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International Women's Day 2024: V4CE Female Voices

In celebration of International Woman’s Day 2024, we are shining a light on our wonderful female team members. What does it mean to truly inspire inclusion? V4CE's women have had their say.



Neena Samota, Trustee & Independent Chair

This International Women’s Day is to inspire inclusion. In my capacity as Chair of Voice4Change England (V4CE), I would like to acknowledge the incredible work and achievements of Black and Minoritised Ethnic (BME) women in the charitable sector. I wish to start by acknowledging and celebrating the hard work of all the women at V4CE – staff and my fellow trustee. Collectively we aim to create more inclusive spaces and opportunities for women.


Knowledge from our own grants making programme demonstrates the excellent work BME women do as volunteers, entrepreneurs and as leaders in local community organisations. Their compassion, care and knowledge help sustain a vibrant ecosystem in local communities. Yet very few BME women-led organisations get funded to deliver services at the local level. This is a disparity which goes unnoticed and must be addressed. Local councils, businesses and funders should get better in procuring and commissioning services from BME women-led organisations. In my other professional role as an academic, I research inclusion and educate students about belonging and empowerment on campus. When students feel included, they also demonstrate greater determination and resilience and do well in their studies. Similarly, BME women-led organisations need to be recognised, feel included and supported to make contributions to their local ecosystems. V4CE would like to advocate, celebrate, and support all our women-led member organisations – you continue to inspire us!



Ila Chandavarkar, Trustee

I’ve been engaged in issues of social justice for a long time. In the 1980s I worked for a women’s organisation in Cambridge: Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre (CWRC). It was a stimulating time building on the second wave of feminism. This had started with Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), which argued that women were trapped in a system that denied them self-identity as women and demanded that they find fulfilment through their husbands and children. Radical feminists, would use the term “patriarchy” as a shorthand for this systemic subordination of women at a societal level. Today, we can still see the signs of patriarchy when we get news articles which use phrases like “housewife and mother of two” in a story about a woman, where the fact that she is a housewife and mother is completely irrelevant to the story.

 

At the time, I joined a movement called “Wages for Housework” which was an umbrella movement for many feminist issues. One of these was to do with Black women and the intersection of race and gender, and I got involved with their book launch of “Bringing it all Back Home”. This had the autobiographies of two Black women, one who had emigrated to the US and another who had come to the UK. The book gave an account of all the double discrimination Black women faced on account of race and sex discrimination, and I saw how this resonated for many Black and Minoritised Ethnic (BME) women. As a BME woman it started my journey of involvement with organisations working for race equality, leading me to be one of the founding members and now a trustee of Voice4Change England (V4CE).

 

There is no doubt there has been progress – not only do we now have effective equalities legislation outlawing race and sex discrimination, we also have many organisations that collect and publish race and gender data to help address issues. Unfortunately a lot more still needs to be done, particularly after the disadvantageous impact of the pandemic and cost of living rises. According to a 2020 Trades Union Congress (TUC) report, the social and economic impacts of pandemics fall harder on women than men. "This is particularly the case for BME women who experience systemic, structural inequalities. 1 in 8 (12.1%) BME women working in the UK are employed in insecure jobs compared to 1 in 16 (6.4%) white women and 1 in 17 (5.5%) white men. These inequalities are compounded by the distorting lenses of stereotyping and prejudices about race, gender and class that BME women are often seen through.”

 

I believe that V4CE advocacy and infrastructure work should have a particular and visible focus on BME women in voluntary sector groups. We should find out more in our equalities work and make their huge contribution visible as well as help them address inequality issues they face. For example, how many are trustees or senior leaders? Do they feel their voice is heard? How do they become the backbone of any organisation fighting to address the difficulties of people in their community – from not having enough to meet daily essentials to rising levels of child poverty to being trapped in low paid, insecure work or long-term unemployed to suffering serious health inequalities? We know already from our work, that these BME women are key generators of the social capital that brings together and builds families and communities and benefits so many.

 

I would like to mark this International Women’s Day as a celebration of all the invaluable work provided by BME women for communities and social wellbeing. It is the start of an opportunity to shine a light on all the BME women that have made a contribution to our society, and who are providing strong role models for future generations. At V4CE we will continue to celebrate and publish their amazing stories, supporting them in their work and helping them receive the acknowledgement and respect that they deserve.



Dr. Sharmin Shajahan, Deputy Director

“As a leader of a team, I try to remove barriers and inspire all my team members to reach their potential.


As a female leader who raised children and now with caring responsibilities, I understand some of the life and structural barriers a woman may face in her career progression.


Therefore, I would like to encourage all female members on this International Women’s Day, that even though we are all at different points in our career, we should all aspire to be future leaders in our own field of expertise and ask for guidance from managers and seek access to opportunities to develop ourselves, build our own resilience and skills to fulfil our ambitions.”



Sara Kathrada, Development and Grants Officer

“Every aspect of the work we do here at V4CE, from providing infrastructure support to running networking events is an active step towards a world in which women from all backgrounds can thrive.


We are honoured to work with such fantastic organisations who show us that real change is possible. I interact with many organisations who are doing incredible work at the grassroots level and beyond to ensure women’s needs are met, their voices are heard, and that they feel empowered. This takes many forms, and it is inspiring to see what can be achieved in the face of adversity with nothing more than a shoestring budget and a lot of dedication from people in the community, from providing safe spaces for those fleeing domestic abuse, to upskilling older women so that they feel confident communicating digitally, to providing women-only exercise classes to reduce isolation and exclusion.


As a woman from a Black and Minoritised Ethnic (BME) background, the fulfilment in my role comes from bridging the funding gap for initiatives that prioritise the needs of BME women and supporting the groups that deliver this life-changing work. If I have learned one thing from my work with these projects, it is that no woman has to stand alone - which I think it is quite fitting for this year's theme of #InspireInclusion.”



Christabelle Quaynor, Policy and Influence Officer

“Policies reflect the principles of a society, and gender equality is a crucial component of any society that strives for sustainable development and peace. As a Policy Officer, I feel committed to integrate gender equality into my work, including women and girls of all different backgrounds and walks of life.


Current policy areas including education, employment, criminal justice, and health, have led to women gaining more liberation and equality. For example, policies for education have helped empower women, contribute to earning potential and enhance career progression. Policies for employment have helped women gain economical capital, seek financial independence, and provide meaning to their work. In my work, I strive to contribute to women’s rights.”



Jennifer Wat, Environmental Strategy Intern

“My message for International Women's Day is simply one of gratitude. Starting your career after university can be very daunting, but already I’ve been surrounded by women who are supportive, ambitious and generous in the knowledge and expertise they are willing to impart.


On the other hand, developing an environmental strategy that looks to champion BME voices has exposed me to a whole host of impassioned women in the climate movement who are taking the lead in climate policy, activism, science, tech and more, whilst reasserting the real strength that can be found in having profound care and empathy for others, our planet and all forms of life. I am grateful to be sharing this space with many others who are continuously fighting for a fairer, liveable future that is for everyone.”

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