International Women’s Day 2021 – Celebrating women’s achievements

Helen Oparinde, Development Officer in VAL’s Voluntary Sector Support team marks International Women’s Day by highlighting the contribution that women make to the local VCSE sector.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Marked annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day (IWD) is one of the most important days of the year to:

  • Celebrate women’s achievements
  • Raise awareness about women’s equality
  • Lobby for accelerated gender parity
  • Fundraise for female-focused charities

Celebrate Women’s Achievements

Women’s Aid Leicestershire Limited is a charitable company which started its existence in 1974 when they opened their first refuge in Leicester. In the UK charity sector it is estimated that more than 60 per cent of the workforce is female and Women’s Aid Leicestershire Limited is a prime example of a women’s led charity predominantly supporting women. It would be nice to think that their services were no longer needed but unfortunately this is not the case especially in the current pandemic which has put increased pressure on their services.

Although both women and men can be victims of domestic abuse, evidence shows that there are important differences between male violence against women and female violence against men, namely the amount, severity and impact. Although violence is manifested differently, women of all ages, nationalities, religions, economic classes, and ethnic groups are affected. Women experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse. Women are also more likely to experience higher levels of fear and are more likely to be subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours.

COVID has therefore directly impacted on women in an abusive relationship where there has been increased household tension and domestic abuse due to forced co-existence, economic stress, and fears about the virus. The increased isolation has led to escalation where individuals are less likely to seek help. Fewer visitors to the household mean that evidence of physical abuse is unnoticed. Routes to safety and escape have been closed and Government restrictions have been used to instil fear.

Women’s Aid Leicestershire Limited CEO Pam Richardson comments on her role in the local VCSE sector:

I am very proud to be the CEO of Women’s Aid Leicestershire, working with such a diverse and dynamic all female Board of Trustees and staff who come from different backgrounds. Some are survivors of domestic abuse themselves but what we have in common is a shared goal. To empower women to reach their full potential. We want women to assert their rights and take back control of their lives and we are there with them to offer support in every step of their journey.

In the words of Maya Angelou:

Each time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.

Raising awareness about women’s equality

EachOther is a UK-focused charity that uses independent journalism, storytelling and filmmaking to put the human into human rights. In 1986 the UK government ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It gives rights to UK women & obligates government to advance women’s lives, recognising past inequalities & remedying them.

In March 2020 EachOther reported on a campaign spearheaded by the campaign group BackTo60 calling on the UK government to enshrine in domestic law an international treaty called Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) aimed at eliminating discrimination against women. The treaty allows governments to introduce “temporary special measures” to effect “structural, social and cultural changes necessary to correct past and current forms of discrimination against women”.

The campaign explains that about 3.8 million 1950s-born women are estimated to have been affected by the government increasing the pension age from 60 to 66 through a series of laws introduced between 1995 and 2014. Julie Delve and Karen Glynn, both in their 60s, brought a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions (DwP) arguing the changes were unlawfully discriminatory on the basis of age and sex. The judicial review was unsuccessful.

Delve and Glynn, backed by campaign group BackTo60, took their case to the Court of Appeal, but they lost the case. At the time Michael Mansfield QC, who represented one of the claimants stated: “Although the objective was equalisation, what has happened is the Reverse. We would argue that it has been the case because it has imposed upon a generation who were already suffering inequality within the workplace which led to disadvantage.”

The latest campaign argues that the CEDAW treaty could be used to bypass the existing pension legislation to compensate the 1950s-born women.
Now that the UK has left the EU, we remain to see if that will transpire or not. If you are interested, you can sign your name to the campaign.

Lobby for accelerated gender parity

The theme of this year’s IWD is about choosing to challenge. They say a challenged world is an alert world and we can all choose to challenge. However as a local charity with that comes long-standing but often contentious rules that apply to charities seeking to engage in political debate.

The University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice is running a free webinar called Sticking to your knitting – The ongoing debate of the role of charities in debate, where delegates can discuss those issues followed by a moderated Q & A discussion on whether charities should be tackling the political issues of the day.

The Charity Commission has produced guidance titled Campaigning and political activity guidance for charities, which has some very useful practical advice.
Such as what trustees will need to identify and plan to manage on campaigning and political activity. Trustees must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the activities are likely be an effective means of furthering or supporting the purposes of the charity; and are able to justify the resources applied.

There are a range of ways which trustees might consider satisfying themselves of this, and how to demonstrate that they have done so; for example by:

  • Keeping a risk register
  • Producing a strategic plan
  • Minuting of meetings where such issues have been considered

Fundraise for female-focused charities

As we celebrate the lives of women across the globe on this special day, it is worth considering the indirect impact of Covid-19 on women. A report by the Lancet in August 2020 highlighted that lockdown measures and school closures affect girls and women differently across the world and may have long-term negative consequences.

Whilst mortality rates have remained higher for men than for women, the report felt that women are more likely to bear the brunt of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs,are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.

My own experience of how that has impacted women internationally is my sister in law Subomi in Hayward Hills California adapting her Golden Safari restaurant business to COVID-19 secure procedures whilst at the same time home schooling 2 young children for nearly a year now. And my niece Abisola in Ibadan Nigeria having to delay the start of her university course due to strikes and covid-19. Finally in February she started her course remotely and similar to students in UK didn’t get chance to experience that fresher campus aspect to the new stage of her education.

Turning back to the UK, according to VAL’s database 3.7% of organisations in Leicester and LeicesterShire self-reported that their senior management are mostly women and that women beneficiaries account for 12.7% of the services that the local VCSE sector provide.

As Spring has arrived and with it brings hope for the future for some normality for re-opening via the PM’s roadmap, the local VCSE sector will continue to provide vital services now and in the future for the needs of women.

If you would like to provide support to female-focused charities in the form of volunteering, sign up and search for opportunities.

Or if you would like to consider being a donor to female-focused charities then why not have a chat with our colleagues at Leicestershire and Rutland Community Foundation, who manage donor funds.

For Leicester City based VCSE organisations VAL is running a virtual funding fair, which will give you an opportunity to speak directly to funders and raise the funds you need to assist women and the wider community.

Helen Oparinde

Helen Oparinde is a Development Officer for VAL as part of the Voluntary Sector Support team. Helen is an expert in charity governance and provides face-to-face and telephone advice to local charities and community groups. You can contact Helen at