Deeds AND Words: telling stories to promote women's charities

4 September 2017 | By Emily Clarke

On a chilly day in January 2017, millions of people took to the streets across the world in an international day of solidarity for the protection of women’s rights.

As stories of this mass movement took the global media by storm, one thing stood out from the narratives of the Women’s March: the power of creating a public discussion to bring about awareness. Empowered to stand up and raise their voices, women and men created a tidal wave of activism which rippled across the world that day.

This activism to promote women’s rights could not be more needed. Amid the funding crisis facing the charity sector in the UK – with central government funding decreased by £200m since 2009 – it is women’s organisations which face a greater challenge than most. Despite every £1 of investment in women’s services creating between £5 and £11 of social value, charities working to support survivors of domestic abuse are extremely vulnerable to funding cuts. 95% of women’s organisations have experienced cuts; a figure rising to 100% when these are BME women’s organisations. If further cuts occur it is estimated that, 25% of these services could be forced to close, and for the BME services, this percentage more than doubles, to 67% fearing for their sustainability.

Yet domestic violence is not an easy cause to sell to donors. Despite up to 80% of women experiencing domestic or sexual violence – or both – a 2011 study found that The Donkey Sanctuary annually receives over three times as much money in donations as the top three UK domestic violence charities combined. With two-thirds of women fleeing abuse in the UK being turned away from shelters, and violence against women estimated to cost the state £40.1 billion a year, addressing income concerns in women’s organisations is not only vital to supporting survivors, but also cost-effective – easing long-term financial pressures away from the state.

With the future of women’s charities looking bleak, something must be done to preserve these support services that are so desperately needed. And that’s despite some commitment from the current Government to increasing such services.

At the beginning of April 2016, Paul Trueman decided to do just that. After listening to BBC Radio 4’s drama The Archers, in which the normally sleepy rural town was host to the long drawn-out and increasingly concerning tale of Helen Titchener being domestically abused by her husband, he decided to set up a JustGiving page for the women’s charity Refuge. Despite Paul’s humble target of £1000, the page raised more than that in just 12 hours, eventually reaching £173,170 – a figure that is still rising.

Thanks to Radio 4’s storytelling and the initiative of one man, awareness of the need for domestic abuse charities rose dramatically over the summer of 2016. With Refuge taking advantage of The Archers-inspired campaign, the story achieved coverage in every national newspaper, BBC Breakfast and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Not only was Refuge awarded 2016’s Third Sector Communications Team of the Year, but more importantly, calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose by 17%. The public’s increased understanding of domestic abuse not only raised money, but their unprecedented knowledge of the support available to victims may well have saved lives.[1]

On the 10 October 1903, suffragettes founded the Women’s Social and Political Union with the slogan ‘Deeds not words’. 114 years later, action to safeguard women’s rights is still necessary. Though much has changed for women this century, there is still a long way to go before the issues of gender-based violence[2] become part of the public discussion. As the voices of women have begun to be heard afresh this past year, we have learnt just how important telling stories and increasing activism are: doing so does not only raises awareness, but also desperately-needed funds for vital charities facing an income crisis.

A century on from the founding of the WSPU, their slogan is just as relevant today. Yet having discovered the power of raising our voices, perhaps this slogan should be modified for the fundraising needs of women’s charities today.

This time, we need ‘Deeds AND words’. What do you think? Should we be doing more?

[1] It is estimated that of all women killed globally in 2012, almost half were killed by a partner or relative, compared to less than 6% of men; men killed 936 women in England and Wales between 2009-2015.

[2] Gender is the most significant risk in domestic violence: women experience the majority of it.

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