Interview: Suzanne Lee
We sat down for a chat with Suzanne Lee (above, fourth from left), who heads up arts charity All Change Arts, and all-women extraordinaire group #Islington4Women. Suzanne, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Could you tell us about Islington4Women and what you set out to achieve?
In 2017, a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour report identified Islington as the ‘worst place for Women in Britain’ – prompting a group of local women leaders from the voluntary and public sectors to come together to explore the issues raised in the report. The report surprised us – we could accept that there are challenges for many women that come with inner city living – we know house prices are high, the gender pay gap is real – but we also know there are things to celebrate about our borough. Over the past year #Islington4Women has been carrying out our own study – speaking to different groups of women across the borough about their thoughts on life here, and asking how it can be made better. We have also invited women who want to, and who can make a difference to come together to find ways to ensure Islington is a place where women are comfortable, supported, encouraged, empowered and inspired.
What are your proudest achievements as Islington4Women?
At our first event on International Women’s Day in 2018, concerns were raised about how many local women, especially young women and those who are homeless, are affected by #PeriodPoverty. Within days, Islington Council’s Libraries had teamed up with Streets Kitchen on the Tricky Period initiative, making period products available free of charge to those who need them – no questions asked. During the summer holidays, a group of young women aged 16-25, involved in the B Project run by All Change, worked with Furtherfield to develop an Instagram campaign – @b_leeders, to raise awareness about the issue – and to raise money to help buy products. They raised £500 and donated products to the Tricky Period. Other people have been inspired too, and there are plans to grow the scheme in more settings including schools, to help many more women. I think this is a great example of how we can work together to make things happen and to really make a difference!
The #Islington4Women 'steering group selfie’ at last year’s International Women’s Day event at the Assembly Hall L-R: Lisa Wales (Islington Play Association); Cllr Kaya Comer Schwartz; Katrina Ffrench (Islington Council); Suzanne Lee (All Change); Anita Grant (Islington Play Association); Carmel Littleton (Islington Council); Cllr Flora Williamson
What do you think are the biggest challenges that women still face today? What can Islington4Women do to help women in Islington address these?
Our #Islington4Women survey found that the most important challenges and concerns for women in Islington include affordable housing, crime and safety, pollution and access to greenspace. Tackling crime in particular, including youth violence, and violence against women and girls are particular priorities. Reducing poverty and inequality is very important to women in Islington, and they would like to see more initiatives to support women around health and wellbeing. #Islington4Women, has used what we’ve found out to develop a series of 5 Recommendations with Islington Council, and 5 Priority Work Areas to concentrate on over the coming year. On International Women’s Day 2019, we’ve invited women to come together to plan some activities and events for the coming year to address these priorities.
#ISLINGTON4WOMEN – 5 RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. Work to make Islington the first and most ‘Women Friendly’ borough
2. Explore, honour and celebrate the contribution women have made to Islington throughout history
3. Consider the potential impact on women in the creation of every new policy or policy update
4. Mobilise the potential of women to tackle crime and make Islington a safer place
5. Aim for gender-neutral uniforms in all Islington schools
#ISLINGTON4WOMEN – 5 PRIORITY WORK AREAS:
1. Encourage more women to vote and engage with politics
2. Develop, support and champion initiatives and events which make all women feel represented and that they belong
3. Develop solutions to tackle crime and promote safety
4. Celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in Islington
5. Get examples of local women from today and in history included in the school curriculum
How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?
#Islington4Women will be beginning our celebrations with an event in partnership with Koreo Good Women network at Impact Hub Islington on Thursday 7 March. The following morning we’ll be at Islington Giving’s Bringing Women Together breakfast event at Macquarie Bank – to share our recommendations and our plans. Then on Saturday, All Change and Islington Play Association have a celebration for young women and families at Central Library. We’ll also be active on social media, encouraging others to get involved.
#Islington4Women Open Space Town Hall event 5 November 2018 - a gathering of women leaders from public, political, voluntary and private sector, exploring how to champion and make women’s lives better in Islington, with Emily Thornberry MP
What do you love most about Islington?
Our survey told us that some of the things women value most about their borough are: – its cultural diversity; its provision of free and quality services for children and families; its rich mix of cultural venues, coffee shops, bars and restaurants; and its bold and radical traditions! This was Mary Wollstonecraft’s home, a borough with a strong Suffragette story and 50% of its current Councillors are women. Whilst Islington is short on greenspace (the least of any London borough) – women enjoy using our parks and gardens, suggesting we make clever use of what we have!
If you could change one thing what would it be?
There are many things that need to change – the women we have spoken to, agree that poverty and inequality are especially significant issues facing women in Islington. It is clear that the achievements of women in Islington too, need to be recognised and celebrated more, to inspire others to know that they can achieve and succeed – and make a difference!