100 years of Soroptimism
The Sixties may have been swinging when everything was thrown into flux. Soroptimist International did not follow that trend! It had become a well-established – and a global – organisation. In 1960, the Governing Body of Soroptimist International wanted to mark its status as a recognised worldwide body. So it recommended that December 10 – the day on which the UN Charter was signed – become Soroptimist International Day. 10 December has been a special day for Soroptimists since then. SI Woking marks the occasion by making a donation to the International President’s Special Charity.
By the end of the 1960s, there were several SI Clubs in Surrey, including in Guildford and Reigate…but not in Woking, not yet.
But the Golden Jubilee of Soroptimist International in 1971 was an opportunity to look back on the past and forward to the future. I was time for a reform of the constitution. The Swinging Sixties had brought the winds of change to Soroptimist International too.
Mission and values
The new Constitution in 1971 opened the Clubs to a wider membership. When the SI movement was founded in 1921, Soroptimists were intended to represent the society they lived in . So as members of SI they represented a profession or occupation, and not just themselves. In 1971 the membership vocational rule was dropped because women now had a greater role to play in society – globally as well as locally.
With the new global focus, the SI Governing Body identified a need to help women in Africa and the Far East in particular. ‘Seeking an international whole in a world without frontiers’. At home, the Governing Body advised members to
‘Face the Changing Patterns of Work, Support Continuing Education, Assume Citizenship Responsibility, Know your Community needs’.
The resolutions of the London Convention clearly showed how Soroptimists saw the challenges of the decade:
a) Take steps in education and in legislation to provide proper training for women in vocations, and to ensure equality of opportunity in education and careers.
b) Work for a worldwide effort, by supporting youth organisations and exchanges of young people.
c) Cooperate with programmes for the advancement of women in developing countries, with emphasis on human rights, on International Day.
d) Full cooperation with UNESCO to eliminate illiteracy.
Society definitely changing.
More women wanted to work, so Soroptimists began to help women returning to work after bringing up children. And older people were healthier. They wanted to be more active in retirement. So Soroptimists were involved in offering ‘Over Sixty’ counselling, club rooms, activities, employment.. These new projects were often added to those already on the Soroptimist agenda: helping the the handicapped, combating juvenile delinquency, housing issues…Rather than setting up projects from scratch, a pattern of working with other organisations such as the Red Cross was beginning to emerge.
Status of Women
The Sixties changed women’s lives in relation to childbearing and financial independence. In 1961 the contraceptive pill was offered to married women, and in 1967 to all women. 1967 also brought in the Abortion Act. So reproductive choice became possible, but women were not freed of reproductive responsibility and consequences. In 1964, the revision of the Married Women’s Property Act allowed married women to keep half of any savings they’d made from the allowance paid to them by their husbands. More financial independence, but also official recognition that many women still depended on their husbands for their income.
More and more women had working lives. Tellingly, the ILO held conferences on ‘Women Workers in a Changing World’ and the Employment of Women with Family Responsibilities’. They began to take up careers previously barred to them: in 1966 Norah Wilmot obtained House of Lords judgement allowing her to be a licensed horse trainer – one of the very first to do so. The employment of Soroptimists in the Sixties reflected both the status of women and how society was developing. Members included a Nuclear Safety Officer, a Youth Hostel Warden, a University Lodgings Officer, and positions connected with food production and processing.
And women began to demand equal pay: the famous Dagenham strike (photo: images.app.goo.gl/pCrewv4bzqkGvCmE9)was in 1968….the calls for equal opportunity were beginning to be louder.
Soroptimists began to campaign and to lobby for the recognition of rights for women around the world. The 1967 Toronto Convention urged members to pressure governments to support the Draft Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. SI asked all members to lobby their government to ratify a raft of UN Conventions: Political Rights of Women (1952, Nationality of Married Women (1957), Consent to Marriage minimum age and Registration of Marriages (1962), ILO convention on Equal Pay for Equal Work (1951), the ILO Convention on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958), UNESCO Convention on Discrimination in Education (1960).
More on our history next month!
Woking Street Angels – we thank them for 10 years of great community service this year!
Woking Blackhawks Basketball Club strives to provide basketball for all – and that includes wheelchair users. The speakers at our May Social Meetings, Annabelle Hardiman and David Kingstone, told us all about their Club . The volunteer organisers, and the players – especially the wheelchair players – face many challenges to be able to play the sport they love. Practice and match courts can be hard to find, specialist wheelchairs are costly, so is travel for training and games…quite a list.
But for the organisers and the players, the rewards are immense. David told us of the satisfaction of seeing how basketball makes lives better – and how transformative it can be for those who have suffered serious setbacks. Annabelle shared some feedback from players who, due to disability or to other factors, had benefited from playing basketball.: ‘a boost to my self-confidence’, ‘helped me establish part of my identity’ and ‘I have met some of my closest friends playing basketball’.
One of the perks of being a Soroptimist is that you can attend the meetings of other Clubs as a guest. So some of our members recently joined the virtual meeting of SI Yeovil and Sherborne. Ann Horrocks of the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline Sherborne and Yeovil Link spoke very movingly about the charity’s work. The CCL helps children badly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and their families. The accident happened in 1986 but help is still needed by families today.
A small but significant change to marriage certificates . Now, in England and Wales, the bride and the bridegroom’s mothers’ names will be on the them!
Two interesting environment-related events :
The Woking Debate on Air Pollution in May 2021 was very informative. Councillor Kevin Davis described the work and initiatives of Woking Borough Council and Dr Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey in Guildford talked about his work. Woking may not be a global hotspot for pollution but it’s essential to reduce the harm it can do to people in our town.
Visit the Woking Borough Council website for everything about climate change, trees policy, Planet Woking….
Visit the GCare and Living Lab website for more about Dr Kumar’s work to measure, monitor and combat air pollution globally. Take the quiz to find out your exposure and how you can reduce it.
Check the pollution at your address here
and still to come:
WeAct is hosting a climate lobby session with local MP Jonathan Lord on 18 June 2021 – more
India Covid crisis
Another country in our Soroptimist International Federation (Sigbi) is in crisis. This time, it is not a volcano, but Covid-19. We know that our sisters in the Clubs in India are doing all they can to help. Sigbi has donated £1,000 to help pay for equipment.
We have reported regularly on the domestic abuse bill that the UK parliament was debating. The landmark bill was signed into law on 29 April 2021. We hope it will bring relief to the many victims of domestic abuse. Read the government announcement here
Find out more about Ann here