Encouraged by the very positive response to my blog post, A Plea For Some Feminist Action in The Isles, which advocated setting up a women’s network here in the Outer Hebrides in response to an inspirational talk by the First Minister, I would like to announce the launch of such a network and its inaugural ‘meeting’.
It’s very soon — Wednesday (March 22) at 7.30pm in An Lanntair — and follows a discussion with two very supportive women, An Lanntair CEO Elly Fletcher and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Economic Development Officer Sarah Maclean.
Apologies for the short notice but the reason for getting together so soon is the pressing deadline for nominations for the local council election.
Anyone wishing to stand for election to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar needs to submit their paperwork by March 29 and I would hope that the establishment of this network signals a clear intention to support the women in our community to feel emboldened in putting their heads above the parapet or otherwise taking steps to make our community a better one.
I recently spoke with two of our three women councillors — Zena Stewart and Catriona Stewart.
Both stressed that being a councillor is hard work and requires a thick skin but they also spoke about how rewarding it is and how they would love to see more women take part.
Catriona Stewart said: “It’s really sad that there aren’t more women in politics. I would say, ‘have the confidence to stand if you feel you have the time to devote to it’.
She added: “I do think that we as women, in our communities, need to be more confident in our abilities. Having the confidence in our ability is important. If you feel you can actually do it, you should stand. It’s not an easy job, and I would say it takes you a full year to learn how everything works, but it can be hugely rewarding.”
Zena Stewart said she would “most definitely” encourage women to stand if they have the right kind of background.
“Oh heavens, yes!” she said. “We’re more than 50 per cent of the population. Look at the (exam) results. Very often, girls achieve more than boys do and yet that does not translate into the world of work where the majority of CEOs are male.”
The idea about creating a network for women was very much inspired by the speech given by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in An Lanntair earlier this month as part of their International Women’s Day programme.
Her talk (see blog post 13 Lessons for Women in Public Life from the First Minister) was about the experience of women in public life and she emphasised the importance of networks. The main picture, above, was taken during that talk and shows how many women came out to hear her speak.
“Find ways of supporting each other,” she told them. “Networks of women, whether small or large, are really, really important to encourage each other, to give each other the role models… to give each other the confidence when things are tough. That’s important in school. It’s important in later life. It’s important in whatever size of community you live in.”
My hope is that we can create a network — an informal, apolitical and inclusive one – right here.
The get-together on Wednesday will hopefully be the first of many. It is being held in the Round Room just off the Cafe Bar in An Lanntair and is basically a drop-in from 7.30 to 9pm. So grab a coffee, or whatever, at the bar and come and say hello.
At the moment, the plan is to meet monthly and, if it all goes well, maybe hold a couple of more structured events through the year, depending on what people want.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of the comments I received and will hopefully see many of you on Wednesday.
Jane: “Your post resonated very much with me. I have been talking to friends and colleagues for many months about the need for an informal network. I had a great day on Saturday at Back Community Centre, celebrating women. It was amazing to feel the solidarity and energy. Let’s go for it.
“I recall a comment from a female manager at the Comhairle telling me that it is important that female candidates have a worthy male member of their family when standing for election.”
Jessie: “Very timely. One thing men are much better at than women is networking, I can think of a number of informal networks of men in Stornoway, without counting the Lodge, sport, and the hierarchy of most of the churches.”
Anne: “Very heartened by your piece – I’ve just moved back to the mainland after almost 10 years in Lewis and would echo everything you’ve said.”
Iain: “When I look around at the state of the world today, I cannot help but wonder how much better the outcomes might have been had more women been involved in the world’s great conversations.
“It’s no different in Western Isles, which are undergoing irresistible changes and meeting new challenges. We need that diversity of thought to help us along the way, and that has to include the active participation of women.”
Dolina: “Women have not pushed forward into leadership positions. That is such a pity because Lewis women are strong, sharply intelligent and so capable! Perhaps the time is now for women!!”
And many more along the lines of “great idea”, “count me in”, and “just what the island needs”.