gender/feminist analysis. It is one thing to have a women’s project at an organisation but if you do not start your analysis from a place of women’s equality, (i.e. applying a feminist analysis), then you’re failing women.

This is also why intersectionality is really at the heart of our work - women are not a homogenous group - as individuals they will have individual experiences that need to be understood. And as I mentioned earlier with the sex, race and class analysis - we need to understand that women’s experiences of discrimination and inequality will differ depending on their ‘status’ if you will in society.

And it is a fact that race, sexual orientation, disability, and socio-economic background (amongst other things) impact the level of oppression and discrimination a woman faces. This is all in conjunction with her experience of being a woman. Vivienne Hayes, CEO of Women’s Resource Centre said a really good thing I thought at our previous event, she said:

“When we think about class, we think of white working class men. When we think about race we think of black men. When we think about homosexuality we think of gay men”

So we always have to ask “where are the women” because women will face discrimination based on these things and because she is a woman and because she is a woman her experience will unequivocally differ from men. Because even if we don’t like to admit it, we live in a sexist society.

This is still true today and it is really what we’re about - to change and challenge structures of inequality so that we can achieve gender equality. And yes, it makes us quite unpopular at times, and yes it is difficult. But as one representative from a women’s specialist organisation said recently “the thing with feminism is, if you’re not shouting about it you’re not doing it right”.

So intersectionality is at the core of many of our sister organisations as they know that services needs to be tailored to the woman’s life and needs and these will be different depending on who she is and where she’s from. It is therefore these organisations that are best placed to meet the needs of these women.

And this is also where we come in - as a specialist umbrella organisation, we listen to our service users, i.e. the women’s sector. We listen to what they have to say, we understand the reality in which they work, and we aim to address their needs in our work. Which we do in a variety ways, including regular consultations on current issues, regular state of the sector reports, as well as training, events and papers and reports.

To provide this kind of support is actually crucial in these times. Women’s organisations are consistently underfunded so without us they would not have access to all these resources, which essentially supports them in supporting women and girls.

How to work together

So I was asked to talk a bit about how the women’s sector and inter-governmental organisations, such as the UN and the Commonwealth, could work best together. I think there are four main things I would like to say about that:

  1. Invite us

We want to be at the table from the start, not at the end process for when decisions or new policies are entering. With our expertise and knowledge - both in relation to applying an analysis on women’s inequality and women’s actual experience - we are best placed to critically analyse and assess impacts of policies on women.

  1. Listen to us

While inviting us is a great place to start, you also need to listen. Throughout time in various political movements and governments so called ‘women’s issues’ (which is a label I find highly problematic in itself but for the sake of argument) have been discussed at length. However, they always seem to be postponed and set to the side for something ‘more urgent and pressing’. We need to recognise that women’s rights are human rights.

  1. Fund us

It’s never particularly popular to bring up money but for us it is a constant, real and critical issue. Our State of the Sector report from 2016 showed that demand for services increased by 83% while funding fell by 50%. The women’s sector is often invited to consult and contribute on various issues however there seem to be a culture of not having to pay us for the trouble, as if we’re doing it for the sheer pleasure and are happy to sustain on air - which many of us do to be honest since we rather want to be part of the discussions than not. However the underfunding of the women’s sector is symptomatic of women’s inequality - the expertise and knowledge of women is simply not valued. This obviously spans across more issues than consultancy and policy work - it is in all we do, from vital frontline services to support services to campaigning. Women’s organisations, and especially small specialist women’s organisations that provide life-saving support to women, are either significantly downsizing or closing entirely at an alarming rate. There needs to be more than a recognition of the vital work we do - it needs to be valued.

  1. Be our ally, not our competitor

While we obviously welcome efforts to mainstream a gender analysis in larger and/or generic organisations as it makes visible that women are people too, this cannot replace or replicate the analysis we possess. The women’s sector is always most suitable to understand women’s inequality. This is what we live and breath. We see and understand the situation for the individual woman and make the links between her experience and societal, political and economic structures. It would be unthinkable for us to not work with an analysis that starts from the point of view of women’s inequality, which makes us the experts in the field. We therefore urge you - and this is a critical point - to not try to replicate what we do, which frankly could have detrimental effects for the sector, but to work with us and to be our ally.

From Gender Priorities to Gender Equality

Lastly, I would like to make a quick comment on the actual theme of today which is from Gender Priorities to Gender Equality, i.e. how can gender priorities such as leadership, ending violence against women and girls, and representation, create gender equality. Well, I think this is pretty straight forward.

Tackling these issues – and many more – will essentially make clear that women are people too. In relation to leadership and representation for example, equal representation in senior positions, leaders, Boards, government and parliament (etc.) would again demonstrate that women are people too and that women’s rights are human rights. And again, it needs to be emphasised here, that means all women - not just white middle-class women. But BME women, disabled women, etc. We need more women where the power is. And we need more money where the women are.

As for violence against women and girls, this is the most violent, damaging and dangerous expression of inequality. The UN has recognised that VAWG is both the cause and consequence of women's inequality. Imagine a world where VAWG doesn’t exist - it’s actually harder than you think. Because such a world would look completely different than the world we are used to and live in today. VAWG boils down to power and control. Don’t forget that VAWG entails physical but also sexual and psychological violence. When society no longer allows men to possess this power and control over women, it will be a completely different place - it will be equal.

Thank you.

Presentation delivered by Evelina Svensson from Women’s Resource Centre at “From Gender Priorities to Gender Equality” UN WOMEN National Committee UK Brunch debate September 28 2018, London. 

Evelina is now working on the women's social change leadership project as well as various policy and campaign projects such as CEDAW and the Tampon Tax. Nour is now the new project manager for the Ascent project. Find contact details and further information here.