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Panel: Soroptimists in Action

Blog by Shukla Chattopadhyay, SI South Kolkata

With a warm welcome to the delegates, Dr. Liz Dominey invited the first of six speakers, Jackie Jones to speak about her engagement with the CEDAW. Jackie emphasized that Soroptimists are pushing the CEDAW Committee to obtain and retain women’s and girls’ rights. The CEDAW works with the governments. The COVID 19 Pandemic has witnessed massive regression in this area. Hence the urgency to act has increased manifold.

The next speakers were Molly and Jonaki, as a team from East London, representatives to CAG (Centenary Action Group). Jonaki is also involved with the Programme Action of Greater London Club. The duo spoke about the thrust of the CAG on women’s political participation.

  • Equal Power Project
  • CAG’s call on the UK Government to be agreeable on women’s educational and digital presence, support to victims, financial and political support and reversing the harmful UK aids cuts

The third Speaker was Kim Anne Williamson, MBE who spoke about Modern Slavery in the UK. Kim shared slides showing Phase 1 of the UK Modern Slavery Training Delivery Group wherein she is the Chair and the Sponsor is Queen’s Counsel, Caroline Haughey, OBE. The Steering Group comprises the Hospitality and Health Sectors, the NGO Sector, the Finance Sector, First Responder, Training Code of Practice/ framework and the Labour Market to include Construction and Transport. The Steering group of Phase 2 has bodies like the Civil Service, Judiciary, Academia, Public Awareness and Campaigns, Aviation Task and Finish Group. The UKPAC involvement with recognizing and finding solutions to this unacceptable condition of modern society began in 2018 when they conducted a Survey and then published Modern Slavery: A Guide for Soroptimist International Great Britain & Ireland. Speaking with passion, Kim Ann inspired all her listeners.

The next Speaker was Pat Black from SI Edinburgh, who spoke about NAWO (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations). She is a former Chair of NAWO. The Management Committee comprises Young Women’s Alliance, England Rep UK Joint Women’s Committee, Secretariat UK CSW CSO Alliance, UN Activity. Activities include Pre CSW briefings with UK Government Equalities Office, daily briefings for UK delegates in New York. Young people can be elected as NAWO representatives for CSW Geneva. With NAWO, the scope of Advocacy for women’s issues is vast at the national, European and UN levels.

The last speaker, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson spoke with passion and empathy for people with disabilities. She strongly recommended that it should be made a criminal offence to threaten or intimidate women and girls.

After the speakers had all shared their experiences, an animated panel discussion followed after a question was put forth by Chair, Liz Dominey as to why is it that even after so many years of CEDAW having been ratified in 1986 that women’s issues still needed to be pushed.

Jackie Jones responded that a nudge and a push always helped. Pat Black agreed saying that she and Jackie went back 30 years and had always seen this happening. Tanni Grey remarked that there are many abusive women as well which makes matters worse. Jonaki responded that collaboration, collectives, support and the strength of numbers is really significant to influence and sway decisions. Jackie said emphatically that abusive people were not a minority anymore; more and more people were becoming exploitative, manipulative and aggressive.

Kim Ann asked how victims of exploitation could be helped. Responses were that clubs should join together. Jackie remarked that many young people, men included, from the University of Bristol were willing to come forward and take action.

Pat Black responded that women should learn about their rights. Soroptimists can help to give these women their voice, help them obtain and retain their rights citing the SI President, Sharon Fisher’s programme of taking up issues like FGM and Child Marriage. Liz and Tanni Grey both agreed that strength of numbers is crucial. Tanni Grey continued that suicides were increasing; women put up a lot of resistance but also get bullied. Personal experiences help to bring legislation into context. Kim Ann added that exploitation and domestic violence were akin to modern slavery which led Liz Dominey to ask what we as Soroptimists can do to alleviate this situation where one out of three women face exploitation.

All panelists agreed that joining forces was the key to making a greater impact. Pat Black suggested that Soroptimist Clubs could partner with organisations working for refugees, have a specialist’s advice regarding these issues and add our voice to theirs. Molly spoke about the need to create more awareness about Soroptimist. Jonaki suggested that technology be used optimally to focus on the Soroptimist numbers. Tanni Grey whose daughter is 19, said that a collective voice is absolutely necessary to bring about change. Everyone on the panel agreed that Soroptimists need to join up with ‘soroptimists in deed’ as suggested by Anne Marie Imafidon at the beginning of the conference.

Kudos to the UKPAC team for presenting such relevant programmes being undertaken by Soroptimists. As PAC of my own club, I felt truly inspired hearing the thought provoking exchanges among the panelists!

About the Panellists

Jackie Jones – SI Cardiff – Committee on The Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Jackie Jones is a Former President of Cardiff and District Soroptimists, a Former Member of the European Parliament and Former Professor of Feminist Legal Studies. She has over 20-years’ experience of volunteering in human rights NGOs in Wales and Europe. She been involved in human rights focussing on the human rights and dignity of women, speaking to national governments, EU institutions (like the European Institute for Gender Equality, European Commission, Fundamental Rights Agency) and at the United Nations. She has organised and been on dozens of parallel events at the UN in Geneva, Vienna and NY. As Professor of Law Jackie wrote many articles, reports and books on women’s rights, including on human trafficking and modern day slavery. As Member of the European Parliament Jackie sat on the Women’s Rights and Equality Committee where she advocated for positive changes for women’s rights.

Jackie has travelled across Wales to provide training on CEDAW. She has given evidence to the CEDAW Committee and has acted as legal advisor on a number of cases concerning CEDAW and legal submissions to the CEDAW Committee.

Pat Black – SI Edinburgh – National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO)

Pat Black is a Past President of SIGBI Federation, having held various posts through all levels of Soroptimist International including Soroptimist International Director of Advocacy.

She is currently an Adviser to the SI Board and SI Advocacy Committee on the wide range of statements needed for our international work presenting a global voice for women.

She has a keen interest in the empowerment of Civil Society nationally and internationally especially at the United Nations giving voice to the many campaigns which volunteers are engaged in. Pat has attended a range of events and meetings at the United Nations including the UN Commission on the Status of Women, working with Soroptimist International and the UK NGO CSW Alliance alongside the UK Government on the text of Agreed Conclusions each year, partnering with a wide range of other international and national organisations.  She has contributed to UK shadow reports on CEDAW and reviews of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action helping to monitor the actions of Governments.

Pat has been Vice Chair of the UK CSW Alliance for a number of years which is one of the ‘branches’ of the work of NAWO. Most recently she served as Chair of NAWO, the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, which is a group of likeminded organisations and institutions working to make gender equality a reality. In these roles she has worked with many others across the UK to support the advancement of women and girls and lobby for changes in policy and legislation.

Kim Ann Williamson MBE – SI Cardiff – UK Modern Slavery Training Group

Kim Ann is President of SI Cardiff & District Club and Assistant Programme Director – Peace and is passionate to help improve the lives of women and girls wherever possible.

Kim Ann has had a career in the civil service for over 36 years and is very proud to be a public servant. Kim Ann has had experience of domestic abuse and child protection work and is the Strategic Objectives

Programme Lead for the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group and Chairs the UK Modern Slavery Training Delivery Group.

Kim Ann has worked internationally and was delighted to have been a contributor to the Palgrave International Handbook of Human Trafficking.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE – SI Middlesbrough

One of Britain’s greatest Paralympic athletes, Tanni Grey-Thompson amassed a remarkable medal haul over 16 years and 5 Paralympic Games of 11 Gold, 4 Silver and 1 Bronze medal.

In 2005 she became ‘Dame’ Tanni Grey-Thompson for her services to sport and in March 2010, Tanni was created a life peer and was conferred as Baroness Grey-Thompson, of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham.

Dame Tanni is Chancellor of Northumbria University, Chair of Trustees of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, President of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and most recently became President of the Local Government Association.

In addition to all of the above Dame Tanni is a member of SI Middlesbrough!

Dame Tanni has recently contributed to the debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, speaking to a debate on the amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords and it is about this that we have invited her to be one of our Panel members.

Jonaki Ahteck – SI Greater London 

Jonaki started her journey with Soroptimist International in 2004 as founder member of Soroptimist International Mauritius (Port Louis) Club, an affiliate of SIGBI. She served as Programme Action Officer for several years. The Club’s first key projects included:

  • addressing the issue of sexual exploitation of women and girls through an education/awareness campaign across secondary schools.
  • an integrated community development and education for children below 5 pilot project in an area designated by the Government of Mauritius as “Extreme Poverty Zone”.

Jonaki joined SI Greater London (SIGL) when she moved back to London in 2018 and is currently serving as Programme Action Officer (2021). Along with SIGL Club Secretary (Molly Byrne), Jonaki represents SIGBI at the Centenary Action Group (CAG) platform. In her capacity as Programme Action officer, she attends CAG working project committees and relays project information/lobby campaigns to SI through SIGL, SI London Collective and UKPAC.

Molly Byrne Robinson – SI Greater London

Molly is originally from the United States and has been a Soroptimist since 2013. She has been a member of SI Greater London (SIGL) since 2017 and is currently Club Secretary. Prior to this, she was a member of SI Manchester, where she served as President in 2016.

Along with Jonaki Ahteck of SIGL, Molly represents SIGBI in the Centenary Action Group (CAG). CAG was established by Helen Pankhurst in 2018 to take action over the next ten years to ensure equal representation by 2028. It is a cross-party coalition of 100 organisations and activists with a mission to eradicate the barriers that prevent women from all backgrounds from taking part in politics by enabling collaboration, joint action and campaigning to improve women’s political participation in the UK.