A Moving Human Rights Day Region Celebration

Members from Soroptimist Clubs in the London Chilterns Region and their guests attended a moving Human Rights Day event on Saturday 15th December. 

2018 marked 70 years since the signing of the United Nations declaration of Human Rights for www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/ One of our traditions to celebrate Human Rights Day is to light candles in recognition of the work of Soroptimists and women around the world in striving to ensure that the human rights of women and children are protected everywhere.

The introduction to the declaration was made by Joanna Swift, SI Aylesbury and District, who lit the first candle to remember those in the world who are still denied their Human Rights. The second reading and lighting of a candle was by Immediate Past Regional President Margaret Badley, SI Bedford to celebrate the work of Women across the World. The third was by Regional President Elect Denise Powell, SI St Albans and District celebrating the work of Soroptimists across SIGBI. The last reading and candle lighting was by Becca Powell, SI Lewisham and South East London to celebrate the work of Soroptimists across the World (yes Denise and Becca are related, they are a mother and daughter Soroptimist power-house of a double act!).

We had two first class speakers – Sofia Buncy before lunch at the Lancaster Hall Hotel (which, by the way, was delicious) and Lynne Townley after lunch.

Sofia Buncy is the researcher and co-author of the first ever report into Muslim Women in British Prisons. She is regarded as a specialist in this area of criminal justice with unique insight into the particular and additional cultural challenges faced by Muslim women whilst in prison and post-prison from an institutional and community perspective. She moved us with her description of Muslim women’s isolation, being failed by the criminal justice system, often for crimes carried out on behalf of men. Her success in campaigning on this difficult and taboo gender equality issue was commended this year when she received the coveted Butler Trust Award for good practice in a custodial setting from patron HRH Princess Anne. Pam Robertson (pictured here with Sofia) met Sofia at the Soroptimist UK Programme Action Study Day in Belfast, heard her speak and wanted more of us to be able to hear from Sofia first-hand. Those who attended were “blown away” by Sofia’s humanity and kindness – she is a wonderful woman and a real inspiration – no wonder she is making change happen.

Lynne Townley is known to Joanna. She is a barrister, currently a lecturer on the Bar Professional Training Course at City Law School, University of London. She specialises in criminal law and has been national lead advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Law Officers on a number of areas of law, including homicide, honour based violence, forced marriage and FGM. In court, she has prosecuted many cases involving domestic violence, rape and sexual offences, and other aspects of violence against women and girls. In 2018, Lynne was elected as the Chair of the Association of Women Barristers, which represents and monitors the interests of women at the English Bar. Again we were moved by what Lynne was able to tell us from her experience. It is harrowing to think that before 2003/4 police just didn’t get involved with crimes against women and girls in non-white communities, treating the crimes as “culturally acceptable” and being frightened of appearing to be racist. Things have changed for the better, but there is a huge amount that needs to be done to raise the emotional intelligence of those dealing with crime against women and girls on the front-line.

As we celebrated Human Rights Day, we said ”No” to violence against women, our speakers “ticked a lot of boxes” and encompassed our new Federation President’s theme on mental health “Think on it” www.sigbi.org/members/clubs/think-on-it/ .

The last session of the day was for each Club represented to celebrate and share information with one another about one example of Programme work they are proud of in their Club. Great ideas were shared and set everyone thinking “yes – we could do that too!”

During the day we had a ‘bucket’ collection to send a donation to our International President’s Appeal “Women, Water and Leadership”, an opportunity for Clubs to support President Mariet’s charity. For more information about the “Women Water and Leadeship” appeal and projects please see www.soroptimistinternational.org/members-area/si-presidents-appeal/

Many thanks to Pam Robertson and Joanna Swift (and our efficient Secretary Rita Beaumont) for organising such a great Human Rights Day, raising our awareness of these issues so we can all be advocates and take action – plenty of food for thought for the festive season….