Members of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation's 'Olive Club' project

For more than 100 years, International Women’s Day has celebrated women’s achievements, showing the social, economic and political impact they have had on their communities.

The day, which is an annual celebration on 8 March, also marks a call to action for gender equality. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, a call to action for driving gender balance across the world.

Progress in tackling inequality between the sexes in the past decade has stalled in the UK according to the 2017 Gender Equality Index. The index highlighted that there have been modest improvements, driven by certain gains in the representation of women in political decision-making. However, women’s access to decision-making in the economic realm has seen no improvement; it has also regressed in relation to social power.

Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained: "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

People’s Health Trust works with thousands of women to take action together on issues that are important to them and help women feel empowered. The Trust supports residents involved in a number of women’s projects to take control and affect change, encouraging them to address inequalities at a local level.

The Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation supports women to have equal rights and equal opportunities and to create a society in which diversity is considered an element of strength.

They run the Olive Club, which is funded by the Trust, to support women in London who are predominantly refugees and have experienced trauma and isolation.

CEO of The Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation, Halaleh Taheri, said: “Sometimes the women who come along are citizens who feel like they have been left behind. All the women who come along are incredibly talented and skilled.”

“Through support from each other, they are feeling confident and starting to trust each other. They are starting to share skills they had in the past but haven’t had the confidence to use for a long time.

“One woman was a designer in her home country and she brought a suitcase of stuff she had designed to the group and shared her memories. It was amazing to see her flourish with some encouragement.

“The women decided they wanted to try collage painting and then found out one of the members had the experience and skills so she was supported to lead the session.”

The project helps empower isolated women to come together, share stories, learn about one another's cultural experiences, build connections, improve English language skills and develop confidence to collectively rebuild new lives.

Halaleh said: “We also try and support women to learn about cultural differences, which is very important. They are improving their wellbeing and ability to go further.

“It is so important for the women to know there is a safe place they can come to every week and leave life’s stress at the door.

All projects funded by People’s Health Trust support residents to design and take control of their own initiatives and, in doing so, create new opportunities and choices.

The Tea and Chat project, which is run by Seaham Eastlea and District Community Association, supports women in County Durham who have experienced mental health issues. The project is funded by People’s Health Trust with money raised through The Health Lottery in the North East and Cumbria.

Irene explains where the idea for the project came from. She said: “We were approached by a woman who wanted to create a group for women in the local community to get together so we gave her a room in the community centre and support to build the group. It has just grown from there.

“It’s just about taking that first step and putting your foot through the door. Being with women in similar situations can help ease the burden. It is a space for women to develop a support network, sharing experiences, skills and knowledge.”

Project members decide on what activities they want to do, including flower arranging, art and crafts, and they have even organised trips together.

Irene added: “The feedback from the project has been amazing, it has really exceeded all of our expectations. Being involved has had such an impact on the women, including building their confidence and forming friendships. There were some women who came along with a support worker for the first few weeks but have grown so much and come along by themselves now and are finding their voice.”

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, there are many ways to join in through events across the country.

Did you celebrate? We’d love to hear from you. To send us your pictures and stories, click here.

To find out more about International Women’s Day, click here.

To read more news from the Trust, click here.

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