Women gathered on Saturday, 9th March to celebrate International Women’s Day in Harwich. The conference in Kingsway Hall was organised by Labour to bring local women together, regardless of whether or not they were members. The event included educational workshops and speeches, delivered by inspirational local women such as Colchester’s Labour parliamentary candidate, Tina McKay, Shrub End’s Labour candidate, Rosalind Scott, and Unite Organiser, Clare Lees. The event was attended by 54 women, half of whom were non-members. This achieved the objective of reaching beyond Labour to a wider audience. It was an extremely successful, enjoyable and informative day.
Solma Ahmed, Vice-chair of Harwich and North Essex CLP, welcomed the women by saying the aim of the conference was to empower and build the confidence of women across the constituency. She acknowledged the achievements of women across the world but recognised that women still have a long way to go and urged them to become more involved and engaged in politics and wider society. The event sought to empower and inspire women within their communities, encouraging them to speak out about the issues affecting them, whilst also encouraging them to build the confidence to engage with politics and to achieve personal goals.
Rosalind Scott spoke about what it is like to be a local councillor in a speech entitled Frowning at Potholes. She stated how stopping abuse would encourage more women to become local councillors. “My hypothesis is that most women don’t want to put themselves in the way of it, and if they are elected, they don’t stay long because they don’t want to be worn down by it – there are more ways to help our communities.” Rosalind went on to describe the responsibilities of being a local councillor. “We are there to make sure the resident can get the council to work on their behalf – whether it be about housing, home care, fly-tipping or potholes.” She went on to discuss the joys of being a local councillor. “The best thing about being a local councillor is that you get to know your community. They know you, they trust you and you come to know and love them. You are working to purpose – you know you make a difference. If you cry together at the frustrations of the current situation, you also soar with joy together when a burden or barrier is lifted.”
Clare Lees spoke about how women can organise in the workplace, how we can fight for better rights and the benefits of joining unions. “Until we have equality, women will need to fight. Unions bring people together as a collective, in solidarity, to fight for issues that are important to them. Whether it be period dignity, policies on flexible working, the menopause or whether we have equal pay, we are stronger together. In equality there is unity and in unity there is strength!” Tina McKay spoke about the women that influenced her life and led her on the path to become a politician.
There were four workshops available, which included…
How to Win a Community Campaign, delivered by Holly Turner, who is a young mother fighting against Essex Library Closures. Her workshop sought to give practical skills to empower women to campaign. She talked about the use of social media being critical but also the continued relevance of traditional methods, such as market stalls, gathering petitions and door-knocking. The challenge in any campaign is how to keep the momentum and motivation going.
Accessing and Exploring Adult Education was delivered by Sally Wilcox, who works in adult further and higher education. This workshop provided opportunities to find out about courses for adults locally and, most importantly, to discuss how to turn initial ideas about what to do next into realistic and achievable plans. They also discussed the impact of cuts on the education budget and the need for more opportunities for lifelong learning and a national education service available to all.
Victims and Survivors of Sexual Violence was delivered by the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA). This workshop discussed CARA’s role, supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence and child sexual abuse, providing independent specialist support and promoting and representing their rights and needs. The workshop sought to raise awareness of sexual violence and to push for change.
Women and Care was delivered by Susan Hollinrake, who has worked in the field of social work and education. The session provided an opportunity for those involved in providing care or considering becoming a carer – either paid or unpaid – to reflect on the effects caring has on them, how they manage the demands and to think in more depth about the way care is valued in this country. The workshop highlighted, through women’s stories and experiences, how much caring is undervalued and not recognised as skilled work; how it is often taken for granted as women’s work, and how change is needed to end the exploitation and marginalisation of the hugely important contribution that women make through caring.
The day was organised for all women by the women of Labour from across the constituency and it was a great success. Rosalind Scott said, “It was a warm and genuine celebration of all women and a day sharing stories and experience. Everyone there was encouraging of their fellow participants and as a result I am sure there will be many more women leading change in their communities.”
Solma Ahmed said, “It was a wonderful and successful day of like-minded women, coming together to celebrate International Women’s Day in Harwich”.
Clare Lees said, “The event was wonderfully arranged and really welcoming. Our sisters should be proud to have organised such an informative and comfortable event. May there be many more.” Labour’s local women’s officer and event organiser, Anja Lyons, spoke of her keenness to repeat the event due to its great success.
A couple of quotes from the floor…
“It was very well organised, very well prepared and made for any woman turning up to feel welcome and chiefly knowing that they belong to the sisterhood. All the women were very kind, very caring and chiefly they were ready to help a stranger to make a difference to her life. I came feeling a failure, I left feeling that I can change the world. Thank you to the wonderful ladies I met. You went the extra mile to make someone you never met before feel part of your family. You are truly extraordinary ladies and deserve to be heard. Together you are a strength and I was so proud of being part of such an event. I am usually shy and try to hide away, although I work hard to help… But you made a true difference to me. I am so touched to have met women who truly care and not only do they care, they are gathering to change what is wrong. Well done to all my new sisters. And thank you for teaching me that I too can make a change.”
“Thank you for inviting me and taking me today, Amanda. Good to be challenged and taken out of my comfort zone.” “Thank you for helping to make it happen. It was so exciting to see something like this happening in Harwich and it was a brilliant day.”
“Brilliant event. Uplifting and inspiring. Thank you.”
“Such a good atmosphere and interesting as well.”
1) Find ways to communicate and share information to the people who attended the event.
2) Establish some form of networking group for women.
3) Make it an annual event but establish themes, eg next year perhaps on climate change. Have some international focus too. Also have well-being session. Try to provide crèche facilities.
4) Rotate venues and make it clear people can attend for a half or full day.
5) Target invitations to councillors. Invite members and non-members.
6) Eco-friendly approach to future events.
7) While we plan for next year’s event, we offer coffee mornings/evenings/weekends quarterly in each branch, so that we keep the momentum and motivation going to enable more involvement and engagement.
8) Designate people to each role in the future.
9) Keep the Labour tag but welcome all.
10) Formalise the organisation and establish a women’s committee to support the Women’s Officer.
By Lucy Wood and Solma Ahmed