Gendering Sustainability: Women’s Resilience and Survival

Smaller, specialist organisations are losing out in the competition for funding. This week, Balgit Banga from Newham Asian Women’s Project (NAWP) speaks out.

Balgit Banga from Newham Asian Women's Project

One Monday morning I came into the office turned on my computer and logged into my email. In between the sips of free-trade coffee bought at Tesco I came across an email. Well, alright I was also thinking about how it was possible in the world today to write Tesco, coffee and free trade in the same sentence. Sometimes the reality of things is simply absurd.

Going back to the email, the subject heading read ‘A New Contract Has Been Published by’ (followed by the name of the local authority). It had been a while since I’d read a tender that included the words ‘domestic violence’ ‘support’, ‘women’ and ‘services’. I immediately clicked on the ‘express your interest’ box and awaited my invitation.

These are very challenging economic times and I often wonder while sitting at my desk on Monday mornings what the directors and chief executives of other women’s organisations might be thinking. I work in a gendered workplace. NAWP employs over 20 women offering a combination of full-time and part-time posts and supporting flexible work methods enabling women to achieve a work-life balance. NAWP is supported by progressive gender policies positively affecting women’s lives such as enhanced maternity leave.

NAWP has long participated in economies of scale achieving positive outcomes for women in the community through efficiency savings, effective outcomes-based approaches and efficacy. Annually, NAWP provides support to over 1,500 women in East London and Haringey. Weekly, NAWP’s frontline staff deliver 440.3 hours of support.

In reality, the participation of gender organisations is often limited from the tendering process.

Contracts that were advertised for three years have only been awarded for 12 months and some contracts have been cut by as much as 66% of the original value.

And for some reason, bigger organisations appear to be winning more tenders for domestic violence services than grassroots based women’s organisations.

In addition to the ‘glass ceiling’ there is the revolving door fuelled by assumptions that efficiency can be best achieved by shorter stay in accommodation-based services because more women fleeing domestic violence can be supported. These are arguments without context. The lack of affordable housing, the risk of women’s homelessness, and vulnerability to further violence are not discussed in the same sentence. 

An email notification flashed on my screen. It said something like ‘the contract is valued at [and it was a very high number]…consortium bids accepted…and the successful organisation will provide services to both men and women’.

We were excluded.

NAWP had done what was needed to meet the challenges of funding cuts. Like most organisations it has made exponential reduction in management and back office support staff in relation to incoming resources.It developed Infra structure systems that could run effectively with fewer resources. But it is not enough.

Women in the local and national economy promote and protect grassroots organisations in policy and strategy. Tendering and procurement strategies need to properly value this.

Grassroots women’s organisations need to be supported and sustained through tendering, not excluded by knee-jerk solution that ‘bigger is better’ or that ‘bigger produces efficiency’.

I am now organising the AGM. The theme of NAWP’s AGM is Gendering Sustainability: Women’s Resilience and Survival. It will take place on 27 October at Stratford Town Hall from 7.00pm to 9.00pm. If you are interested in these issues and would like to engage in the discussion please contact us at 02084720528 or at info@nawp.org.

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