"Our biggest achievement as Voicebox Cafés is empowering women to have a voice. These are women that came to us who would whisper because they were too embarrassed to speak in a class and yesterday some of them stood up and debated passionately. They weren't frightened. Those moments do make me feel proud that what we've started is actually meeting the needs of the community and making a real change in these individuals' lives."
Yasmin Akhtar, Voicebox Cafés Tutor
The theme for International Women's Day 2019 was Better the balance, better the world - a theme which recognises that building a better gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive. Here at Good Things Foundation we couldn't agree more with that sentiment. Re-balancing things to make society fair for everyone is threaded throughout all of our work in social digital inclusion, and never more so than in our Voicebox Cafés project.
Over 8 months in 2018, the Voicebox Cafés project supported 1,283 women to use their voice to better participate in democracy and public life, often in very different ways: some registered to vote for the first time, some started local campaigns, some even stood as candidates in community elections.
Voicebox Cafés brought the idea of civic participation to life through activities that everyone could get involved with, through holding mock ballots, writing simple manifestos, learning how to contact their local MPs and councillors to talk about issues important to them, and hearing inspirational women sharing their stories. Ultimately the Cafés helped to increase confidence and encouraged women to use their voice in a way that made a difference to themselves and their communities.
Since the end of the project we've been collecting stories of the women involved, evaluating the programme to see what worked in growing democratic participation in communities and thinking about how we can build on these learnings.
The resulting evaluation report is a great read - it shows not only the numbers of women supported but the very real impact that the project has had on their lives.
“We feel stronger when we learn about the world and what’s happening in the country where we live. We need to know what is happening, about the rules etc.”
The Voicebox Cafes project finished with a bang and a celebration event at the House of Lords last December. We were sad to reach the end, but this brilliant event was a chance to celebrate the centenary of The Representation of the People Act in 1918 and to hear about the inspiring stories and achievements of women across all 36 Voicebox Cafes 100 years later.
“Now I read the news or watch the news on TV. I know more about what is happening in the UK; before I didn’t care about this.”
On International Womens' Day 2019, we're mindful that there's still lots to do to encourage better balance in civic participation and democratic representation both locally and nationally. Communities up and down the country can often be disengaged with politics, whether this is through a lack of understanding, education or knowledge on how individuals can get involved and make their voice heard. Feeling far from Westminster, it can sometimes be difficult to see and understand how to make a difference in their own communities.
The Voicebox Cafés have proved a great success and here at Good Things Foundation we're keen to grow our ambition to support people to fully participate in democracy. We hope to secure further opportunities to expand the reach and impact of the Voicebox Cafés model, and we welcome conversations with anyone to help us amplify more voices in democracy in the UK.
Let's all help create a #BalanceforBetter and make sure that everyone's voice is heard.