The word “inspirational” is often over-used, but our two speakers were more than that – we all left the Zoom event stimulated and motivated by these wonderful women.
Our two stimulating women leaders who spoke to us on Sat 13 March were ACC Kerrin Wilson, QPM – Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police and Shrabani Basu author of the “Spy Princess” who told us the amazing story of Noor Inayat Khan – the first woman radio operator to be infiltrated into occupied France in 1943. See below to read more about these two brilliant women and information on how to buy Shrabani’s books.
ACC Kerrin Wilson, QPM – Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police spoke first – her presentation is here: “Inspire to Aspire – Grasp The Future” Kerrin Wilson Soroptimist presentation 2021 . Kerrin (pictured here on our Zoom call) spoke candidly about her journey, what makes her tick, her ambition and her fight to end discrimination in all its vile forms. We could all relate to how she spoke – she develops a wonderful empathy with her audience. Everyone was filled with admiration for this feisty lady – a gem of a person to hear from on International Women’s Day.
“In talking about The Challenges of Gender and Diversity for British Police Forces, ACC Kerrin Wilson, QPM – Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police used her life and career to illustrate the issues, solutions and continuing challenges. She talked of how her childhood experiences shaped her later life, developing her values and making her realise she needed to make her own choices.
With no role models from her early life and, as the only female police officer of ethnic heritage for her first 8 years in the job, no role models in the force either, Kerrin forged her own path. Experiencing isolation, physical and verbal racial aggression from clients and covert racism and sexism in the force, including difficulties from male BAME officers, she sought support wherever she could. Kerrin paid tribute to the giants she stands on the shoulders of, from the earliest volunteer police women in World War 1 to women like Phyllis Sigsworth (SI Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead) who before retirement was the then highest ranking Female Officer in the Provinces.*
Kerrin sees role models, networking, support and mentoring as vital and has created support networks for BAME (British Asian and Minority Ethnic) Officers in her own force “WIN” and for female leaders in the wider community, “GLOW – Greater Lincolnshire Outstanding Women”. Kerrin still relies on the support of close female friends and is inspired by simple things like the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson.
She admits there is still a big job to do. Females now make up 60% of staff but the majority are in lower ranks with only 30% officers, 20% at Chief Officer and above. The situation for officers of ethnic minority heritage is even worse with only 5-8% of the total of which only about 1% are female. And with misogyny and intolerance dramatically on the increase, rapid recruitment making it harder to recruit widely, and the challenges of social media and new digital crimes as well as traditional issues like the gender pay gap, Chief Officers and HR departments must work hard to maintain momentum.
Kerrin believes the different skills and experience women and BAME officers bring make the police a better force and the important soft skills are now more evident from both male and female officers as a result. Leadership is beginning to have a different meaning but there is still a need to look at the culture of the organisation – who is celebrated with awards, looked up to for advice, thanked for making a difference? Individuals still need to forge their own paths, create their own culture of positivity and look after themselves but there are now secondment opportunities, study support, targets and data.
I was particularly struck by two things – it is the first time I’ve heard ‘endometriosis’ mentioned as a serious issue in staff support in any context and I was introduced to a new concept – not the glass ceiling but the ‘Sticky Floor’ – something we all need to be careful we don’t create for ourselves.
When asked by SIGBI President Johanna Raffan, on behalf of the Soroptimist UK Programme Action Committee (UKPAC) “What could Soroptimists do practically to end Violence against Women in the light of the tragic death of Sarah Everard?”, Kerrin replied – “Call out misogyny, wherever and whenever it occurs”. She illustrated with an event when she hadn’t been included in a meeting by the other officers, all male. She used her humour to make them very aware she knew what they had done and realise she wasn’t going to be left out. A great role model indeed!”
As always our attendees were actively involved with the speaker and asked lots of great questions, some of which Kerrin answered on the “Chat” facility on Zoom.
Q what was it like training police officers as a woman in Iraq?
A Kerrin said she was not in the face-to-face training team. She developed the training protocols and programme with Ministers and academy leaders. The Iraquis worked well with her but she did, on occasion, experience some hesitancy from US/UK military, that she thought might be because she is a woman, non-woman and ‘must be arabic’. Kerrin visited a police college in the Kurdish region where Iraqui women were being trained, many of whom were highly qualified academically.
Q – Soroptimist UK Programme Action Committee, have signed a joint statement by the Centre for Women’s Justice, however this is just more words – actions speak louder than words. What practical action can we do as Soroptimists?
A – Kerrin responded by urging members to ‘call it out’ whenever they see it, not to let men make decisions that women should be involved in making. Talk to the men in our lives about how they can encourage a better conversation between men. Asking them what are they doing to be role models to the young men around them. It is not just up to women to make a difference.
Q – Are women well trained and sufficiently interested to interview women victims of sexual assault, especially given the number of rape allegations that do not come to fruition in court?
A – Kerrin believes that they are, and the police force is taking further steps to ‘professionalise’ the approach to such interviews. One positive change is that women victims do not have to repeat their story as often. Also, many male officers have become very good at interviewing women victims. But the problem of ‘one word being against another’ is still an issue, as is the emphasis placed on the woman victim’s background when assessing sexual assault circumstances.
Q – How was Kerrin promoted throughout her career.
A – Kerrin explained that she moved from force to force in order to take up promotion opportunities that she applied for.
Q – What’s next for you and your career?
A – Kerrin doesn’t know whats next, there is no specific plan except to be ready for whatever the next opportunity / adventure is. She says she still has lots to do both in policing and wider.
President Helen concluded that it is easy to see why Kerrin was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal and reflected on her bravery in the context that the first female Asian Police Officer, Karpal Sandhu was murdered in an “honour” killing because she pursued a career in the police force.
*Kerrin paid tribute to women like Phyllis Sigworth (pictured here on our Zoom call), a Soroptimist, still incisive at 91, who had a very distinguished career in the Police Service and was also awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished Police Service. Phyllis has been a member of SI Slough Windsor and Maidenhead for 50 years. Phyllis has written a fascinating book about her glittering career, reaching the position of Assistant to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary – “A Beat From The Heart To The Heart Of Power” for details of how to buy your signed copy of the book please visit this page on our website www.sigbi.org/london-chilterns/shop Proceeds from the book go to the Domestic Abuse Charity DASH. Phyllis says she is looking forward to reading Kerrin’s book when Kerrin retires from the Police….
Kerrin asked that her speaker fee be donated to the Halo Project Charity (Middlesborough) which supports victims of honour-based violence, forced marriage and FGM www.haloproject.org.uk
“Fellow soroptimists and our most welcome guests, in keeping with our International Womens’ Day theme #ChoosetoChallenge I am delighted to introduce to you and welcome Shrabani Basu – a dear friend of whom I am very proud and honoured to know, a fellow alumna of my school in New Delhi, a keen journalist who has to her credit exclusive interviews with many eminent personalities including Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina, Salman Rushdie, and Dr Shashi Tharoor. Shrabani skilfully combined her journalism and her love of history to write several books on the shared history of India and Britain one of which was made into a major motion picture – Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant. The film was very well received and given red carpet receptions at Leicester Square, London and the international film festivals in Venice and Toronto. The film was highly applauded with two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe nomination for our very own Dame Judi Dench. Please sit back and enjoy Shrabani ’s talk on “The Spy Princess: Noor Inayat Khan and the campaign for recognition” Please read about her presentation from the day and scroll to the end to read more about Shrabani and how to buy her wonderful books.
Shrabani Basu author of the “Spy Princess” – on Noor Inayat Khan – to see all of the photos used in Shrabani’s presentation please click Shrabani Basu Noor presentation SILC 13 Mar 21
Shrabani is a gifted story teller – one of our Members said “I feel like I’m listening to an audio book! In the best way!” as she listened to Noor’s story. Shrabani is pictured here, to the right of the image of Noor, while giving her Zoom presentation. Rita Beaumont, our Region’s Councillor and Secretary summarised the story here:
“Noor was born in Moscow in January 1914, the eldest of the four children of Sufi teacher and musician Inayat Khan and his American wife Ameena. She was a descendant of the 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan. As a child she lived in London and Paris where she was educated. In November 1940 the family fled back to London after the fall of France .
Late in 1942 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) where she trained as a radio operator. Because of the skills she gained and speaking fluent French she became a natural candidate for recruitment to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Following an intense training course in June 1943 she was dropped into France becoming part of the Prosper resistance network with the codename of “Madeleine”. After a month many of the network were arrested but Noor escaped and chose to stay in France. The life expectancy for a radio operator was 6 weeks but she transmitted vital information to London for 3 months from occupied Paris because they were not looking for a woman and she used her knowledge of Paris and contacts to move around.
Following betrayal, she was arrested by the Gestapo; she was tortured and interrogated in Paris before being transferred to the notorious Pforzheim prison in Germany. For a further ten months she was kept in solitary confinement in chains and despite repeated torture she refused to reveal any information. She was transferred to Dachau concentration camp to be shot by an SS executioner and cremated on 13th September 1944
For her courage she was posthumously awarded both the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.”
Shrabani decided that Noor deserved to be remembered properly – with a statue and a blue plaque – and had to learn how to go about it. She is the founder and chair of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust which campaigned for a memorial for the World War II heroine in London. It was unveiled by Princess Anne on 8 November 2012. In 2020 the first English Heritage Blue Plaque for a woman of South Asian decent in London was installed at her wartime home in Taviton St – Shrabani applied for it in 2006! It is really important that women are recognised in the same way as men and that they are no longer invisible.
Shrabani was asked lots of questions by our active audience – she told us it takes about 5 years to research her books. She spoke about the challenges of writing “Victoria and Abdul”, and the joy of working with Dame Judy Dench when the film was made of her book. She was asked what happened to Noor’s mother/brothers and told us that a prisoner in the same camp as Noor found her family to tell them her story, which broke her Mother’s heart and she died soon afterwards. One of Noor’s brothers died in 2004, before Shrabani’s book was published in 2006. The other brother was a music composer and lived for 99 years. Noor’s house in France is still looked after by her family descendants and Shrabani is still in touch with Noor’s nephew who lives in the US. He attended the unveiling of a statue of Noor. Shrabani told us that they are working on a TV series about the “Spy Princess” – definitely something we will all want to watch. Her latest book “The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer” tells the bizarre story of Conan Doyle as detective and champion of justice. Please see below for information on how to buy Shrabani’s books.
Shrabani was the icing on the cake for our International Women’s Day event. It is so important that stories about women, like the ‘spy princess’, are told, in a world where so many are written about men. What a privilege it was to be able to welcome her to our meeting.
SI London Chilterns Region Business – was conducted swiftly and efficiently after our first speaker Kerrin. The good news was that we all agreed to the Region’s proposal to waive Clubs/Members’ dues to Region for 2021/22 because, apart from speaker donations and fees, the budget had barely been touched because of COVID restrictions.
After Shrabani had spoken we heard about the Programme Action work of 7 Clubs in the Region. We heard from the other Clubs at our last meeting in December. This ideas sharing session is always popular because it is wonderful to hear about the great projects that Clubs are involved with and other Clubs pick up ideas for their own Clubs to take up. This time we heard from SI Hertford, Si High Wycombe, SI St Albans, SI Milton Keynes, SI Newbury, SI Oxford and SI Thames Valley. SI Hertford have been busy supporting their local women’s refuge. One of their new Members put a note out on her local social media group and received loads of toiletries which they made into gift sets that children in the refuge could give to their Mums. SI High Wycombe has been supporting the Mayor’s Christmas appeal with gifts for vulnerable people and also Dementia Action. SI St Albans turned the St Albans Museum orange for the #16Days to end violence against women. SI Milton Keynes have been supporting their women’s refuge including sending cakes and cookies to keep the spirits up during COVID. They are looking forward to their Centenary Awards Evening later in the year. SI Newbury have been supporting charities with donations, they did their annual pancake event online to create a news item for the local papers to cover and they are planning to plant trees at the location of the charity they support in Ghana to mark the Soroptimist centenary. SI Oxford have been supporting local charities and Crisis at Christmas. They were delighted to tell us that they have recruited 3 new Members because they have been meeting online which makes the Club accessible for those who find it difficult to get out in the evening – they intend to have hybrid meetings post-COVID. SI Thames Valley updated us on the Kori Development Project in Sierra Leone which goes from strength to strength. They are sending “a school in a bag” to the children at the school – for just £20 each – with the ruck-sack and most of the contents suitable to support a child right through their school years.
#IWD2021 #ChoosetoChallenge the Status Quo – to end the event we asked all attendees to raise their hands to show support for International Women’s Day 2021 and the theme #ChoosetoChallenge – our Region was inspired by Kerrin Wilson who said she always “chooses to challenge the status quo” – and that is what makes her such an inspiring role model.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 from UN Women www.unwomen.org was “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”
The theme from International Women’s Day www.internationalwomensday.com was #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021
I think we can all agree that this event fitted the brief for both of these themes!
The feedback from the attendees included comments like: What fantastic speakers we had today! Great meeting. Thank you for a great event. I really enjoyed this morning as a brand new member, very inspiring! Wonderful meeting, thank you. Very informative meeting. Thank you very much to the organisers.
ACC Kerrin Wilson, QPM – Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police – Kerrin is one of only two female Chief Officer in the UK from an ethnic minority community and was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in the 2020 New Year’s Honours List. Kerrin is an entertaining and challenging speaker who has had a fascinating career and was recognised in her citation for the medal for “inspiring others to greatness” and “placing diversity at the heart of her work”.
Kerrin works tirelessly to improve gender parity in policing and to develop people from ethnic minority backgrounds. As well as developing networks affiliated to the National Black Police Association (NBPA) in her previous forces, she has founded Supporting Minorities in Lincolnshire through Engagement (SMILE) at Lincolnshire Police and GLOW (Greater Lincolnshire Outstanding Women) – the voice of strong female leaders from across the public and private sectors of Lincolnshire to inspire the next generation of women and girls to achieve their dreams.
Shrabani Basu is a journalist and Sunday Times best-selling author. Her books include the critically acclaimed For King and Another Country; Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18, Victoria & Abdul; The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant (now a major motion picture)and Spy Princess; The Life of Noor Inayat Khan. Her latest book The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer is to be published in March 2021. Please click here to order a signed copy https://bit.ly/3benNqA
Shrabani is a frequent commentator on Indian history and Empire on radio and television.
To buy any of Shrabani’s books please click on the links here:
Spy Princess– www.shrabanibasu.co.uk/spy-princess
Victoria and Abdul – www.shrabanibasu.co.uk/victoria-abdul
Curry: the story of the Nation’s favourite dish – www.shrabanibasu.co.uk/curry
For King and Another Country: Indian soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18 – www.amazon.co.uk/King-Another-Country-Soldiers-Western/dp/1408880113/
Her new book “The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer” is about Arthur Conan Doyle, George Edalji and the Case of the Foreigner in the English Village. Order your signed copy here https://bit.ly/3benNqA or www.amazon.co.uk/Mystery-Parsee-Lawyer-Foreigner-English-ebook/dp/B08HWGRSNM/
The feedback from everyone who attended was all really upbeat and positive: thank you very much for a fascinating and eye-opening presentation, that was really inspiring and challenging… Absolutely brilliant speaker. wonderful role model. Two wonderful and inspirational speakers. What a privilege to hear them. Best ever regional meeting and wonderful speakers. Looking forward to many more virtual meetings. Thank you to all who organised today. It was good to see so many and with such inspirational speakers. What fantastic speakers we had today! I really enjoyed this morning as a brand new member, very inspiring! Wonderful meeting, thank you. Thank you very much to the organisers.
Thanks for coming! Our next event will be on June 12th in the afternoon when we will celebrate the Soroptimist 100th Anniversary – don’t miss it!