We, at the Fabian Women’s Network, are proud of the work we have done this year. We have led pivotal work on women and Europe – in the year that has seen Britain voting to leave the European Union. We held an event at the Fabian New Year conference and, during the referendum campaign, FWN women were amongst the few female voices out there. Our fringe ‘Speak up, Dears! Women in post-Brexit Britain’ at Labour party conference in particular saw the participation of many female leaders to discuss how we can protect women’s rights in the negotiations. To amplify our campaigning work, we also launched the FWN Women’s Rights Charter to highlight 5 priority areas that need safeguarding.
We have continued to cooperate with Labour MPs and MEPs as well as with many organisations in the wider Labour movement, bringing you regular panel and social events. A particular highlight was our women’s leadership hustings with both Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith, which was jointedly organised with the Labour Women’s Network.
We’ve also led crucial work on women and devolution, focusing on the impact of devolution on women in the UK. Once again, we have been amongst the few female voices in a very male dominated debate.
We’ve also focused on violence against women, cuts to public services and representation of company boards. Fabian women members have contributed to various high level publications on how feminism can contribute to mainstream politics, and online for the New Statesman, Guardian and LabourList. We have spoken at seminars and conferences and with the media both in the UK and internationally.
We have continued to produce our Fabiana magazine (edited by Ellie Cumbo with support from Reema Patel and Beth Knowles). The latest issue was entirely dedicated to the future of foreign policy and Britain’s place in the world, whilst the previous one focused on devolution.
Our annual fundraising dinner was one of the most successful events of the year. Held at a very difficult moment for the Labour movement in Britain, the dinner provided a fantastic opportunity for our members to unwind in a friendly environment. Angela Eagle, Wes Streeting, Seema Malhotra, Jess Phillips, Alice Hood from the TUC and Johanna Baxter spoke and provided world-class entertainment.
Women and the economy work stream
FWN President Seema Malhotra MP was appointed Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and we worked with her whilst she was in office, focusing on issues related to the economy.
As part of our women and the economy work stream focused on exploring how women women grow the economy, we hosted two roundtable events – an event on the digitisation of the labour force and the role women can play in making the new industrial strategy a success. We will build on this work in the New Year, which will also see a pamphlet launch at a special conference in Spring.
Public speaking and debating club
The club continues to go from strength to strength, with more and more Fabian Women attending each event. This year, FWN held an event attended by 80 women on how to stand out as a charismatic speaker in a man’s world by Deborah Frances-White, comedian. Cerys Bradley, a debating expert joined our club to deliver a session on the rules of British Parliamentary Debating. Cerys has many years of debating experience and is a winner of multiple international competitions as well as a qualified debating teacher. She gave an overview of the rules of debating – how the format works and what you need to do, with a particular focus on the objectives of British Parliamentary debating. The club has also provided debating sessions where Fabian women have had the opportunity to improve their public speaking skills in a supportive, and encouraging environment. There’s so much more to look forward to.
With the launch of cohort six in September 2016, 150 women will have been on the FWN Mentoring Programme with annual applications exceeding 100. The programme goes from strength to strength, has a substantial impact on the participants and produces positive outcomes. In January we launched the second evaluation report of the third and fourth years “Footsteps in the Sand” produced by Birkbeck and published with support from Unison. This report reflects how the programme is achieving its aims of supporting women into politics and public life. Last year five more women were elected to their local councils-including one in Scotland and others have been selected to stand in forthcoming local elections. Three women stood for Assembly seats in Wales and London supported widely in their campaigns by their mentors and other mentees. The majority of the mentees have gained promotion in their professional lives: many moving to senior positions in the UN, in charities such as Save the Children, in Government Offices, in schools, as advisers to members of the Shadow Cabinet and in other roles. One has gone to work for her mentor in the House of Commons.
The 2016 mentoring cohort’s visit to the European Parliament in Brussels where they were caught up in the terrorist attack symbolised the group’s attitude as they appeared all over the media the following day to discuss their experience–including on BBC Radio Asia- urging people not to vote Brexit as a reaction.
Across the 150 women who have completed the programme to date, we have amassed an impressive breadth and depth of expertise in most sectors and our mentees frequently appear on panels and in the media. Regional groups are beginning to emerge in Scotland, Wales, the NE and NW. This incredible network with the powerful peer to peer support as its strongest feature is leading to massive social and intellectual capital which we draw on regularly to support events, publications and policy development. It is not only the experience of going through the programme that binds these women, it’s the shared Fabian values that connect them for life.
FWN Committee members have worked relentlessly over the last year and are looking forward to continue expanding membership of the Fabian Society and contributing new ideas and thinking to the Fabian Society and the wider Labour and feminist movements.