The Big Society – where are the women?

28 Jul

Like many of us who have been organising social enterprise and setting up more collaborative organisations for many years, the Big Society is a bit difficult to take – but it does at least focus minds on the fact that is people, who make a difference and who innovate, not governments. Social innovation flows between people who are open to it. David Miliband has admitted that BS is a good idea and something Labours should recognize, this attracts me to him as as future Labour Leader.The concept remains vague but is clearly based on a long history of community and liberatarian left organising,

The lack of political conversation about whether we have the capability to transform society, move from state services to social enterprise, forge a completely new way of devolving government,  is not to say that the ambition of localism is wrong,  more that it is naive to assume, as did the former government – that society changes with the magic wand of central government diktat. It doesn’t.

So why is there so little conversation about the how to develop more congenial communities ?  The answer lies in the fact that practice is of little interest to policy-makers, because it is the domain of women. Women across the world struggling to work collectively in businesses, community organsisations or on the public sector front-line in almost all personal services. It is women who have value partnership, seek collaboration, make adjustments and think about the common good and yet, still there is no mention in any political statements about the role that women play in making these a reality. Of course this is not the whole truth and that many men are engaged in practice – but a quick audit of who are brokering relationships when not paid, working to find a common solution, go the extra mile when it runs counter to their own promotion prospects, it is women.

If women are not given  a determining and leadership role in the extremely difficult job of developing the trust and relationships necessary for social innovation  among those experiencing the pain of dramatic cuts – then the Big Society is a non starter.


5 Responses to “The Big Society – where are the women?”

  1. Fiona Manklow July 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Very thought-provoking Su – I agree that the role of women has not been well considered in the BS narrative and that the coalition might see quicker progress made if this understanding were to be grasped and more made of it.
    I hear rather cynical comments about the BS amongst my colleagues, the word ‘naive’ crops up frequently, as does the suspicion that with thousands of public servants about to lose their jobs, this will provide the volunteers they want and they will end up doing roles which they were previously paid to do. But of course without being able to pay their mortgages…

  2. clare July 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    So right Su..
    There is an important social ecology or dynamic involving women, community and women’s organisations. Women, wherever there is disadvantage will be at the heart of their communities often as critical agents of change.
    Women’s transformational contributions to their communities, family and society are significant which a limited, ‘deficit’/ special needs model of women’s disadvantage fails to recognise adequately.
    Women are present in community and voluntary sector based activities in great numbers but it is the quality as much as the quantity of their contribution that counts.
    Women play key roles in informal community development at the grass roots – in day-to-day networking, informal self-help, self-organisation and working across difference.
    Women individually and collectively, sustain women working in communities through reciprocal care giving, ‘looking out for’ or more formally looking after children and other dependents.
    The capacity women build for themselves as individuals and in groups and organisations feeds back into the life and strength of women’s and other community and voluntary organisations and thus communities.
    Women, in organising themselves have distinctive ways of working, interesting and innovative approaches and creative models from which everyone can learn.
    Research studies are now accumulating that show how poor communities cycle upward when grassroots women and their leaders are well supported. When women’s organising is recognised and supported, whole communities begin to thrive.
    Women continue to be significantly under-represented in Central Government decision-making. In the newly formed Conservative/ Liberal Democrat alliance Government only 22% of MPs are women with only 17% of cabinet positions going to women.
    Locally political and other decision making bodies are just as unbalanced.
    Just over a quarter of local authority councillors are women and no region has reached the threshold of one-third female councillors. Only 2% of local councillors were BME women in 2006. Men still make up more than 70% of councillors, and only 13% of local authority chief executives are female. Does the position of women in British society contribute directly to the cycles of disadvantage and damage, to fractured families and communities?
    Studies show there is a direct link between a country’s attitude toward women and its progress socially and economically. The status of women is central to the health of a society. Wake up chaps.

  3. cyberdoyle November 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    The Cock crows, but the Hen lays the eggs.

    We don’t necessarily need the praise and the preening *some* men do. Lets just keep doing it. No need to get our knickers in a twist over the fact we never get the glory. As long as the job gets done that is all that matters. There are some damn good men and women out there JFDI, I for one don’t care what sex they are. If they are good at it then back them up. Cream will always rise to the top.

    • sumaddock November 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

      true – but this is why we have so few women making the decisions that matter.

    • sumaddock December 13, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

      cream might rise to the top – but women do not.

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