|FAWCETT AND THE SOUTH LONDON FAWCETT GROUP
The Fawcett Society has probably the longest history of the organisations that came out of the first heyday of feminism in the 19th century (organised mainly around the fight for the vote). Its strapline has been ‘campaigning for equality between men and women since 1866’ and it has been doing so now over three centuries – the 19th, 20th and 21st – under a variety of different names. In 1953 it finally took the name of its founder Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Millicent Fawcett was an exceptional woman among all those outstanding women in Fawcett's history. She helped to collect names for the Women’s Suffrage petition to John Stuart Mill in 1866 on his moving his amendment to the Reform Bill and was in the House of Commons in 1928 to see the passing of the Representation of the People Act, finally after great struggle giving the full vote to women.
Fawcett’s history is thus the history of the fight for gender equality over 150 years. It encompasses the broad sweep of the suffragist movement, the fight for equality in pay, representation and justice – indeed virtually all the battles which women have fought so tenaciously. At the same time it has grappled with the need to survive and grow on very limited funding and has shown itself able to do so.
For much of its existence Fawcett was run substantially by its members, but in 1990 it appointed its first director and is now on its fourth high-profile CEO, supported by a small, highly professional staff. Unquestionably this has enabled the Society to become a key player in the fight for gender equality, with strong partner relationships and a very high media profile – and a voice heeded by government. Fawcett’s main priorities are equal pay, financial security, work-life balance, educational choice, representation, autonomy and equal treatment. It has campaigned on women and pensions with Age Concern, on women and poverty with Oxfam, and for more women in politics and public life. It also ran a Gender and Justice Policy Network and set up a distinguished Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System – and played a major part in the debate around the Single Equality Body. From 1987 it had a prominent role in the establishment of the European Women’s Lobby and ran a Book Prize for many years. Fawcett is very much in the news for its exposure of the disproportionate effects of government spending cuts on women.
Fawcett has increased its membership and diversified in both the age and ethnicity of its members. It has a number of active local groups of which South London Fawcett (SLFG) is the longest established. It was set up in September 1998 at Fawcett initiative, with Mary Stott, the great feminist activist and journalist, as a pioneering member. For its first five years, SLFG met in members’ houses, at the Bread and Roses pub in Clapham, at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank and at the Commonwealth Club in central London, until in mid-2003, it moved to the Mary Stott room at Fawcett’s offices in Clerkenwell for its monthly meetings.
Right from the start, SLFG has used the summer fairs that are a feature of south London life as a means of reaching out to local women. Through its stalls at these fairs it has invited them to complete questionnaires on a range of issues and has then used the data to prepare a series of survey reports. The formation of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) in 2000 gave an opportunity to ask women what three things they would most like the GLA to provide for them. From their answers came SLFG’s first three surveys on transport (2000), the environment (2001) and the community (2002). Later survey reports followed on women’s political activity (2004) and pensions (2006
In 2011, SLFG invited women to tell them how the spending cuts were affecting them: the resulting survey gives a hard-hitting outline of the situation.