Blackburne House, one of the leading centres for women’s enterprise and education based on Liverpool’s Hope Street, hosted a Women’s Question Time event last week at their premises on Hope Street in Liverpool.
An all-female panel including parliamentary and business representatives gathered to answer questions from more than one hundred women on the things that they felt could affect their decision to vote in the upcoming general election.
The panel included Norsheen Bhatti, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Walton; former Labour MP Hazel Blears; young person’s advocate Emma Hulme of 4Wings CIC; Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy; Linda Loy, associate at the College of Policing; Ruth Smart from the Green Party; Baroness Walmsley, Liberal Democrat Peer; and Kate Willard, corporate affairs director at Stobart Group. Liz Cross, managing director at The Connectives and chair of Blackburne House Group chaired the discussion.
CEO at Blackburne House, Claire Dove, welcomed guests saying:
“As the General Election looms, we are acutely aware that women are less likely to participate in the voting process. In the 2010 election, some nine million women did not vote, it is a staggering and sad statistic.
“At Blackburne House, we are entirely driven by our values of education and empowerment of women, they are embedded into all that we do. It is so important to us that the women we work with and the women we help understand the role that they could play in influencing our society for the greater good.
“We want women to be inspired to vote and hope that this event will go some way towards ensuring more inclusivity of votes locally and perhaps more widely; and make women’s education a priority for parliamentarians. We had a hung parliament at the last election, but imagine what might have happened if women voted.
“Three of the main Parties are this year led by women. Those women have shown passion, gravitas and intellectual integrity quite unlike their male counterparts. This year is our year. Tonight, let our voices be heard.”
The panel were asked to discuss some of what they feel are the main issues for women in our society, addressing challenges and seeking answers.
Norsheen Bhatti began by saying:
“I think, fundamentally, we all want the same things. We want to overcome obstacles like the gender pay gap and eradicate social issues like domestic violence, rape and trafficking. But one of the biggest issues, particularly perhaps for young women in Liverpool, is body image.”
Baroness Joan Walmsley added:
“When Theresa May came into post as Minister for Women and Equality, immediately she was judged on how she looked and what she was wearing. In such a pressured and crucially important role, tasked with taking decisions on policies that affect the future of millions of women, who cares what shoe’s she is wearing.”
The event was sponsored by Fusion 21, MSB Solicitors, PwC and SEUK. Organisers say that they hope event will encourage more women to vote and will go some way to ensuring that the women’s education agenda become a priority under the new leadership.
The discussion went onto cover education, poverty, housing, austerity, the bedroom tax and sexual and physical violence against women.
Some of the highlights included:
Kate Willard –
“We need to instil a new confidence amongst women and it must be long term. Our lives are not always determined by the conscious choices we make, but so often, women find themselves on a natural path. I’d like us to find a confidence in this room to bring about a change and empower women to trust that path.”
Norsheen Bhatti –
“Young women have the same opportunities as young men through primary school. They have the same opportunities through secondary school. They have the same opportunities for higher and further education. Then, when they leave university and go out into society, something happens. They don’t get the same access to jobs, and if they do the gender pay gap still very much exists. We have to address this.”
A teacher in the audience also commented:
“We empower young women all the way through school, we must empower them and give them the tools they need to empower them in society too.”
Hazel Blears –
“I remember being a young girl in the seventies and seeing a man begging and rummaging for food and thinking ‘it’s not fair’. Now, in 2015, we live in a rich developed country but last Christmas, we saw people who were using food banks peak. It’s still not fair. We must use the power of politics to make a change.”
Baroness Joan Walmsley –
“We have to tackle housing and the lack of social housing, it’s incredibly important. Selling off housing association homes is not the answer. The Liberal Democrat Party have committed to building a thousand new social housing homes each year. We have pledged to allow local authorities to build again, and make sure that smaller developers are not exempt from this process.
“We also want to allow people to gradually own their own homes, through continuing schemes like rent to own. Let’s empower young people and help them to consider their options when it may seem there aren’t any.”
Hazel Blears –
“That the current government appear to class people who rent their homes as second-rate citizens shows how out of touch they are with our society. Many young people rent homes because it suits them – renting gives them options, it gives them flexibility.”
A member of the audience commented:
“Do we always have to concern ourselves with owning homes? Look at some of our neighbours in Europe – they have a culture of renting homes because it suits them. They don’t value their wealth on ownership of homes and property.”
Jane Kennedy –
“Austerity is not a necessity it is a policy of choice. Today, national crime statistics have revealed a 5% rise in crime nationally and I urge women to understand the value of investment into our public services.”
Ruth Smart –
“Austerity is crippling our society. In this general election, you are not just voting for yourself, you are voting for tour children and your grandchildren and the kind of society you want them to live in.”
On the bedroom tax:
Jane Kennedy –
“Let me be clear on this, the bedroom tax is a cruel and inhuman violation of some of the poorest members of our society. The insanity of how this cruel tax is being implemented staggers me.”
Hazel Blears –
“When you are a government minister, you must base your policies on evidence. The bedroom tax is a deliberately punitive political statement about people living in rented homes. It is the worst piece of policy making I have ever seen and the sooner it is abolished the better.”
On domestic violence:
Emma Hulme –
“In my experience, the police often don’t take reports of domestic abuse seriously – there doesn’t appear to be the right level of training in place. We need to invest money to instil a better understanding of domestic violence so that this is dealt with more effectively and women have more confidence and feel less intimidated to report it.
“Also, we have to invest more into helping women after they have reported it. Often, women feel isolated and intimidated and don’t know where to turn. There are community and voluntary organisations doing what they can to help, but the government need to invest in what is a very real and growing problem.”
Jane Kennedy –
“I am proud to work with Merseyside Police, I know their strengths and weaknesses, and this is something we talk about often. I admit that we have got it wrong in the past, but we are trying to address. We have now enforced body-worn cameras on officers responding to reports of domestic violence to ensure that there is independent evidence that may be used to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse in the instance that the victim does not press charges.
“This is an investment of time and money, to adapt procedures to ensure we are acting in the best interest of these women. We hope that the cameras will help these women to feel less intimidated in these situations.”
Baroness Walmsley –
“The mechanics of personal and health education in schools should change to better educate young people on relationships. If we can invest time in education young women – and men – into realising and understanding the signs of violent or controlling behaviour, that is at least some small measure.”
Norsheen Bhatti –
“The government has ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding, up to 2015, for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services and national helplines.”
Annette Hennessey closed the evening’s discussion, saying:
“Politics is personal because it matters. Women have a very strong view about what they want, and it is simple really – homes, food and opportunities. But there are still challenges; messages around body-image, poverty, domestic violence and austerity cuts that often affect women’s adversity. Let us use our voice, collectively to spread the message on how we as women can unite to secure a better future for our families, and individually because every vote counts.”
Blackburne House is a Grade II Listed building based in the Georgian Quarter and is home to Blackburne House Education, which offers a wide range of educational programmes for women; the School for Social Entrepreneurs North West; and a number of award winning social enterprises including the cafe bar, health suite, nursery, conference and events centre and female maintenance business.
For more information visit www.blackburnehouse.co.uk