Comment: In praise of women's organisations

I often write in this column about the real difference that voluntary organisations make to people's lives. This is certainly true in terms of how the voluntary sector affects the lives of many thousands of women.

Last Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of the first march to celebrate International Women's Day. Since 1908, millions of women all over the world have been marching and organising against oppression, violence and discrimination on this day.

Where public services stop for women, voluntary services start. The importance of refuges and rape crisis centres cannot be overestimated. The plight of women asylum seekers fleeing violence and rape abroad is far too often unseen - by both the public and the state. The work of organisations to raise the profile of these issues and help women to establish safe havens here is often done against incredible odds.

Other voluntary organisations work abroad to save women's lives and raise awareness. A good example of this work is Maternity Worldwide, which trains midwives and works with women to improve maternal health services and outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

As well as providing these services, women's voluntary organisations also advocate and campaign to change laws and raise awareness of issues that have traditionally remained in the private sphere - such as rape in marriage, domestic violence and domestic slavery. Advertising campaigns and lobbying on these issues and others - abortion time limits, rape conviction rates, equal pay and even women's representation in political institutions - are the lifeblood of many of these voluntary organisations.

Women's voluntary organisations propel women's issues into the public arena and to the top of the decision-making agenda. They support, advise and protect many thousands of women every day. Yet The Women's Resource Centre reported last year that only 1.2 per cent of third sector funding goes to women's organisations. Discrimination or what?

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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