News from Region

Regional Meeting in London 15th December 2018 – Celebrating Human Rights Day

First Impressions  Part 1, by Susi Gow, member of SI Thgames Valley

On a wet day in December, a group of us went to the Regional Meeting in London.  The event celebrated Human Rights Day, and as a result was a remarkable experience, especially for a first time attendee.

It is seventy years since the UN Declaration of Human Rights came into being.

We heard the words of the UN Secretary General, who described human rights as being universal, eternal and indivisible.  They were however under siege at the moment, and the universal values were being eroded.

Michelle Bachelet (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), has said wherever respect for the Declaration’s commitments has been present, the dignity of millions has been uplifted, suffering prevented and the foundations laid for a more just world.

Four candles were lit to remember people still being denied their human rights, and to celebrate the work of women across the world, and the work of Soroptimists here and around the world. We heard about examples of erosion of human rights happening now.

The two speakers were outstanding and hence will have a section to themselves!

It was a marvellous opportunity to meet Soroptomists from other clubs, as well as to buy some beautiful things with the profit going to various good causes.  One important thing I learnt was that I should bring more money next time, for even more lovely silk scarves, greeting cards and baskets!  Items for our own Kori project were very popular, including the brilliant “£1 to send a teddy and a message to Sierra Leone” idea.

First Impressions   Part 2

The first speaker was Sofia Buncy, who wrote the first report on Muslim women in prison. Their situation has not been studied, partly because outsiders feared being seen as interfering.  There is also little said about these women within the Muslim community.

The fact that the researcher was both Muslim and multilingual made it easier for women to feel she could be trusted. Once they felt safe to open up, there was often information that they had not disclosed before, for fear of not being believed, or of possible repercussions of disclosure.

The findings were broadly divided into practical, emotional and cultural, but poor or non – existent English cut across these boundaries. Practical issues included immigration, housing and understanding of their legal rights. Emotional problems included poor self -esteem, isolation both inside prison and from their families, and the risk of self- harm.

Cultural issues contributed to these problems as they affected many aspects of life. Women could find using communal facilities difficult, and may be unable to dress as usual – as security concerns might preclude full face cover. There was a huge sense of shame, and the feeling of having dishonoured their families, who may have rejected them, often lying about where the woman was.

The relationship between mothers and their children was a complex area.

Th Muslim community regards prison as more unacceptable for women than men, which means few visitors for Muslim women. They can be seen as bad influences on their children, so may rarely see them. Some mother and baby units exist, but only cover fifteen months.  Mothers may not want that anyway, because they fear their children could be bullied later.

The time after release could be even harder than the prison term itself.  Prison had structure and routine, but afterwards they had to readjust to outside responsibilities.  The attitude of family and community may not have altered, with continuing stigma and isolation.  It was often hard to rebuild relationships especially with their children. Sometimes they were not able to return to their own community, and therefore had to relocate some distance away.

Sofia had a male project advisor with links to local mosques, support from Muslim organisations, and she had taken time to build trust within the community. She has given evidence to parliament, as well as speaking on local community TV.

This was an absolutely enthralling talk on a topic about which I knew nothing.  All the information she had given us was brought to life by extracts from searing personal accounts from the women themselves.


SI London Chilterns Regional Meeting 13 October 2018

We had an action packed October Region meeting in London – with the AGM, a VotesForWomen  presentation, a run through nominated “Women of Achievement” and a panel session on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW). President Margaret’s theme for the Soroptimist London Chilterns Region year has been IMPACT and this event fully met the brief!

The AGM was first and reports will be sent to Clubs.

Our first speaker was Irene Cockroft with a fascinating talk with excellent photo images to illustrate International Women’s Day, Now and Then”This is in light of the centenary of the UK women’s vote and the fact this talk was cancelled in March due to the snow. Irene, a member of Soroptimist International Greater London, London Chilterns Region since 1997, is an independent exhibition curator, author and lecturer specialising in the history of women’s involvement in the late 19th, early 20th century Arts & Crafts and Suffrage movements. Irene’s inspiration in studying women’s history was her great-aunt, suffrage artist Ernestine Mills (1871-1959) who worked in many mediums including highly-skilled enamel-on-metal. Mills was a founder member of Soroptimist International of Greater London, chartered in 1924. For more about Irene please see this page of the website

Irene encouraged us all to make use of our vote, which was hard fought for by brave women and to take every opportunity to march for women’s rights as the women before us have.

After lunch President Margaret ran through some photos of women of achievement – submitted by Clubs. The gallery was extremely varied and included Florence Nightingale, Jo Cox, Lady Constance Lytton and our Soroptimist Member Rose Simbo.

We held a panel discussion about the UN CSW – Chair Jenny Vince SI Oxford & District, Panelists : Wendi Momen MBE SI Bedford & District, representative of the Baha’i faith at CSW and Revd Canon Terrie Robinson Director of Women in Church and Society at the Anglican Communion. This was kicked off with short speeches by Terrie and Wendi of their CSW experiences and were followed by a question and answer session. Overall the view seems to be that it is worth having a presence at CSW in spite of the cost because it does make a difference to the lives of women all over the world. We also got a glimpse of just how complicated the machinations of the UN is and how difficult the process is in order to gain international agreement to effect change.

The message to Soroptimists is that it is vital for us to submit our Programme Focus Reports because this is the ground up information that directs our representatives to focus on what is important and it is the evidence in the reports that allows us to maintain our consultative status at the UN. 

We wrapped up the day with a big THANKS to Margaret Badley for her year as Soroptimist International Region President (it officially ends at the SIGBI Conference in Liverpool 25-27 Oct). Region Secretary Rita Beaumont presented Margaret with a gift. Rita explained that next year the Region’s Executive Officers would run the year between them because there wasn’t a Region President for 2018/19.