Out gallivanting – Larry Herman, Street Level Photoworks

Another month, another excellent photographic exhibition in Glasgow.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Glasgow city centre and thought I’d pop in to see Larry Herman’s ‘Clydeside 1974-76‘ at Street Level Photoworks. I’d seen this photograph of children on the roundabout by Red Road high flats and thought I’d see if there any more images of high rise (I’m currently working on a project entitled ‘Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing over the long term: Glasgow 1950-75‘ which considers people’s experiences of living in high rise flats in the city).

© Larry Herman: Red Road Flats, Glasgow

Chatting to the attendant resulted in me becoming ‘visitor of the day‘!

But really the highlight was the diverse images displayed and the quality of Herman’s photography. Just about all aspects of life feature; work, home and play. There’s everything from men working in the ship yards of the Clyde, and not just Glasgow but Greenock too, the coal fields of Lanarkshire and outside Chrysler car factory in Linwood. We see women at work in factories, building sites and their homes. There’s also photographs of community groups compiling local newsletters and trade union meetings and much more too.

Many images stick in my mind but this is my favourite. When we think of women’s role in the textiles industry in Scotland we might first think of Dundee jute workers or Paisley mill girls, but the story of the thousands of women who worked in machining factories running up everything from car seat covers to clothes has yet to be told.

If you’ve not been along already, I would highly recommend a visit – the exhibition is on until 27th of November.

Valerie Wright (University of Glasgow)

Out Gallivanting – Eilidh Macrae at the Netball Scotland Annual Conference

A few weeks ago I attended the first annual Netball Scotland Conference at the fabulous ‘Oriam: Scotland’s Sports performance Centre’ based at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

.netball-scotland-annual-confernce-1

Given my position as lecturer in sport development at the University of the West of Scotland, and with my research focus on gender and sport, I’d been invited along to this conference to sit on an expert panel. The issue up for discussion was the future of netball in this Scottish setting, and specifically how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland.

This prompted a fascinating discussion led by the panel and the Netballl Scotland CEO Claire Nelson.  The delegates in the audience helped shape the discussion through their own experiences in netball, as they were all individuals active in the sport from grassroots through to elite level.

The types of events I usually attend are general sport policy or sport history conferences, both of which tend to have only a minority of female delegates, so it was refreshing to come to this event. This was such an inspiring conference environment where the majority of people in the room were experts in their sport and were having a real impact on sport in Scotland, and they were almost all women.

netball-scotland-annual-confernce-2

Netball is thriving as a sport in Scotland, with many ‘bounce back to netball’ teams bringing people back to this sport as adults, and the international netball of today is maybe a bit different to the netball we all remember from school.

Treagus (2005) has argued that in the early 20th century netball taught girls how to ‘play like ladies’, i.e. with ‘restraint’ in their sporting efforts, and a reserved physicality. This is not what we’re seeing today. The rules of the game haven’t changed much but the women and girls pushing this game forward are aspirational and confident rather than reserved, and, testament to their efforts, they have been nominated in the ‘Governing Body of the Year’ category for the Team Scotland Awards.

So the panel discussion centred on the vision of how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland. I started off the panel discussion by focussing in on the issue of what it means for a sport to be the first choice for women and girls – what does that actually mean in today’s society?

There is plenty to note about the issues we have in Scotland trying to get teenage girls to be active, but what I wanted to stress here was what is required for a sport to be the first choice for an adult woman in Scotland today, especially given the growing success of ‘bounce back to netball’ and high numbers of adult women returning to the sport. If you have a life that is already ‘full’ of childcare responsibilities, work responsibilities, family responsibilities, social responsibilities, where is the space for sport? In my book I note that 1970s Britain was a place where women still maintained the bulk of any childcare responsibilities and this therefore had a key impact on their sport and physical activity participation rates, or their ability to juggle these childcare responsibilities:

“These continuities in exercise experiences [from the 1930s to the 1970s] can be attributed to the lack of public funding to support development of both public sports facilities and sport in schools, and the persistent nature of gender relations in the household, which, whilst changing gradually throughout these years, still defined women as mothers first and foremost and the primary caregivers in the home.” (Macrae, 2016)

Has much changed today? At our feminisms conference a few weeks ago Zoe Fairbairns, and the majority of our speakers, reflected on how far we’ve come with feminism, but certainly also how far we still have to go.

There are numerous social changes that still need to be addressed if we are to develop equality in sport, and maintain the inclusivity of the ‘sport for all’ mantra that was the original 1970s policy focus for British sport. My point to Netball Scotland was that they have a real opportunity to shape and promote their sport as one that recognises the barriers still faced by women and girls in sport today. They can try and work around these barriers, offering something different as a sport for women, until we have more balance in wider society that frees women to engage in sport all throughout their lives without gendered barriers.  I hope Netball Scotland, and all those working in sport today, can rise to the challenge.

Eilidh Macrae (University of the West of Scotland)

WHS Annual Conference 2016- ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’ – Report and Resources

[Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a]

Women’s History Scotland Annual Conference: ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’

[Please see the ‘Resources‘ section below for access to some of the powerpoint presentations from the day and link to the audio on Soundcloud]

Conference Report – Hannah Telling

The annual WHS conference which examined the theme of ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practice’, was held on Friday 9 September. Glasgow Women’s Library, recently lauded in the national press as ‘a treasure trove that shows how far feminism has come’, served as a fitting venue for this year’s event. At the completely sold out conference, delegates were treated to a host of wonderful papers, with themes ranging from the emergence of Women’s Aid to the feminist fashion of Doc Martens. The event concluded with the Sue Innes Memorial Lecture, delivered by the inimitable and inspiring Zoe Fairbairns.

After an introduction to Women’s History Scotland delivered by convenor Alison McCall, Tanya Cheadle delivered a paper on the late nineteenth-century feminist and socialist activist, Bella Pearce. Tanya’s paper talked of the ‘uneasy relationship between socialism and feminism in the 1890s’, as feminist social reformers attempted to navigate labour parties that were ‘first and foremost a man’s party’. Pearce’s feminist activism contrasted, in a perhaps unique example, with her unconventional faith. She became a devout disciple of a Christian sexual mysticism organisation, the Brotherhood of New Life, whose founder espoused the doctrine that ‘by denying sexuality, Christianity becomes sterile’. Tanya’s paper provided a fascinating insight into the relationships, activism and faith of one feminist reformer in late nineteenth-century Scotland.

Jane Rendall was next to deliver her paper, exploring female friendly societies in Scotland, c.1789-1830 and ‘the principle of Mutual Support’. Jane began her talk by discussing the role of ritual-based, religious and philanthropic societies and their growth in this period. Interestingly, whilst Jane had detected 1560 male friendly societies, only 66 female equivalents were discovered. These female friendly societies were concentrated in South West Scotland and were noticeably absent from the urban centres where the strength and influence of male trade predominated. Despite the limited number of female friendly societies, Jane revealed how such organisations helped to consolidate neighbourhood ties, provide recognition of women’s identities and allow members of all classes new experiences and opportunities.

Sarah Browne of the ‘Speaking Out’ project presented the final paper of the ‘Activism’ panel, examining the links between feminism and Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s. Women’s Aid, which campaigned to end domestic abuse and assisted women seeking to escape abusive partners, emerged out of and became a testimony to the Women’s Liberation Movement. Sarah talked of how attention to the ‘Herstory of Women’s Aid’ allowed for a reclamation of women’s pasts, whilst providing opportunities for reflection on what had been achieved and what still needed to be done. Sarah reinforced the central tenet of Women’s Aid and indeed feminism – that the abuse of women was (and still is) central to women’s unequal position within society. In concluding, Sarah emphasised that whilst Women’s Aid is ‘always moving forwards’, the organisation’s roots in the Women’s Liberation Movement will continue to be acknowledged.

Georgia Mackay opened up the second panel on ‘Material and Visual Culture’ with a wonderful paper on Doc Martens and feminism. Georgia pointed out that Cinderella teaches us that ‘one shoe can change your life’, yet asked what happened when women rejected ‘overtly sexual’ sky-high heels for ‘kick ass heavy boots’, the Doc Martens. In a paper that explored the links between fashion and feminist subculture, Georgia explored the history of Doc Martens, whilst reinforcing the idea that ‘any item of clothing can be feminist if intended so by the wearer’.

Nel Whiting concluded the morning session with a paper that applied feminist methodology to portraiture, unearthing the subtle gender dynamics of David Allan’s The Family of the Earl & Countess of Hopetoun. Nel’s application of gender theory and close analysis revealed implicit power relations contained within the portrait. Nel argued that artwork reflected and replicated contemporary values and thus formed a key part of society’s discursive network, thereby demonstrates how analysing portraiture can be of great use to the researcher of eighteenth-century gender relations.

The editors of the 2nd edition of the ‘Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women’ gave an update on their progress after lunch, informing delegates that the volume will include 150 new entries of notable women throughout Scottish history.

In keeping with the theme of ‘Biographies’, Sarah Edwards delivered a paper on Dr Dorothy Meads, the principal of Bishop Otterly College. The paper included a history of the college itself, from teacher-training college to RAF base during World War II. Sarah talked about Dr Meads’ reforms and how she embodied the contemporary conceptualisation of female principal in this period – an amalgamation of feminine nurturer and masculine protector exhibiting quasi-parental control over the female students.

In the final paper of the day, Susan Batchelor presented an examination of the life and influence of Pearl Jephcott, whose pioneering sociological research privileged the experiences of ordinary young people in detailed and broad-ranging analyses. Susan showed how Jephcott utilised 1960s sociological approaches, yet also foreshadowed later developments, especially in the form of feminist epistemology in the 1980s. Susan concluded that ‘Jephcott was a sociology research pioneer, yet also a feminist research pioneer’.

The annual Sue Innes Memorial Lecture was delivered by Zoe Fairbairns, who began her lecture by thanking those who have worked so hard to keep Sue Innes’ name alive. Zoe’s wonderful lecture explored ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’, demonstrating the many developments that have been made in the pursuit of gender equality. Zoe took the enraptured audience through each decade, from the 1960s when feminism was yet to be named, to the challenges of the new millennium – terrorism, anti-feminist backlashes, the dangers of the internet-age and the continued prevalence of violence against women and children. Despite the work still to be done, Zoe’s lecture was ultimately celebratory. She said that ‘I would say that a lot has changed for the better, and that we, as feminists, should congratulate ourselves for our part in that’. Zoe cited greater representation of women in politics, the successful introduction of equal marriage, women in well-paid employment and men engaging in domestic duties as examples of the many developments achieved through five decades of activism and feminism. To rousing applause, Zoe concluded her lecture, and the WHS annual conference, using Sue Innes’ own words – ‘let’s go on making it work’. 


Resources

For those of you who couldn’t join us – click the relevant links below to access powerpoint presentations from some of the presentations on the day and the audio recordings on Soundcloud

PANEL 1: Activism

Tanya Cheadle, University of Glasgow – Bella Pearce / ‘Lily Bell’: Glasgow Feminist, Socialist and Christian Sexual Mystic – whn-glasgow-pp

Jane Rendall, University of York – ‘The principle of mutual support’: female friendly societies in Scotland c. 1789-1830 – rendall-glasgow

Sarah Browne, Heritage Project Co-ordinator, Scottish Women’s Aid – ‘Pledging our support to the seven demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement’: Feminism and the emergence of Women’s Aid in the 1970s and 1980s – brownewhspresentation

PANEL 2: Material/ Visual Culture

Georgia Mackay, University of Glasgow – The End of High Heels? Doc Martens and Feminism in the late 20th Century – the-end-of-high-heels

Nel Whiting, University of Dundee – A ‘voyeuristic fiction of candour’? Feminist Methodology and Portraiture 

PANEL 3: Biographies

Sarah Edwards, University of Strathclyde – Dr Meads and her wartime flock: the history and representation of Bishop Otter College at Bromley, 1942-45

Susan Batchelor, University of Glasgow – Pearl Jephcott and a Time of One’s Own – revisiting-jephcott-whs-conference-sb-080916

SUE INNES MEMORIAL LECTURE:

Zoë Fairbairns, Five Decades, Five Feminisms – http://www.zoefairbairns.co.uk/Sue_Innes_Memorial.pdf

Less than two days to go – WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

With less than two days to go until our fully booked conference at Glasgow Women’s Library on Friday (7th of September), we’re in full swing with the preparations!

Our new publicity postcards arrived today and all the final preparations will be completed tomorrow.

The event is fully booked and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response.

Hopefully you’ll already have registered and we’ll see you on Friday!

The event is free but donations are encouraged. 

To join WHS please click here

Here’s the full programme for the event for those attending – whs-final-feminisms-conference-programme.

If you can’t make it we’ll be tweeting @womenshistscot #whsfeminisms

Watch this space for a report on the conference.

***REGISTRATION OPEN*** WHS Annual Conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas and Practice’, Glasgow Women’s Library, Friday 9 September

Images: top right © Scottish Women’s Aid Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library, bottom right © University of Glasgow Archive Services, DC127/22a

Women’s History Scotland are delighted to invite you to our annual conference – ‘Feminisms: Histories, Ideas & Practices’. We have a very exciting line-up of speakers exploring wide-ranging themes including feminist activism, material and visual cultures, and biographies.

Full programme – WHS feminisms conference programme

This year’s Sue Innes Memorial Lecture will be delivered at the conference by Zoe Fairbairns, entitled ‘Five Decades, Five Feminisms’.

Zoë Fairbairns first encountered the words ‘women’s’, ‘liberation’ and ‘movement’ side by side in the same phrase in 1969.  She was in the USA at the time, but couldn’t wait to hurry back to St Andrews University (from which she was taking a year out) and set up something similar. By the time she got back, feminism had already arrived. Together with fellow-student Sue Innes, and others, Zoë became a founder-member of the St Andrews University Women’s Liberation group.

Zoë is a novelist, short story writer, journalist and playwright. Her books include Benefits, Closing and Other Names. She co-authored the pamphlet ‘Saying What We Want:  Women’s Demands in the Feminist Seventies and Now’. She is a member of the Women’s Equality Party and the Fawcett Society, and is a Friend of the Feminist Library. She also meets regularly with a group of other women who were active as feminists in the 1970s and who want to continue raising their consciousness. She teaches creative writing at the City Lit in London, where she lives. Her website is at www.zoefairbairns.co.uk

The conference will be held at Glasgow Women’s Library. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Women’s History Scotland have decided to make this year’s conference as accessible as possible and so will not be charging a fee for attendance, but instead suggesting a donation to WHS on the day if attendees are willing/ able. All are very welcome and we look forward to seeing you on the 9th September!

REGISTER FOR FREE via eventbrite – ‘WHS Annual Conference: Feminisms, Histories, Ideas & Practices’

Any queries can be sent to whsconference2016@gmail.com.

A day of culture – Raymond Depardon and Women’s Peace Banners at GWL (18 June 2016)

A few weeks ago (Saturday 18 June) my daughter Sylvie and I had a wee day of culture in Glasgow city centre.

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980

First off was a trip to see ‘Govan to Gdansk’ at Streetlevel Photoworks. This exhibition featured the work of Raymond Depardon, whose photographs of Glasgow in 1980 (an assignment commissioned by the Sunday Times) were never published. Well, until now. The photographs have received a great deal of attention and I’d looked at them online.

It was good to see the photographs displayed full size at Photoworks. Obviously there wasn’t space to display all seventy-five, but it was unclear why the images displayed had been selected (in saying that, I didn’t have time to read all the displays as I had a five-year-old with me). The photographs show both men and women, boys and girls. But, for me, the images of women are the most evocative (probably because I can remember Glasgow in the 1980s and shopping trips with my mum ‘up Glasgow’).

Through Depardon’s photographs we get a sense of what it was like to live in Glasgow in the early 1980s, what the city looked like and the results of the city’s slum clearance programme. This should have been completed by 1980 (according to the city’s quinquennial plan of 1961) but building work and demolition continued well into the 1980s. But against this background we see women pushing prams, girls in brightly coloured dresses, children playing and teenagers hanging about.

Source: ©Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980, Magnum Photos.

The exhibition runs until the 31st of July and I would highly recommend a visit if you are in Glasgow. You can also view the images online and of course you can buy the book.


Women and the peace movement, Banner Tales at Glasgow Women’s Library

After lunch, it was on to Glasgow Women’s Library to see some of Glasgow Museum’s peace banners displayed at Glasgow Women’s Library as part of on ongoing project Banner Tales, a joint endeavour by geographers Johnnie Crossan and Dave Featherstone at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Museums.

As is the case it all Banner Tales events, it’s great to see a piece of history on display and think about the people, organisations and communities that produced the banners, what causes they were promoting and why. But the real strength of these events is that those attending have the opportunity to hear first hand from these people, whether they made the banner, carried them at a protest or have some connection to the organisation or cause depicted.

At this event we heard from Magi Sale who organised the peace march in Scotland in 1982 and saw a display of photographs from the march. It was really enlightening to hear about her motivation for organising the protest, the effects it had on her own family (her ex-husband, while sharing her views, wasn’t so keen on her activities taking her away from home) and the long-term implications it has had in her life.

While Magi spoke, Sylvie read a bit of a book on the campaign for women’s suffrage from the display which seemed particularly appropriate for a trip to Glasgow Women’s Library. She soon lost interest and we had to leave Banner Tales early and missed the Govan Allsorts Community Choir (always excellent – if you ever get a chance to hear them).

I’m hoping this is just the beginning of Sylvie’s interest in women’s history – well, to be fair, she doesn’t really have much choice!

(Just in case you are wondering Sylvie has read over and approved me writing about her in this blog)

Keep an eye on the Banner Tales website, women’s history always features in their events.

(Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow)

Our inspiration – Alison’s grandmother

In this new section of our website the members of Women’s History Scotland’s steering committee will share their inspiration behind their research on women and gender in Scotland. First up is our convenor Alison McCall who shares her memories of her grandmother:

 

I’m not sure what age I was when my interest in Women’s History was first sparked, possibly about the age of 12. I do recall where I was; I was sitting at our dining table having dinner with my parents.  My father said that he thought society was going to the dogs because of “working mothers.”  I pointed out that he had been brought up by a “working mother” and he said that his mother had not worked when he was a child.

Source: Alison’s gran and her dad, Inverlochy, late 1930s

I loved talking to my grandmother and I knew her lifestory well. She had been a teacher but gave up reluctantly when she married. I sometimes wonder if her reluctance partly explained why she didn’t marry until she was five months pregnant, but that wasn’t really the sort of question you could ask my grandmother!

My grandfather was an insurance agent with Co-operative Insurance, covering a huge area around Fort William. His job involved driving round collecting premiums from customers. No sooner had the Second World War broken out than petrol was rationed.  My grandfather’s job immediately contracted; farming clients were encouraged to pay their premiums in Fort William on market day, rather than my grandfather driving to collect them; weekly visits became fortnightly, fortnightly visits became monthly.  Fearing conscription into the Army, my grandfather enlisted in the R.A.F as a mechanic in May 1940.  Gran took over his job. She would take my aunt to school and then set off in the car with my father, aged three, beside her.  She enjoyed it. Customers would ask after my grandfather, especially once he was in the Middle East. Farmer’s wives would slip her a couple of eggs or a half-dozen tatties.  She kept the paperwork up to date and finished work for the day at 3.30pm when my aunt finished school. This was when her “second shift” started, keeping the house clean and the children fed.   Air raids on the nearby aluminium works meant that sometimes she would have to get the children up in the night, and go to the air raid shelter.

Knowing all this, I challenged my father’s assertion that his mother “had not worked” when he was a child. He said that a 9.30 -3.30 day didn’t count as working. I pointed out that she worked exactly the same hours as my grandfather had, immediately prior to enlisting, and she wasn’t going home to a cooked dinner afterwards. He then argued that my grandfather had been fully focussed on his work, which made it a “proper job” whilst my grandmother had done the same work, but accompanied by a toddler, which meant that it wasn’t a “proper job.”  As soon as my grandfather returned from the war, in late 1945, it became a “proper job” once more, because my grandfather wasn’t juggling it with childcare and housework.

That sparked a curiosity in me; I wondered how many other women’s work had been similarly undervalued, or invisible. I wanted to know the “real story” of women’s work, paid or unpaid.  It is a curiosity which has never been quenched.

(Alison McCall, Convenor of Women’s History Scotland)

Leah Leneman Essay Prize 2016

The 2016 Leah Leneman Essay Prize competition for an essay in Scottish women’s or gender history is now open!

Full details are available on the poster below. Any questions about the competition and the prize should be directed to Deborah Simonton at dsimonton[at]sdu.dk. The deadline for entries is Monday the 16th of December 2016.

Please spread the word!

WHS Essay Prize 2016 Poster

Good luck to all who enter!

40 years of Scottish Women’s Aid – Sarah Browne

We’re delighted to have Sarah Browne blog for us this month. Sarah Browne has been a member of Women’s History Scotland for many years, and won the essay prize in 2008 and completed her PhD on the women’s liberation movement in Scotland in 2009 at the University of Dundee. Sarah now blogs for us in her new role as Heritage Project Co-ordinator for Speaking Out, a project which seeks to produce a history of Scottish Women’s Aid in its 40th year. 

Recognising and Recording the Contribution of Women’s Aid in Scotland

As well as ‘but weren’t they all just bra-burners?’, ‘What about Men’s Aid?’ was the question I was most frequently asked during the time when I was conducting PhD research into the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM). I’ve lost count of the number of times it was asked by taxi drivers, people in pubs, relatives, and friends and strangers who I chatted to during the three years of my PhD. Depending on who was asking this question and the way they asked it, it more often than not raised my heckles.  This wasn’t just because I was completing a women’s history project to contribute towards redressing the balance in historical accounts which tended to favour the stories of men. It was because this question failed to recognise the hard work and determination of the women who created a Women’s Aid network in Scotland. Women’s Aid didn’t just happen. It wasn’t gifted to women by politicians or some kind benefactor. It wasn’t as simple as just asking ‘what about Women’s Aid?’ and then expecting it to happen.  It was hard fought for and involved women putting in huge amounts of energy and effort alongside paid employment, contributing to other political campaigns, and undertaking caring roles for partners, children and relatives. Those women who contributed to this story deserve to be recognised and celebrated and that is why it is so exciting that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded Scottish Women’s Aid, in partnership with Glasgow Women’s Library, Women’s History Scotland and the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History, funding for a two year project to document the history of Women’s Aid in Scotland.

Women’s Aid emerged in Scotland in the early 1970s. Women had been meeting and campaigning as part of the WLM in Scotland, which had emerged in the late 1960s. This movement was a direct challenge to many of the stereotypes, laws and practices which prevented women from living full lives. Campaigning for equal pay, free and available childcare, free and safe abortion, and financial and legal independence amongst many other issues, the WLM was hugely important in politicising a number of women and encouraging them to find practical solutions to some of the issues facing women. Women’s Aid was one such practical solution. In the early 1970s women in Edinburgh and Glasgow formed groups which began researching the practicalities and possibilities of establishing refuges in both cities in order to provide support to women who were living with or leaving violent situations. Inspired by the first refuge in the UK at Chiswick, these women realised that this provided an important model and that women in Scotland needed something similar. By 1977 there were 15 refuges in Scotland and in 1976 Scottish Women’s Aid was set up to help to co-ordinate this emerging network and to provide research, training and support to groups.[i]

Refuges were unfortunately much needed. During the 1970s the prevalence of domestic violence became apparent. Indeed, one of the most important roles of Women’s Aid in Scotland was conducting research which highlighted the incidence of domestic violence. More often than not viewed by many in wider society as a private matter between husband and wife, this research was crucial in demonstrating to politicians, the police, and the general public how prevalent domestic violence actually was. The statistics were eye-watering. Two pioneering researchers based then at Stirling University – Rebecca and Russell Dobash – undertook important work looking at ‘battered wives’ and through interviewing women and looking at police records, they concluded that at the end of the 1970s 25% of all violent crimes involved husbands being violent towards their wives.[ii]

So in addition to organising refuges and the many tasks that were associated with that, Women’s Aid set about providing training and undertaking important educational work to help challenge and change views of those on the frontline – the police, the legal system, the medical profession – as well as the wider public. This led to changes in the way domestic violence was understood and talked about. Even at the level of language, Women’s Aid was central to changing the conceptualisation of this issue, so terminology moved on from ‘battered wives’ to ‘battered women’, and then concepts of domestic violence and domestic abuse were introduced; helping people to realise that domestic abuse was a whole system of degradation, control and fear often expressed in psychological, and not just physical, ways. It is testament to the hard work and courage of all those women involved in the Women’s Aid network that perceptions have shifted. Jennifer Kerr, who was involved with Dundee Women’s Aid, said that our understanding of domestic abuse now includes recognition that:

There are individuals and patterns used by individuals to abuse, that men abuse the power that they have over women. That men abuse the power that they have over children – and that this is wrong and that it is right to get out of those situations. That’s a huge, huge change.[iii]

They did all of this often in the face of opposition from neighbours living next door to refuges, socially conservative politicians who thought Women’s Aid was interfering in relationships, media which often trivialised the issue, and a legal system which could be slow to change. This project hopes to recognise the hard work of the women from the Women’s Aid network but also to draw our attention to the importance of Women’s Aid in transforming our understanding of many aspects of gender relations in Scotland.

So when asked ‘What about Men’s Aid?’, my response usually went something like this: ‘if you want a Men’s Aid, then get together with your friends and comrades and set it up’. That’s what groups of women did in the 1970s and thank goodness they did.

The Project – Speaking Out: Recalling Women’s Aid in Scotland

This project will collect oral history interviews and archival material and make this available on a website. There will also be a touring exhibition and local events so people around Scotland can engage with the themes of the project. If you or someone you know has a connection with Women’s Aid in Scotland at some point during its history and would like to be interviewed then please get in touch with Sarah Browne, project co-ordinator – sarah.browne@scottishwomensaid.org.uk

Likewise if you would like to volunteer for the project then please contact Sarah. We are currently looking for volunteers to conduct oral history interviews, help out with an exhibition or assist with some film-making. Full training will be given and all reasonable expenses will be reimbursed. We are looking for women to volunteer from around Scotland.

It is so important that women’s voices, memories and lives are recorded as all too often they are written out of history. As Elspeth King said:

There is a clear message for all women who were or are involved in the movement: take your historical papers, correspondence, minute books, cuttings and relevant information and deposit them in a Scottish library or archive before it’s too late. Take your T-shirts, your badges, jewellery and posters to your local museum and demand that they be preserved for posterity. Do not be written out of history.[iv]

We look forward to hearing from you!

Twitter – @SpeakingOut_SWA

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Speaking-Out-874547129328378/?fref=ts

[i] K. Arnot, ‘Leaving the Pain Behind: Women’s Aid in Scotland’, S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds) Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990 (Edinburgh, 1990), p. 80.

[ii] This research was discussed in J. Cunningham, ‘The Battered Wives Who Need Law On Their Side’, The Glasgow Herald, 16th February 1979, p. 7

[iii] Transcript of interview with Jennifer Kerr, 1 May 2007, p. 16 as quoted in S. Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester, 2014), p. 156.

[iv] E.King ‘Review of J.D. Young’s Women and Popular Struggles’ in S. Henderson and A. Mackay (eds), Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990’ (Edinburgh, 1990), p. ix.