Women in Parliament
Blog by Sue Butler, SI Ilkley
Lobbying our politicians is a core activity of Soroptimism so I was delighted to get my conference going with the Women in Parliament workshop led by Kerrie Carpenter (pictured), the UK Parliament’s Senior Outreach and Engagement Officer for the SouthEast region. A title like that promises much – and we were not disappointed. I have long felt that my own contributions to my MP’s mailbox needed … well something, to be more persuasive? more hard-hitting? It had not previously occurred to me that I could engage with both MPs and Lords more widely – Kerrie opened my eyes.
Did you know that you can write to any MP or peer? If they have an active interest or a role in the subject you wish to pursue then go ahead. Remember to state the reason for choosing them as opposed to your MP.
If the matter which you wish to influence is the subject of a Select Committee enquiry then you may contribute evidence to that enquiry. Check the list of ongoing enquiries on the Houses of Parliament website – they are numerous and diverse, including for instance the best way to measure child poverty (how heartrending that in the twenty first century this is a matter we need to concern ourselves with) to the safety and regulation of jet skis. You can join the mailing list of a Select Committee that is pursuing a matter of interest to you and receive regular updates about their activities.
You can also use the Houses of Parliament website to start your own petition. Of course there are large organisations already running important petitions. If your burning concern is not amongst them and you can use the simple toolkit on the website to start your own. You’ll need 5 signatures to establish the petition. If it ‘catches on’ and you get 10,000 signatures the government will be obliged to provide a response. If you’re successful enough to attract 100,000 signatures you can put your petition forward to be considered for a parliamentary debate.
Kerrie was a clear, knowledgeable and enthusiastic speaker. Sometimes one can feel a little jaded with writing letters that perhaps provoke a rather dutiful MP response. Kerrie re-vitalised this Soroptimist’s enthusiasm for engaging with our political processes and gave me tools to do so, tools to Stand up for Women in our democracy. Despite dry runs and link tests conference participation got off to a slightly rocky start for a small group of Soroptimists in Ilkley. By the end of Kerrie’s workshop we were all right back in a “Believe to Achieve” frame of mind.
The importance of using all the avenues we can was brought home to me in the final session of the day when our Soroptimist link to CEDAW told us that the lived experience of women and girls is very different from what governments believe it to be. Soroptimists have been communicating about that lived experience for decades. We must use all the tools we heard about today to continue to do.
How to Toilet Twin your Town or City
Blog by Jill Barnard, SI St Austell and District
Queuing for the ‘Ladies’… it always meets with a roll of the eyes or a sharp ‘tut’ or even both! But imagine having to wait until it becomes dark before you can leave your house to go to the toilet and even then it won’t be a toilet – it will be out in the open! You will face the danger of the local wildlife but you also face the risk of serious assault and rape! Puts a few minutes stood cross-legged into perspective, doesn’t it?
Sarah Suddrey (pictured) from www.toilettwinnig.org explained in today’s workshop that 2 billion people do not have access to a safe place to ‘go’ which leads to 443 million schooldays being lost per year due to illness caused by unsanitary conditions as well as unfortunately, rape and assault.
We were shown videos showcasing the need for improved toilet and sanitation facilities in under-developed and poor regions around the world and the immense positive impact toilet twinning has had.
Sarah explained that to twin a toilet involves a £60 donation. But there is more to this ‘twinning’ than just the provision of a toilet or latrine. There is no doubt the toilets are basic by our standards but what toilet twinning provides is a means to develop a community led total sanitary approach to hygiene practises. In other words, a life changing experience. Literally!
Toilet twinning has led to women now having a say within their community as they have become integral to the workshops carried out through the introduction of toilets or latrines within their communities. Hygiene education including highlighting the dangers of open defecation where there is a rainy season as well as how to build, use and maintain basic latrines whilst showing dignity and respect to the local cultures and traditions as resulted in the villagers becoming proud of their latrines and their newly acquired knowledge and skills. Having a toilet in their village however is not the end of the story…it is just the beginning. Village leaders and their community feel they have solved a significant problem. The whole village knows that good sanitation saves lives. They feel empowered to move onto and solve the next issue affecting their village.
This is the difference one £60 donation to twin a toilet can make…imagine the impact 1,200 toilets can make! That is the number of toilets twinned so far – or £73,000 in monetary terms.
Soroptimists around the country have helped Toilettwinning.org to raise the profile of the issue of lack of adequate sanitation as well as their own clubs by twinning not only their own toilet but actually taking the step of twinning their whole village, town or even city.
The process of doing this is clarified at https://www.toilettwinning.org/twin-your-town/ and Sarah reassured us that there is plenty of support and resources available to anyone who wishes to join the 55 town and cities who have already been twinned and the 35 who are in the process of completing this.
My own club SI St Austell and District are one of the 35 who had to shelve their ambition of creating a Toilet twinned town due to Covid-19 making the process very difficult if not impossible. We will however be revisiting the campaign next year hopefully, armed with the wealth of knowledge gained during the workshop’s breakout rooms on some innovative and indeed bizarre fundraising tips and techniques (Did you know you can actually purchase a toilet costume to dress up in… or that in some towns taxi drivers like having their cars photographed with an actual toilet inside? One club in particular has found an innovative way of combining toilet twinning with COP26.
One thing became very clear is that Toilet Twinning is fun and this theme will continue on Friday November 19th – World Toilet Day when you can join the World Toilet Day Party in celebration of their 10 year anniversary– a free online event – you just need to click on this link https://www.toilettwinning.org/world-toilet-day-party/ and reserve a place!
With the prospect of Lemon Piddle Cake to eat and a game of Chicken Poo Bingo it is bound to be a fun event!
Toilettwinning.org has shown us not only they can make a serious subject fun but they can twin almost everything! During the latter part of the workshop we were introduced to the newer campaigns: Tap Twinning, Bin Twinning and Fridge Twinning. All three are crucial causes and I would certainly ask you all to visit www.toilettwinning.org to find out more… I simply cannot do these campaigns the justice they deserve within this blog. By supporting any of the campaigns it is surprising how many aspects of SDGs are met. I am sure it would be difficult to find many organisations similar to toilettwinning.org who meet such a diverse number of the Sustainable Development Goals!
To finish… There was one final video at the end of the workshop – a 70 year old lady called Lilian from Zambia who had the most infectious laugh ever but whose message came over loud and clear – “her toilet is the beholder of life”!
Kerrie Carpenter is the UK Parliament’s Senior Outreach and Engagement Officer (South East region) and delivers workshops and presentations to adults and young people in a variety of settings, from schools and universities to village halls and even tents. These sessions help people to develop their knowledge and understanding of parliament so that they can become engaged and active members of society, if and when they chose to do so. They are politically neutral and equip participants with knowledge and skills to get their voices heard, whether that be through EDMs, Select Committees, petitions, debates or in the legislative process. Our mantra is that no question is too silly: we hope you will enjoy the session and come and find out more!
Sarah Suddrey is fundraising manager for Toilet Twinning, a charity campaign that helps provide clean water, proper toilets and hygiene training overseas. She has worked in the voluntary and charity sector for 20 years and has travelled overseas to visit development programmes funded by Toilet Twinning. Her workshop will give an overview of the charity’s work, explain the criteria required and take you through the stages of how to twin your town or city. Already several Soroptimist Clubs have helped to achieve Toilet Twinning status in their town or city – could yours be next?