A Personal Perspective : Speaking Out - How WFI can learn from the development of Women's Aid in Scotland

Km Nicoll is a member of WFI and works for Glasgow East Women's Aid.  Here she shares her personal thoughts on the parallels between the developments of the two organisations and the way they work.


Over the past year or so I've been volunteering on a Scottish Women's Aid project called Speaking Out which records through video and audio interviews the experiences of those involved in the organisations 40 year history.

My part in this wonderfully vibrant and moving project was to video record women who were trailblazers in setting up women's aid groups where non existed, to support women and their families who had experienced domestic abuse-initially called-battered wives and to challenge male dominated Scotland in a multitude of ways.

To listen to the passion commitment and campaigning zeal which is undimmed to this day is indeed a celebration of the women of this country and what we can achieve-against a determined and powerful ruling elite.

I've also been given the opportunity to speak about the project as it has toured the country including events at the Scottish Parliament and Glasgow Women's Library.

As a staff member with a Women's Aid group, namely Glasgow East, I've also been able to give an insight into the current situation around domestic abuse in Scotland and the challenges facing individual groups.

Presently there are 39 groups that affiliate to Scottish Women's Aid-each is an independent group, as is Scottish W.A and have their own constitutions, values and objectives which have evolved over the decades.

In the early years and this was much evidenced in the videos, there was a real campaigning zeal and the talk was of toppling the patriarchy, promoting feminism and challenging the hierarchy.

If a job applicant didn't demonstrate an understanding of the feminist analysis of abuse then they were rejected.

To me the birth and growth of Women For Independence resonates with the early days of the Women's Aid movement.

There is a sisters are doing for themselves ethos. Each group has it's own personality, limited only by the energy and time constraints of those involved.

Basically it's about women coming together and trying to create a fairer more equal Scotland where everybody is respected. Oh and we don't ask the powers that be for permission we just do it.

All this grass roots, voluntary and localism means that no two groups are the same or are involved in the same activities. Which, to borrow from the great Dolly Parton results in a coat of many colours. To my mind that is a great strength but the body politic isn't keen on this kind of organic set up be cause it likes uniformity, structure and certainty.

In essence it wants women's organisations to re create the hierarchies that men have been running for thousands of years.

Alongside eradicating domestic abuse towards women and girls the founding members of Women's Aid formed themselves into collectives where there was no boss, decisions were taken after consensus or something that everyone could live with and all workers were paid the same.

Over 40 years much has changed. The staff are just as committed to ending domestic abuse. They are better trained and more professional. Funding comes from a whole range of sources including national and local government. But the hierarchy has won out with only a handful of groups clinging on to the collective ideal and has been replaced with mangers, team leaders, even CEO's.

The salary structure is just the same as you'll find in any other business. Which also means that the higher paid grades go to the higher qualified employees who are mostly professional, managerial and middle class.

Of course women who've had serious setbacks in their lives can and do overcome the most demanding of challenges. However it cannot be overlooked that the bar for entry and progression has been set higher than in the past and in my opinion this is a loss both for individual women and the groups themselves.

Who knows if Women For Indy will have the staying power of Women's Aid but I do know this it will come under the same pressure to conform by the patriarchal powers who run our society.

I for one hope that WFI retains it's radical and democratic structures and ethos which celebrate our diversity. I know as a member of a Women's Aid collective it can feel like you're trying to push water up a hill.

But as Maya Angelou said
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.

If you feel you'd like to get involved in the work of Women's Aid then please get in touch with the groups all over Scotland.

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