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"Just because I can't sing, doesn't mean I won't sing"

Imagine Newsletter. Jan 2016

Just because I can't sing, doesn't mean I won't sing: Democratic participation & women's community engagement.

         “Just because I can’t sing, doesn’t mean I won’t sing”
                                         (Ann, Tangled Boots)

The focus of my PhD research examines the achievements, and temporal challenges of women who participate in community groups or organisations: In this short article for the Imagine website/newsletter, I explore the processes and practices surrounding the realities of community participation with women who engage in various forms of civic engagement – from volunteering and activism, to activities the women themselves described as ‘just having a laugh’. Participation in community organisations is viewed as an important way of developing social capital for neighbourhood communities (Putnam, 2000), and while social capital has been defined and conceptualised in different ways, it is often understood as consisting of social networks and connections between people, and the resources that may be available from such connections. So who gets to participate? As the following three case study groups show – community participation is wide and varied.

DSC_0576Rape Crisis: ‘Reclaim the Night Rally’   26.11.15

Following two months of observing rape crisis volunteers within the setting of the centre, I joined paid staff, volunteers and members of the public as they walked together in time, reclaiming the right to feel safe in the communities they exist in. Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of women, (and a few men), walked together through the city with sense of collective and mutual action that feels good.... and it is difficult not to feel good surrounded by a sense of reciprocated respect that often encapsulates these marches. In a time where many women feel increasingly silenced within online communities, walking in solidarity with others, women feel like their voices get heard.
This example of a democratic right to protest in the public space, and come together in solidarity, brings organisers and members of the public together to reclaim their right to exist equally in the communities they share.

        

Women for Independence : Wee County Children’s Christmas Shop

Women for Independence/Independence for Women, is a nation-wide organisation, aimed at politicising women across Scotland. The organisation, whose aim is ‘doing politics differently’ (Caskie, 2015), describes itself as “a network of women who aim to improve the representation of women in public and political life throughout Scotland” (Women for Independence,2015). While the national committee is tackling political issues with a capital ‘P’, one of their local groups tackles community matters with a small political ‘p’ – offering social events, training, and various campaigning and fundraising measures within their local communities.

In December, 2015, this group of women from various small towns and villages spread across an area of Central Scotland, opened up their ‘Wee County Children’s Christmas shop’  for the second year running. What is particularly striking about this shop, is not simply the idea of offering donations of gifts or money, but the empowering and equalling experienced offered to those visiting the shop. This shop project offers those who might otherwise be denied, the opportunity to browse and purchase (donated) gifts for their loved ones – on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ basis. In this little shop, volunteers have time for conversation with those who enter - listening to concerns about life in the community, and making inroads to solutions. This building of social cohesion, trust and reciprocity between volunteers and shoppers, neighbours and local residents is something not often found in stores at Christmastime.