Saturday, 14 December 2013

Women supporting women - Soroptomist International – Reigate and District

It is now seven years since I was invited to address the Soroptomist    International Conference in Gateshead on behalf of Breast Cancer Campaign. Over 1,000 Soroptomists (and me), all dressed in pink to raise awareness of breast cancer, crammed onto the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Speaking at that conference was a pretty daunting experience – not talking to a large audience or even in a large auditorium but seeing my face on two giant screens – eek!

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the Reigate and District’s 50th anniversary lunch recently – I have influence, as my lovely daughter-in-law’s mother is a long-standing member and former president.  I spoke about various things – all to do with women - from my days at Breast Cancer Campaign, my time as Master of the Needlemakers and my current involvement on the Board of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) UK.

It also gave me the opportunity to trot out some statistics. If you were in the City in November you will have seen Fiona Woolf installed as Lord Mayor.  She is the 686th Lord Mayor and only the second woman since 1189.

There are now 109 Livery Companies starting in the 12th Century with nine founded since 2000.  Since the first woman to be Lord Mayor about 30 years ago, there have probably been around 3,000 Masters of Livery Companies and during that time we have had 90 Lady Masters.  90 out of about 3,000 is hardly a revolution. However this year we have 14 which is the most we have ever had in one year so progress is slow but at least it is progress. Another record has been broken this year (gosh these are really baby steps but heigh ho) we now have more companies that have had a Lady Master than not – 56 against 53.

Still on the theme of women I spoke about the IWF UK’s recent visit to Stockholm. We had a wonderful time with many interesting visits and discussions but in the context of this lunch I spoke about a visit to Livstycket which was founded 20 years ago by Birgitta Notlof. Her vision is to enable immigrant and refugee women to break their isolation, learn the language and become self-sufficient. They have developed their own model by combining artistic activities with theoretical classroom learning, so words acquire a function, a reality and a context. To quote Birgitta - the words "scissors, thread and thank you" are merely words until they get and represent a real meaning.

Have a look at the website above – their fabrics are wonderful and I have several items with their “bag” design including a yellow apron. The refugees coming to the centre had one thing in common – when they fled it was generally with just one bag – so this represents all the bags that many of them keep as it is the only thing they have brought with them.

Despite the very serious work that they do, Soroptomists in Reigate are about friendship and fun and there was plenty of both. Much of their work is in supporting the local community including a Women’s Refuge and many of their members are volunteers in local charities.  Their focus for the future remains advocacy and awareness.  As the President, Alison Carter said in her leaflet for the 50th Anniversary – “There are still so many issues affecting women before there will be true equality for women in society and where women will be able to participate fully in society with equal rights and more importantly without fear of violence in the many forms it takes.” There is still so much to do.

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