100 years of Soroptimism
The Soroptimist movement began as a network of clubs. As the years went by, the Clubs were loosely gathered into geographical Federations. But there was no single governing body leading the Association – the headquarters simply changed with each President. This changed in 1952 when a governing body was established. Soroptimist International Headquarters are now in Cambridge, UK.
National Federation headquarters
The Great Britain and Ireland Federation (SIGBI) bought a property in Bayswater Road, London in 1952. No. 63 became the Federation’s headquarters for many years, as well as residential Club for members living outside London.
Eventually, the Federation’s headquarters moved out of London and No 63 became a hotel open to all. It is still a special place for Soroptimists to stay and meet sisters from other Clubs – and sample the special No. 63 gin!
Mission and values
When the Soroptimist movement began, one of its founding values was ‘service’. During the early years, Soroptimists were expected to serve their local community – it was a time when international travel was uncommon. International communications had not yet developed enough to be able to report almost instantaneously on events on the other side of the world.
‘Soroptimists turn their interests and skills to useful projects in the community, the nation and the world’.
But after World War II the definition of service broadened and deepened. At the 1956 New York Convention, this was Dr Violet Parkes’ call to action:
“If we have any advantages we should seek obligations rather than rights. If people are homeless, if children exist on a diet below the calorie standard required for health, if there are women who have no chance of elementary education, what is our obligation? “
Soroptimists had become more aware of what they could achieve by living their mission. At the 1956 Convention in New York, President Mrs Huitt said: “Soroptimists joining hands together have great power in their united strength. if they work together through Service, Friendship, Good Will and Understanding”.
In the 1950s, Soroptimist International became a truly international organisation. So service to the community naturally began to be defined in the same way. And in 1954, Soroptimist International asked Clubs to pursue service objectives in defined areas. SI also encourage members to promote international goodwill and understanding and to be active in public affairs.
In terms of Soroptimist action therefore, members now identified and responded to local, national and international concerns during the 1950s.
Locally: housing for the elderly, work with young people (notably to prevent juvenile delinquency) were a strong focus.
Nationally, Club records show growing concern about the economic status of women. One response from the Great Britain and Ireland Federation was to offer scholarships for foreign students to study in the UK. The desire to help women with their education has been a strong focus ever since. In 1975, the national federation (Sigbi) set up the Diamond Education Grant to help women. In 2020, Sigbi received 200 applications. 80 applicants received funding to complete their education.
Internationally, cooperation with the United Nations deepened. Refugees continued to be a focus for action. There was help for refugees abroad: in Austria and in Hong Kong for example. And also at home: Agnew House in London and the Ockenden Venture (mentioned in our March 2021 report).
So by the end of the decade, the triple focus of Soroptimists – local, national and international – was firmly established.
Status of Women
The 1950s brought further advancements for women. There was personal progress: for example, the British Nationality Act improved the legal status of women in marriage. Public progress too: in 1952, British Soroptimists recorded that women had more senior roles in government and in diplomacy. More women were recognised in the New Honours List, indicating their greater contribution to public life. Interestingly, the New Year Honours List in 2021 comprised 49% women!
Modest fashion in working women’s lives
The University of the Arts London has published the results of a thought-provoking investigation into what women wear at work. The researchers looked particularly at modest clothing in the workplace. Women wear modest clothing for many reasons, not only religious. Read more about this topic here.
Modest fashion is another aspect of the body image debate. Read more about Changing the Perfect picture below.
Women’s Centre Belfast
St Vincent volcano
The volcano eruption on the Caribbean islands of St Vincent & the Grenadines is devastating for the people and the country. We know that our sister Soroptimists in Kingstown are working hard to help. Our Federation (Sigbi) – SI Kingstown is a member – has sent £1,000 from the Emergency Relief Fund.
Domestic Abuse Bill – update
How can we better protect women and girls from domestic abuse? Read our info here.
The House of Lords has put forward changes to the proposed law. Now the House of Commons will have another debate about it. Update here
HeForShe is a solidarity movement for the advancement of gender equality. It was started by Elizabeth Nyamayaro of the United Nations. She now leads the movement. Ms Nyamayaro strongly believes that equality for women must also involve the full participation of men.
We Soroptimists share this view. We focus on helping women and girls in difficulty across the world because they often need help now. But we know that helping women helps everyone in the family in the long run. And that a better world has to be better equally for women and men.
Surrey women’s safety survey
Recent tragic events have caused women to protest about their safety in public places. So Surrey police have launched a survey about this More about the survey here .
You can help to improve women’s safety by answering the survey here.
Girls and sexual abuse at school
We are discovering more about how women and girls are treated in public places. This time, it’s about schools. Read more in an article by The Economist here.
Changing the Perfect Picture
The UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committee has published its report on the perception of body image. Woking Soroptimists contributed to this inquiry some months ago. Now the Committee has made important recommendations: for example, BMI, the body mass index, used in many medical assessments, does not correspond to the full range of real bodies in the UK. So it is not fit for purpose and should not be used, says the report. The report also says that the government must improve its anti-obesity strategy. Read the full report here
Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 interviewed Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Committee, about the report. Listen to the interview here.
Woking Debates – UK arms and military expenditure
The theme of the next Woking Debate on 17 April 2021 is ‘What value is arms and military expenditure to the UK?’
Details and zoom link info here.