My final thoughts

As I leave Nottingham Women’s Centre after 6 years, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve seen as some of the success and challenges.

I could talk about some of the more tangible successes, such as securing funding to deliver more services, renovating the library, extending our reach into Nottinghamshire or the groundbreaking campaign to make misogyny seen as a hate crime. I’m really proud of all of that, of course, but there are also the less obvious things, like the way we’ve held onto our values against a backdrop of increasing pressure on our services and on women in society – and that’s what I wanted to share with you before I go.

Operating a person-centred, open-door service can be challenging. It means we have to be flexible to change our ‘offer’ as the environment changes around us. Unfortunately we’ve seen some pretty big policy shifts in the last 6 years which have impacted negatively on women’s lives, particularly the austerity agenda. It’s well known that cuts to public services impact on women more than men. One study estimates that since 2010, women have borne 86% of the cuts – £79bn compared to only £13bn by men.

This has changed the work that we do here. We now see an increasing number of women coming through our doors that are struggling financially, hungry, often on the brink of homelessness and dealing with complex mental health issues. Because of the cuts, there are fewer places to signpost women to for help in these situations, meaning that our staff sometimes spend hours on the phone trying to find a service with the right criteria, the right threshold for support, and sometimes – very rarely – we have to be honest and tell women there is nothing more that we can do. That’s the hardest thing of all.

We’ve developed our own services as a response to this – such as Help through Crisis which is delivering welfare rights advice to women across Nottinghamshire – but as a small charity which doesn’t receive any government funding there’s only so much we can do. We’re also mindful of our responsibility as a charity to try to affect change. We cannot, and should not, stay quiet about the injustices we see.
I can honestly say that working here has changed my perspective on the world and on the society in which we live. I will share with you one quote from a woman here that’s stuck with me:

“The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ isn’t realistic. It’s actually a lot worse than that”

What I’ve also seen here is the tremendous resilience of women to survive – and to thrive. It’s been an absolute privilege to be just a small part of some women’s individual journeys. Seeing women reach their goals and achieve things they never realised they could, that’s been amazing.

We talk about the Centre as a ‘family’ and that’s something else that’s core to our ethos here. This is a vibrant community where every woman has something to contribute and I’m really pleased that some of the women who volunteer and who use our services were able to be part of the interview process for the new Chief Exec.

I leave here proud of what we have achieved since 2011 and hopeful for the future. Women are resilient – Nottingham Women’s Centre is resilient.

Melanie


Women’s rights in Nepal

The Centre was recently visited by Sami Thapa, a feminist activist from Nepal and founder of Samida Women Development Forum. She came to find out about our work and to talk to us about some of the issues facing women in her own country.

This is a short piece she wrote about some of the issues around citizenship for single mothers in Nepal:

Being a single mother, especially in a developing country, teaches you a lot and I have learned a lot and I write this because I don’t want the future generation to go through what I have gone through.

For you and I, with both parents, getting a citizenship is like eating a piece of cake. You walk into the office, fill out a few from and the next day you are handed the citizenship. But for a child of a single
parent, especially a single mother, the pain is endless. And I have gone through this pain while trying to get a ‘nabalak parichaya patra’ (child citizenship certificate) for my son.

Every document asks for the father’s name and his signature. And where am I suppose to find the man that had left the two of us?

I felt my son, who was born in this country, whose both parents were born in this country, yet still he remained stateless in his own country.

I was strong enough to get my son the right he deserved. But I saw many other single mothers children suffering from the same sad situation. They had no place to raise their voice, and even if they voiced their thoughts, their voices were never heard.

So, this made me determined to fight not only for my son but for many more sisters and mothers like me.

It was the time of the constitution drafting phase in Nepal. If I went alone, my voice would also be swallowed by the walls of the constitutional assembly. So, I knew my voice had to be echoed again
and again. Instead of I, it had to be We.

So, we, like-minded organisations of around 30 got together and we decided to fight for our right and in the constitution, instead of “father and mother” but we wanted it to be changed to “father or mother”.

Our slogan became “Or not And”. We had sit-ins in-front of the constituent assembly. We had a hunger strike. We had many classes with the police. And one day the speaker of the house invited us to hear
our voice in his chamber at the parliament building.

After that the struggle did not end. We had to keep our voices heard. Then finally the constitution gave the right we deserved. That day, the tears of joy and pain flowed down my eyes for hours, I could
not sleep for days. The fight I had been fighting for so many years and the fight so many had also been fighting for had finally came to an end.

I was happy not only for myself but for many sisters and mothers whose were turned blind eye to and whose voices had gone in vain.

Some people don’t realise the importance of citizenship, the reason is they have it. But for a person without a citizenship he can’t go to school, he can’t get a job, he can’t open a bank account, he can’t get
a driving license.

I heard a song ‘You don’t know a good thing till its gone, then you think of all bad thing you have done’. You don’t know the importance of citizenship until you lose it or when you need it you don’t have
it.

Although the constitution has been drafted. The implementation is still very difficult. And to date, our struggle continues. Although the road has been sketched, we are still in the phase of paving it. It
will take time before a vehicle will pass smoothly.

sami