It’s 2018 and - let’s face it - quite a politically turbulent time in the UK. Brexit, austerity and worries about the future of the NHS mean that none of us know exactly what our country might look like in a few years time. I’m an optimist at heart so I don’t think this has to mean doom and gloom but it does mean that we have to get involved to make sure that we build the future we want. To shape a future that works for everyone we all need to be involved in the political debate. And by all, I mean all.
Yet currently there are some voices missing from the discussion - women, younger people, people of ethnic minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are woefully underrepresented.
Men outnumber women 2:1 in parliament while in polls 25% of women said they didn't know who to vote for versus only 10% of men. 25% of first generation ethnic minorities eligible to register to vote haven't done so vs 10% white British. In the 2017 election only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted versus 78% of over 65s. Even where you live can affect how influential you feel when it comes to the countries political decisions.
It's vital that there are no voices missing from the public debate and that's why I'm really pleased to be launching our new Voicebox Cafés project. Next week, the first Cafés will run, as part of celebrating Equaliteas fortnight during 18 June-2 July.
Taking place in 36 Online Centres across England, Voicebox Cafés will then continue throughout 2018, engaging traditionally excluded women to understand, celebrate and participate in democracy and public life. They'll offer an informal, friendly space for women living in these communities to build their own and each other's confidence in speaking out on issues that matter to them, discovering how to use their democratic voice to the full. Focussing on women aged 18-30 and those from BAME groups, the project is funded by Government Equalities Office under the Women's Vote Centenary Grant Scheme.
Good Things Foundation's Chief Exec, Helen Milner recently blogged about how some women up and down the country feel that they don't have a role to play in democracy or local campaigning. In the centenary of (some) women gaining the right to vote, it's never been more important for us to look around and make sure that all women are still being given the opportunities to engage politically... opportunities that were denied to us for so long and mean so much to us as individuals and also to society at large.
We'll be charting our story throughout the next 7 months using #VoiceboxCafes on Twitter, Instagram and all the other usual social media suspects. You can also see the latest happenings on our #VoiceboxCafés Tumblr, which we'll update as we go along. Excitingly, the whole journey will culminate in a celebration event so we can see what the women involved in this project have been up to throughout the year.
We all have a part to play in creating a society and culture where women's voices are heard - I'm honoured to be involved both as a woman and as the Social Inclusion Manager of this project, and look forward to sharing our progress throughout the rest of this centenary year.