Listening to women's voices in devomanc
Some people love the name, some people hate it. One thing is for sure, DivaManc has caught people’s attention. This is exactly what we wanted.
DivaManc started when five Labour women from Whalley Range, in South Manchester, got together to discuss how we can make our area better, engage with women on issues that matter to them locally and improve their experience of living, working, studying, caring in Manchester. Devolution seemed to us both to be very remote from our day to day lives and at the same time, something that should be very important indeed.
Lots of ideas were thrown in the mix and as we talked it became apparent how frustrated we all felt about the lack of opportunity for women to engage in devolution in Greater Manchester, commonly referred to as DevoManc. We kept coming back to the photograph of the launch. ‘Pale, make and stale’ is the charge by some of the leaders. Whether or not that’s the case, they certainly don’t look or sound like us.
The picture reinforces the idea that public life, by its nature, belongs to men and as an outcome perpetuates gender inequality at the top of our politics.
Unpicking our journey to DivaManc, we have to be clear. Our frustration has nothing to do with leaders signing deals for the benefit of the residents of our city. In fact this is what we fully expect them and vote for them to do. The missing ingredient is that the reality of women's lives has tended to be underplayed in the economic progress in Greater Manchester, therefore assumptions can often be made about our priorities and needs.
It is against this context that we set up DivaManc, as a non-partisan action group to sow the seed for change – supporting women to be more involved in devolution and seeking ways to enable them to take greater part in shaping it. Our mission is to bring women together to help shape a devolution in Greater Manchester that works for all.
The women behind DivaManc bring together a mix of skills and experiences of working and living in Greater Manchester. Including myself, four more women are involved in setting up DivaManc: Amanda Wait is a community researcher and development worker with many years of experience working across the region, Eve Holt is a community organiser, coach and change agent, Carmel Ganner is a media professional for a healthcare charity, Vera Curtin is a retired headteacher.
Our aim is to be inclusive and to spark new conversations, connections, collaboration between women in Greater Manchester so together we can take action and drive change. All too often in the policy shaping process women feel as if they are expected to listen to the plans and be told what difference they are expected to make on the ground.
With DivaManc, we want to help create new spaces for women to discuss what they care about, what they want and to share good tools, experience and information so they are empowered to get involved, get their voices heard and take action. We believe that to really empower women, we have to go further than providing services and understanding where the gaps are, to understanding why the gaps exist and what can be made to fill them. Therefore our ambition is to increase understanding, to bust some of the myths and misconceptions about devolution and to shape how it looks on the ground and its future ambition.
Taking devolution out of the town halls and into the community is a huge task, and while formal processes of involving people in how devolution takes shape have started, we have also sown the seed with our first event. Our first meeting saw us sharing our stories and aspirations and gave women the opportunity to explain what they want devolution to do for them. Upon sharing details of our first event we were inundated with expressions of interest from not only local women but from women across Greater Manchester confirming what we thought was lacking: engaging women positively adding their voice to how this agenda will be delivered locally.
We are now planning our second event which will aim to fill the Greater Manchester People’s Plan public engagement initiative with woman voices. In response to our first event women have also asked to discuss the idea of the development of a Women’s Charter.
Whether you like the term DivaManc or not, it is the idea that matters. We are not divas but we are Mancs and we are determined to make devolution and politics matter to the 51% or our population whose voice needs to be heard.
To find out more about DivaManc visit http://www.divamanc.org/ or contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the Local Government Chronicle.