Jam & Jerusalem:

No longer is the WI the pre­serve of coun­try life

Cotswold Life - - EDITOR’S COMMENT - contact 01452 523966 www.thewi.org.uk

The WI is no longer the pre­serve of coun­try life

Last month I wrote about Grace Hadow and her con­nec­tion to the WI. One of her very val­ued con­tri­bu­tions to our move­ment was the for­ma­tion of a WI in Cirences­ter. It is re­ported that this came about partly be­cause the wife of the care­taker where the ini­tial meet­ing was held -in Cirences­ter, to dis­cuss form­ing WIS in the vil­lages around stood up to ask rather an­grily why there could not be WIS in towns. So when one formed in Cirences­ter it was rather an anom­aly as at that time and for many years af­ter, WIS were re­stricted to com­mu­ni­ties with a pop­u­la­tion of less 4,000. In other words WIS were for the ben­e­fit of coun­try­women rather than townswomen. In typ­i­cal WI fash­ion, a com­pro­mise was reached: the rule about ru­ral for­ma­tions stood but those al­ready ex­ist­ing in towns, like Cirences­ter, were en­cour­aged to con­tinue as cen­tres serv­ing the sur­round­ing vil­lages. Nowa­days, this rule no longer ap­plies - it was re­scinded in 1965 – and we have WIS which meet in towns, in of­fices, pubs, pris­ons and uni­ver­si­ties - wher­ever women wish to form one in fact.

How­ever, our con­nec­tions with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties re­main very close, both in this coun­try and abroad. In 1935 the NFWI de­cided to af­fil­i­ate to ACWW, As­so­ci­ated Coun­try­women of the World, and is one of the now 439 af­fil­i­ated mem­ber so­ci­eties from 78 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. ACWW is the largest non- gov­ern­men­tal, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion which aims to con­nect ru­ral and non-ru­ral women and their com­mu­ni­ties and im­prove their liv­ing stan­dards through small scale projects which are fi­nanced by a net­work of Mem­ber So­ci­eties and in­di­vid­ual mem­bers in­clud­ing WIS. ACWW’S down-to-earth ap­proach of­fers mu­tual sup­port, friend­ship and prac­ti­cal help for these projects as well as in­di­vid­ual schol­ar­ships for women who wish to carry out stud­ies in so­cial and com­mu­nity wel­fare. ACWW also main­tains strong links to the UN and since 1947 has had con­sul­ta­tive sta­tus with sev­eral of its agen­cies.

Es­tab­lished in the early 30s, with its cen­tral head­quar­ters in Lon­don, Mrs. Madge Watt who had brought the WI move­ment to this coun­try from Canada was elected as its first Pres­i­dent. Mem­ber­ship quickly grew to the ex­tent that by 1936 it needed an ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice. It was de­cided to ask every mem­ber so­ci­ety to col­lect just 1d from each of their in­di­vid­ual mem­bers once a year and ‘Pen­nies for Friend­ship’ was born. In my own WI we have a pretty Dorothy bag which is passed around at our March meet­ing but we now tend to give rather larger coins. The funds col­lected in this way rep­re­sent a ma­jor source of in­come for the char­ity and sup­port its whole op­er­a­tion: main­tain­ing the cen­tral of­fice in Lon­don, cov­er­ing day-to-day run­ning and out­reach costs, cov­er­ing Board travel ex­penses (where these are claimed, not all Board mem­bers do) and pro­mot­ing in­ter­na­tional ad­vo­cacy work.

In ad­di­tion, ACWW raises funds to sup­port their projects world­wide. Straight­for­ward do­na­tions are al­ways wel­come, of course, but in GFWI a steady source of in­come has been pro­vided by col­lect­ing mem­bers’ un­wanted jewellery, pre-dec­i­mal and for­eign cur­rency. Our ACWW rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Jan Cole, has a col­lec­tion box in WI House and when she has col­lected 30 ki­los she sends it in a postal sack to a re­cy­cling cen­tre. With this money which has been raised quite pain­lessly -each sack makes about £100 to £130- we have been able to con­tribute to sev­eral projects in In­dia, one in Trinidad, an­other in Ro­ma­nia and we are cur­rently sup­port­ing our se­cond one in Africa, in Cameroon, where a group of Mus­lim women who are mostly con­fined to the home and marry at a young age are be­ing ed­u­cated and trained. They are learn­ing how to im­prove their fam­i­lies’ di­ets and health through im­proved cul­ti­va­tion and be­ing trained in how to utilise cat­tle dung to gen­er­ate an in­come.

This is a far cry from the lives of WI mem­bers in our coun­try to­day but not so far per­haps from those women who joined in the early years of the last cen­tury. Maybe the young women in Cameroon will go on to form their own WIS one day?

Pro­ject sup­ported in Togo pro­vid­ing wells and la­trines with train­ing

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