UNISON women have the suffragette spirit

On 1-3 April we welcomed 40 members from across the South East to the first in-person Regional Women’s Forum since the start of the pandemic

The weekend was opened by Yve White, Chair of the Regional Women’s Committee, Louise Whitney, Regional Women’s Officer, and Jo Galloway, Regional Manager and Head of Equalities. Delegates heard passionate speeches about the setbacks women have faced due to the pandemic and how systemic sexism is deep-rooted in our workplaces. Now more than ever, it is vital that women step forward for roles within their branches and indeed the wider union in order for women’s voices to be heard.

Yve White went on to speak about the suffragette spirit. Initially an initiative started by Amnesty International as part of the BRAVE campaign, it marks women across the country who have shown the suffragette spirit – women who have stood up to racism, said no to sexism, called out homophobia, challenged corruption, helped the vulnerable and so much more. Yve is one of 2 women on the Isle of Wight who have been recognised by this map as showing the suffragette spirit; Yve’s solidarity and support for LGBT+ rights earned her this recognition.

The Saturday was opened by Helena Dollimore. In 2015, Helena was recognised by the Woman of the Year awards for campaigning on issues affecting women and girls. Helena continues to do so, and works in the humanitarian sector, where she takes a keen interest in tackling gendered violence across the world. Helena also sits as a Labour Councillor for Merton Council. Drawing on her own experience working for a global charity, Helena spoke to the Forum about Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). The three examples Helena used succinctly demonstrated the pernicious and destructive impact of harassment and violence on women’s lives. Helena spoke about the key role women in Trade Unions have, working together in solidarity, to combat harassment and violence against women and girls.

Delegates then got the choice to attend 2 out of the 3 workshops running; Domestic Abuse – Is it a union issue?, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Having Your Voice in UNISON; delivered by Sam Raymond, Regional Education Organiser, Rosie Sammut, Local Organiser, and Jo Galloway respectively.

Delegates explored a variety of topics and discussed methods to promote equality both within their workplaces, their branches and wider UNISON structure.

The Regional Women’s Committee (RWC) then held their second meeting of the annual cycle, with non-members invited to observe. The RWC engaged in a lively discussion about motion ideas and issues most important to women in the South East. Once written, the motions will then be voted upon by the RWC as to which ones should be submitted to the next National Women’s Conference.

The next session of the day was a screening and discussion of ‘People’s Century – Half the people’. This sparked an engaging conversation about how women had/have to continue fighting for their rights well after the right to vote was won.

After dinner, Sam Raymond hosted a quiz for delegates to fundraise for the Ukrainian Women’s fund and Period Poverty UK. We’re delighted to confirm that £1,180 was raised which will be divided equally between the two charities. Special thanks goes to Eastern and Coastal Kent Healthcare Branch and Kent Police Branch for their generous donations of £500 each.

If you or your branch would like to donate to either of these organisations, then please visit;


On the Sunday, delegates started by writing down an action they wish to take away to their branches as a result of the weekend. From negotiating anti-sexual harassment and domestic abuse polices, to setting up a women’s group within branches, it’s clear delegates have left the weekend inspired to create change.

Delegates were invited to watch a video about ‘the unknown suffragette’ – Sophia Duleep Singh. During the early twentieth century, Singh was one of several Indian women who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain. Although she is best remembered for her leading role in the Women’s Tax Resistance League, she also participated in other women’s suffrage groups, including the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Sam Raymond then led an activity where delegates were given a variety of key points in British women’s history and had to guess the date of the event. It’s shocking how recent a lot of these events are; for example it wasn’t until 1980 where women were allowed to apply for a loan or credit in their own names – prior to this they had to get their father or husband to sign for a loan.

Nan Sloane was the guest speaker for the Sunday. Nan is an author, speaker and trainer and has recently published Uncontrollable Women: Radicals, Reformers and Revolutionaries. It depicts a history or radical, reformist and revolutionary women between the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. Nan spoke about how working class women are often omitted from history, and their contribution not only to the women’s rights movement, but also the fight for better working conditions in general, is often downplayed and ignored.

We intend to use all of the discussions that took place at this year’s Regional Women’s Forum to drive further organising campaigns for change. The weekend provided a great opportunity for women activists (and potential activists!) to meet face to face, to learn and to be inspired, and we are already looking forward to next year’s Forum.