A couple of weeks ago, we learned that we’d been successfully awarded one of eight large grants to deliver our Voicebox Cafes project, as part of the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, alongside seven other inspirational projects. This is a project that I’m really excited for as it’s about using digital to support some of the hardest to reach people in society and helping them to overcome some of the challenges they face.
Voicebox Cafes will engage excluded women and support them to understand and participate in democracy and public life. We know that there are certain groups of women who are less likely to engage with democracy, in particular women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, young women, and women with low levels of educational attainment.
As part of my role on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy back in 2015, I spoke to a number of women in sessions in communities up and down the country. These women felt that they didn’t have a role to play in democracy or local campaigning. They didn’t feel that they could make any difference or that politicians would listen to them. And they didn’t have any interest in how laws were made or in what happens in the Houses of Parliament, which for many people I met was hundreds of miles away from where they lived.
This project has grown from that insight – and from hearing how powerless the women I spoke to often felt to change issues in their own lives, whether that was unaffordable childcare, poor housing, or a lack of part-time employment opportunities.
Many women nowadays are using both social and traditional media to campaign for these issues – but the women who often have the most to gain are the ones that are missing out on these opportunities.
We’re hoping this project – which will work with 36 local organisations in the Online Centres Network – will find ways to make democracy relevant and to engage women and show them how they can make a difference. This might be through hearing from influential female politicians or changemakers, showing women how to develop their own local campaigns or teaching them about the importance of their vote. We’ll be making democracy, politics and campaigning relevant – and I hope in a world where what goes on in Westminster often feels very far away, this will make a real difference to the women who get involved.
I don’t think what we’re planning is easy – as I found on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy many people felt that politics, democracy and politicians were irrelevant to them. I don’t think it will be easy to engage these women, and I don’t think everything we do will be a success. I promise that we’ll share some of the lessons we learn along the way.
I’m sure, however, that Voicebox Cafes will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges.
If you think you can help or would like to get involved, do get in touch. I’ll be sharing stories from the project as it develops, so don’t worry as I’m sure this is one project I’ll keep coming back too.
I can’t wait to get started.